Tag Archives: gender

Flowers for men? Yes!

12 Jun

bouquet for father's dayWhat do you think about when you choose gifts for people? Do you think about practicality, or are presents meant to be frivolous? When I want to give someone a gift, I think like this: 1) everyone has enough stuff, so there is no need for more, and 2) the environment: what can I give that will biodegrade?

Answer? Flowers! In the past, flowers carried an association with women, but now, flowers are for everyone–yes, even men.

I thanked a reporter for doing a story on me a few years ago with a bouquet of purple irises. “Oh, they’re lovely!” he said. Then I think it dawned on him that I, a woman, was giving him, a man, flowers, and this seemed to shake him as he stammered a bit then turned red.

With women’s independence comes a woman’s choice to send a man flowers, and with it, a man’s opportunity to feel special and happy that he’s worthy to receive them. Flowers are a win-win situation.

Dana William Hamilton at The New Leaf florist in Toronto says that it’s becoming more common for women to send men flowers for any occasion, including Father’s Day.

“People hadn’t been giving flowers for Father’s Day for years,” Dana says, “but then came metrosexual men and there were suddenly more flowers and plants; flowers used in interior decoration, women sending more flowers to men during the year, and plants given as gifts for Father’s Day”.

If mums get flowers on Mother’s Day, why wouldn’t dads get flowers on Father’s Day? I mean, how many golf clubs can a man own? Does he really need a pneumatic nailer? How about something that will make him smile and lift his spirits instead?

Gendered blooms

Before the 90s, men were almost forbidden to go near flowers unless they were getting married or being buried, but gay men have not had the same rules applied to them. In many ways, gays have had more freedom to express themselves than their heterosexual brothers.

roses for men

Shaun Proulx uses flowers in his interior decoration. Used with permission.

In Toronto’s gay village, there are two florists on one street and most groceries and convenience stores sell flowers outside, so the gay ghetto is very colourful and lovely. Shaun Proulx, Canada’s gay Oprah, lives in the neighbourhood and always has fresh flowers in his home.

“I would get rid of almost anything I own except flowers,” he says. “The joy they bring to my life is immeasurable. I’m proud to say I have lost many hours of my life just staring and studying the flowers around me.”

Given the crap we’ve been taught about flowers not being “manly” and associated with beautiful, delicate, weak things like women, gays, and children, heterosexual men have been denied the pleasure of nature’s fragrant gems for a long time, but perhaps thanks to the metrosexuals, the door has opened for all men to appreciate flowers without the fear of gender bullies coming after them to kick their pansy asses for liking something so “feminine”.

I asked some of my heterosexual men friends how they feel about flowers and I’m delighted to tell you that for those who have yards and gardens, the majority like to plant flowers. Many said they either currently have flowers at home or would like to have indoor flowers more often. This is a wonderful indication that flowers are slowly but surely becoming genderless.

Well, that’s what you might think, but gender-dividing media outlets sill exist like Spike. Spike is a US TV network that targets young men between 18-34, and encourages the tough, emotionless male stereotype that from my point of view, is abusive to men.

Gendered bullsh*t

I don’t believe in “feminine” or “masculine” flowers; flowers are flowers, but apparently not to everyone. The following is Spike’s top nine “manly” flowers that smell of imposed gender roles:

9. Snapdragon (“…dragons in any form are badass…”)

8. Hops (used to make beer)

7. Cactus (especially the ones with long stiff flowers growing out of them)

6. Belladonna (poisonous)

5. Tree tobacco (can be smoked like a cigar but can kill you, therefore, “this flower is clearly not fit for girly-men”)

4. Venus flytrap (carnivorous plant)

3. Rafflesia (aka meat plant) “The ultimate man’s flower,” says Spike, “It’s super big and like man, it doesn’t like to be tied down.” This flower emits a rotten meat stench and Spike says, “Any flower that smells like meat (even rotten meat) is pretty ballsy.”

2. Poppy (“No other flower in history has caused as much bloodshed and human destruction as the poppy”–i.e. opium)

1. The Corpse flower, or amorphophallus titanium, means, “giant misshapen penis”. The Corpse flower is the largest flower on earth and like the meat plant, emits a revolting smell of rotting flesh to draw carrion insects that helps it cross-pollinate. Spike calls it the “alpha male of flowers”.

lillies

Lilies are delightfully fragrant flowers, a good alternative to the Corpse flower.

Judging by this list, Spike suggests that the best flowers for men are reeking and dangerous and sometimes resemble a phallus. So if we bought into this way of thinking, fellas, how would feel if you were sent a bouquet of meat-eating plants or huge stinking phallus flowers? Would you feel manly? Nauseous? Or perhaps insulted?

Accepting the stiff, archaic gender stereotype that contributes to the massive emotional abuse that has been thrust upon men and boys for years, strips them of their natural emotions and likens them to a cactus: “tall, prickly on the outside, somewhat unapproachable, sturdy, and tough”.

The alpha male of flowers?

Flowers can self-pollinate and create their own seeds, or cross-pollinate with the help of insects and wind. Flowers, like every other living thing, only exists to reproduce itself and should not fall into human gender classifications, but they have. Spike, for example,  gives the giant misshapen penis flower a male face and considers it the “alpha male of flowers”.

I read an excellent article on The Good Man Project recently called The Myth of the Alpha Male, where author, James Fell, says the alpha male concept is “a bullsh*t title used to sell books and programs.” The author explains that the idea of an alpha male is “toxic and prevents you from focusing on the real path to self-improvement”.

peonies

Shaun Proulx’s gorgeous peonies. Used with permission.

Fell’s definition of alpha maleness is “just a bunch of cock-sure, arrogant and self-entitled assholes. It’s a gentleman. A leader. A strong and worthy man blah, blah, blah. They’re putting lipstick on a pig, trying to convince you that you’re either the leader of the pack, or you’re a beta who won’t get what you deserve in this life”.

As noted by Fell, the notion of the alpha male comes from 1970’s  The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior or an Endangered Species by L. David Mech who explains that the term”Alpha” implies winning a competition or battle with others to become “top dog”, but he says, “most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack”. To the wolf researcher, there is no alpha male as much as there is no alpha female; wolves are simply breeders.

Applying the alpha concept to humans, then, is ridiculous, but applying it to a flower  is absurd. Does Spike think that the Corpse flower is an “alpha” because it’s large? Because it resembles a penis? Or is it because it reeks of rotting tissue?

Humans appreciate nature and beautiful, sweet-smelling flowers will win over anyone at any time and for any reason, so give flowers and give them often. Giving men flowers brightens their day, puts a smile on their face, and sometimes brings a charming blush to their cheeks–the honest and ungendered price of pleasure.

Thinking outside of the masculine box

17 Apr

Media dictates gender roles.Last fall, I attended SkyWorks’ Real Change Boys Filmmaking Project to watch short documentaries about gender and identity by young men between the ages of 14 and 21. The films depicted issues around masculine identity, stereotypes, expectations, and the images of boys and men in media and popular culture.

One film spoke louder than the rest to me. In his film, Boxed In, Brandyn Pereira describes his realization that media portrays men and boys as one of a few narrow stereotypes. Brandyn was only 14 when he questioned gender portrayal and made his film. This outstanding young mind recognized the unnaturalness of gender stereotypes in media and started a conversation about it. I’m writing to continue that conversation.

Boxed In

Brandyn had a moment of recognition while watching television one day and noticed the stereotypical gender roles presented on TV.

“Almost every guy on these TV shows liked beer and sports, or they were the family man or the hero of the situation. Boys always liked video games, sports, and they rarely showed any emