Machismo

Hello again,

This post is going to be a little more controversial than I think anything that I have posted so far, but this topic has been on my mind, and my essays, as I will explain, are somehow bound outside of my natural voice. 

Please comment, as always, but try and focus on the writing and explaining, as well as the content of the post.

Thank you!

Sheridan A. Smith

Not-Drag Racer

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P.S. This picture is, by no means, a judgement of Flea or anyone associated with Back to the Future…Except Biff Tannen…he was a jerk!

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Machismo

I’m not sure I understand machismo…machoness…machocity.

When you see someone who is macho, they don’t seem to be relaxed. Ever. They go about their day with a face screwed up in some form of scowl or other, and their arms always seem to be ready to wring the neck of all those who cause the scowl to deepen.

After all, a scowl is enough to pain a face to the point of falling off. A further petrifying of the facial muscles can cause an irreversible case of the takemyselftooseriously’s; a condition I’m not immune to, and, believe me, is unpleasant.

What is, though, the attraction of being macho, manly, masculine, aggressive, cocky, virile, potent? (Blog post on my love of Thesauruses soon to come…)

Now, in all these things, there are some culturally neutral ideas. Manly and masculine are kind of ambiguous, but virile and potent are obviously tied to sexual ability. We are portrayed as sexually charged beings, we men. If we stray from that, say we’re homosexual or just frankly not that sexual, it seems to become a threat to those who cannot abide attacks on manliness.

Macho persons tend to get angry around something viewed as emasculating, especially when it is confidently so. Men view it as a sign of virility to attack expressions of the “feminine” in men. That is how we get such unpleasant people as “bros” who seem to make sport of attacking people who express themselves creatively without buying into culturally dictated forms of masculine ridiculousness.

Recently, this was expressed towards me in the form of football.

Now, I consider this sport boorish, boring, and, above all, terribly annoying in its culture. Expressing these views, admittedly in a rather florid and impertinent way, I was told that I shouldn’t be allowed to be a man.

…because I get horribly bored at watching grown men concuss themselves for little to no point accompanied by the cheering of people who care more about pre-season trades than they do about miners killed in Africa on strike…

Sure. Go ahead then. Revoke my “dude” card. A lot of good it’s done me.

I was raised by a feminist mother, and an artistic and unconcerned-with-cultural-dictates father. There was a lot of freedom, and I am grateful for that because I had no pressure to be anything in particular, but I was given the freedom to look around and question what was happening in front of me.

The dead end of machismo was terribly apparent. While that didn’t really work out to well for me in high school, college proved a little bit of a drastic overhaul in my reception!

Different wasn’t a problem. Different was the only thing with which I retained my freedom, my liberty.

I do, however, tend to be a reactionary against the macho. Against what is considered manly and pertaining to the rougher sex.

This isn’t random, however. There is a very good reason.

The virulent virileness of men, the perceived potency of their very lives, has an effect on culture. A deep effect, which spreads to all those that do not conform. To those considered aberrations.

This is expressed in recent conversations in the political right wing.

Now, I try and keep this blog from being political as I have a radio show for that. Further I wish not to alienate family and friends who may disagree with me. Sometimes, however, I feel that I can’t write essays because my wish to stay inoffensive constrains the voice I naturally have. The combative lefty voice given to me by years of earnest, tortured search and reflection. The voice of someone who felt no real direction for a long while, and so questioned everything. The voice of someone who has come through the crucible of constrained life in a country obsessed with a hidden orthodoxy it denies, and come out with views made villain by those who cannot sanction an inconvenient change from the status quo that will, inevitably, wrest power and money from their omnipresent hands.

(Well, that rant probably should have been edited, but I may leave it as it will elicit some comments, at least.)

When men internalize their gender role, this implicit set of guidelines for viewing the world, it creates some unfortunate consequences.

Women are viewed as passive participants in the world of men. They are spoken of as conquests, possessions, or trophies; in other words, something men can use as a measure of their position on the macho-bargraph.

Further, this conditions the view that men are the ones who get things done, and they are the ones that matter in this “aggressive” world. Even the world is imbued with qualities culturally designated male. The effective implications are that women should understand the world through men, and only through their agency should they participate.

This is encoded in a culturally conservative understanding.

Take the recent conversation of Todd Akin. He spoke about rape, one of the most horrific expressions of masculine power over women imaginable, as it relates to abortion. He said that, “from what he understands from doctors”, women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate” rape.

Two things here.

First, there is no such thing as legitimate rape. Period. We shouldn’t have to point this out!

When someone has sex with another person without consent, no matter what, it is rape. They could have been married 25 years, and the first time consent is removed, sex becomes rape, a devastating and heinous crime. Women always have a right to dictate what happens to their bodies. No one has sovereignty over them.

Second, about the baby. Stating that somehow women don’t get pregnant from rape is nonsense. It is an attempt to take away the virile/potent component of masculinity and somehow make these people “others”. They are not really men, and their potency doesn’t count, in extreme cases implying that if it did, it would validate their actions.

The conversation goes on to say that, however, if a pregnancy occurs, then maybe an abortion can be justified, but really probably not.

The conversation around things like this has been dominated by men, and I realize the irony of saying this because I am a man commenting on this. Also, while discussing this, it seems that the woman is left out!

They are the ones experiencing everything. They had the attack, and their bodies are changed in the process. They have cells dividing and implanting in their uterine wall, long before differentiation occurs creating anything resembling an organism endowed with sentient life.

They get the post-traumatic stress disorder, and they get the sad and enraging questioning of their honesty when accusing an attacker (being that most are known to the victim and many can occur on dates or in marriage.) They get the fear of being seen as “bespoiled” when trying to have other relationships. They get the scars, both physical and emotional, that can color relationships for the rest of their lives creating a distance that takes its toll on everyone involved.

Why cannot the talk include them? For that matter, why cannot they talk about themselves in this context without being considered less than rational?

Machismo considers itself the mover in the world. It aggressively gets things done, and it doesn’t take any help from anyone. It is, above all, a self-deceiver. What is spoken of is only the action of the man and the outcomes of that action. Somehow lost are the women who are the ones to deal with the consequences.

It is subtle, but it shows a self obsession that is written into a macho attitude. The attitude that men exist in virility, and it is somehow a right to express that, especially in certain situations. The attitude that men are aggressive and can be forgiven for these displays of power within certain acceptable parameters. The attitude that, when it comes down to it, anyone or anything that can be seen as emasculating is either a joke, or something aberrant that should be shunted to the back of society without the right of being taken as anything but a “special interest” (as women’s issues and LGBTQ rights are often denigrated as).

Since I was small I struggled, my ideals against the general expression of what being a man was as shot into my consciousness through the addictive images the television shows I watched broadcast. Somewhere it was obvious that I didn’t need to “mansplain” and there was something wrong in the old stories of a helpless woman needing a man to save/complete her.

It may seem insignificant, and, for my part, I know it is, but I try to decondition myself and act towards all people as if they are inherently worth respect and complete autonomy.

I don’t want to look back ashamed at the things I have done in my life, nor at the things I have not done. Seeing where the macho line leads, it isn’t a path I’m willing to take.

And, as often as I can, I will amplify the voices of the oppressed, the silenced, who are much more capable than I am to speak for themselves.

Though it is clichéd, I still recite to myself lines of a well worn poem by the very often quoted Robert Frost whenever I know I need an adjustment:

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

The Road Not Taken (1920)

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Best Left to Dust

Hello Everyone,

I decided to write another story. My posts to get too much attention, so I may change up the format of the blog, but for now, it remains catharsis. 

Even so, please let me know what you think. I was trying to describe a person and place in detail without going overboard. Hopefully emotions were evoked and you felt very much a part of the world. I cared deeply about this person, and there are other stories that I could write, but I feel like this is a nice portrait. 

This story is very rough, but don’t hold back!

 

Yours,

Sheridan A. Smith

Sociable Hermit

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Best Left to Dust

Samantha had always been a careful woman. None could accuse her of being a social butterfly, but none could even doubt her dedication to her friends. Her gifts were always well thought out, and she was incapable of letting a problem go unheard. She was the kind of friend that often went unappreciated, but that never bothered her.

In her work, care was even more apparent. As an archeologist, this was a benefit, to be sure, but she went very slowly. So slowly that she could finish hours after everyone else had gone home on the simplest of digs.

Every piece of dirt was something that shouldn’t be discounted, and every bit of it would go into her papers. Nothing could be left out when documenting a piece of history.

Meticulous, that’s a word for it, but loving could be used just as well, if not better. For Samantha it was always on her mind that she was digging up a home, a place where people had once lived and worked. How would she want her house treated if someone came digging, she wondered. What would she want them to do with her trophies from science fairs and her mother’s tea kettle?

This was the kind of person she was, but it didn’t mean that she was always surrounded by people. Quiet was her nature, and slow was her pace. Most people liked to be frenetic. This didn’t fit with her. And, so, whenever people needed a rest, or needed an ear, she was there, but she couldn’t be their “wingman”, and didn’t like to go out dancing and didn’t drink much.

She was okay with solitude. She was okay with nothing much happening. She was okay with quiet.

She had been digging, one day, for seven hours, and everyone had decided to go home. Her usual outfit was as it had been the day she began her digs in graduate school, hiking boots, gloves, khaki cargo pants, a dark green tank-top under a heavily pocketed khaki button shirt, not buttoned, but tied at the bottom. Her hair was tied back in neat and not too long pony tail.

She had been working all day, under a particularly hot sun, but she wasn’t too tired because she was pacing herself. It was turning to dusk, but she had no intention of finishing for several more hours, especially since this is when she would be able to cool down and concentrate without noise.

She walked over to the food tent, which was about to pack up, and got herself a plate of lentils and rice. The cooks were cleaning and almost took the tray of food as Samantha was filling her plate.

“Oh! Sorry!” a man said with surprise.

Samantha just smiled at him, and he was disarmed instantly. She then put down her spoon and went to a table to get a napkin to cover her food while she continued to dig. The men took no more notice of her and continued their boisterous conversation.

Walking out towards her site, she flicked on a flood light that would make it possible for her to work. She found a suitable spot to set her covered plate and again picked up her trowel and brush.

Shortly after she started the men from the food tent had left, and she was alone. This might scare some people, to be alone in a foreign country, but it felt comfortable for Samantha.

Her mind drifted to a night she had spent just before leaving for this far off place between the Tigris and Euphrates.

She was reading a book on the back patio at her parent’s house. The book was about a normal person being whisked away from their life and finding a magick world that they never knew existed. It brought adventure and suspense. Not so much that would be disturbing, but enough to keep her interested.

There had been a drought, so the ground was parched, but there had just been the first storm in a long time, so the soil was again growing used to life, so the smells were natural, and nostalgic. The storm clouds had stuck around, and there was still a small sprinkle, but the sun was setting just below in the distance. It bathed the yard with a reddish light.

Looking up from her book every few sentences, the peace began to seep into her. There were no voices, and a slight breeze which brought on the feeling that this was the whole world, and nothing more could be reached for, nothing more could exist outside this.

Looking to her right, Samantha saw, over the roof of her parent’s white garage, a tree in the distance with a soft green and delicate leaves that looked like a blur of cotton in the breeze. The trees all around here, however, were a deeper and more rugged evergreen.

The red light made it seem like the color was trapped in the pine needles, trying to get out, but being outshone by the green. She smiled at the thought. But there was more than enough red in the bark on the trunks and limbs to suffice.

Even though it was one of the only colors she saw, Samantha wondered how anyone could ever tire of the color green. It could show itself in such variety, and it could be part of so much of the world, that she didn’t ever consider it tiresome.

This landscape had been green too, once. It was now, however, mostly brown. There was green, but it was overpowered by the infinite varieties, as numerous as green at least, of tan, brown, mud, hazel, sienna, and many more.

She sat in her ditch, gridded out by spikes in the ground and string creating a checker board. It was almost fully excavated, and they would then be moving on to another, more fruitful, part of this valley.

Her dinner was getting cold, but she ate it with the same slow care, with the same calm peace, that she used to read that book in her parent’s backyard. This was another place, another home. How could this earth be strange? How could anyone, or anything, be so different than what we are, or what we have had before?

Her plate, mostly cleared, was set aside, the towel covering it against insects again.

She picked up her trowel and brush. There was a corner that she had not yet reached the bottom of. This was a mostly empty house. Probably the house of someone who wasn’t all too wealthy, but she felt that it should be studied just as much as the palace they had found a few kilometers away.

The wall, she knew, was near there, and only descended a few feet more. So, as she did, she gently started to use her trowel to remove dirt, layers of land other people had tread on, other worlds built on top of the last.

She only took a few inches at a time, and that with gentleness so that nothing would be nicked or broken by her efforts. Though, she still didn’t expect to find anything to break.

She placed the tip of the trowel into the ground, turned it, and picked up the dirt, placing it in an already explored part of the house. She did this again, and felt a slight pressure. There was no clank, just a feeling of solidness under her gentle prodding.

She used her brush now.

The dirt was packed, but could be swept away carefully enough. She shadowed her own work from the light shining behind her, but she continued to sweep away time though she couldn’t see if she was making much progress.

After a few minutes, it looked like there was a piece of pottery. A large round ceramic something was exposed to our time, to our air, to our electric lights, fir the first time in maybe 10,000 years.

The roundness started to thin into something else. It recessed and then came up again. As she worked, it looked like this was something other than a utilitarian piece of pottery. She uncovered horns, a very round body, a board on which this almost circular body sat, and four wheels. Oh the front was a little loop, or had been at least, to which nothing other than a small string could have been attached.

She took this find into her hands. It felt heavy.

This wasn’t a significant find, it wasn’t something new to archeology, or to life. It was, however, a toy. Some child, long since grown to adult, middle aged, ancient (whatever that meant in that time) and memory, had held this toy and played with it.

She pulled the toy behind her, using a technology created not long before that revolutionized the entire world.

Immediately, Samantha remembered one of her first toys. When she was young, her Grandmother had given her a duck. It was a small wooden painted duck that sat on a board which was on wheels. A bit of twine, several generations removed from the original twine put on by her Great-Grandfather who made it, was used to pull it.

She still had the toy on her bookshelf, no longer wheeling around, but sitting up there with Chaucer, Shelly, Shakespeare, Rowling. Greater company than many ducks could ever hope to keep!

She held this toy, something that brought joy to someone so long ago, and imagined another archeologist, someone who had no idea what her world felt like, how many times she had sat on her parent’s patio reading and listening to the trees, finding the duck.

They would catalog it, mark out where it had been found,  and then put in a box at some university to be written about by a few, and read about by just a few more.

It would no longer be a toy. It would no longer be something for its own sake, just to bring joy and fun to life.

She placed it on the ground, by now the same ground on which this little girl had tread, and wheeled it along. It didn’t exactly wheel, but she teared up at it’s thought. A smile passing her face, tears collected in her eyes, and then overflowed onto the toy now cradled in her lap as she looked at it imagining this girl and her brunette hair, smilingly running around with this wheeled bull, waving to people who had long outgrown their wheeled bulls.

She sat for a long while, looking at the sky which had faded from blue to yellow, yellow to fiery orange, and from fiery orange to black. There was thousands of stars out. It was a quiet night, not many bugs to make noise.

She saw a tree in the distance. It was quite a ways outside the dig site. Shady and pleasant, sometimes children for a nearby village sat there eating some snacks while watching the dig, it seemed to be a place where people rested. Where one took shelter from the world that moved too fast outside.

It seemed to be a good place to rest.

Outside the city, and outside her dig site, it was a place where no one would be paying attention.

She looked again at the toy in her lap. It had belonged to someone once. How long can the scientific distance be maintained? For how long can people just catalog finds and materials and use it to recreate an image dryly for some periodical or other? How long can people be objects?

She looked at her plate, still sitting, covered, to the side of her work. She uncovered it, left the scraps for the animals which would certainly conduct their own study of the excavation after she had left. The plate and napkin were thrown in a composting bin set up for their waste, and she walked out to a small tent and grabbed a large shovel.

It was placed by the tree and she walked back to grab the little girl’s toy. The tears had now become spots of dark color and she smiled as she thought about it being left out in a storm by accident, or being caught in a water fight.

From her pocket she took out a white handkerchief. It wasn’t very large, but it was enough to tie around the toy, shrouding it just enough.

She walked over to the tree and dug a hole. It may have been about one thousand years late, but it was deep enough for her.

She laid the toy in there, giving one of the freer rolling wheels a turn, and then started covering it back up. It would continue being a toy, just an object of fun. No one would really notice the hole as it would be just trampled brown after lunch like much of what surrounded it.

Samantha then took a look at the sky. It expanded out in front of her. She imagined the millions of people who have ever looked up at the sky, and the circumstances that lead them to looking. She imagined a sailor navigating waters by night, and a hunter waiting for the moon to appear so that he could make it back to his family with food caught too late and too far from home. She thought of the urban child looking up for some relief from the noise of the city, as the noise doesn’t reach the empty space overhead. She thought about herself, looking up as if to see the sky was to see all those who had ever seen it with her.

She walked back to her light and took out her notebook. It had been lying next to her in case any notes needed to be taken while digging. She tore a page from its spiral binding and wrote a quick note. She let her colleagues know that she had finished that area and they could move on. Also that she would not be back the next day.

She left it in a suitably conspicuous place and then turned her lamp off to leave.

The next day, she was sitting in an open air café. She saw some children playing in the street, kicking a soccer ball around, and she smiled at the mother who was watching with amusement. The mother smiled back, and, though Samantha didn’t speak with anyone, she felt a part of the world.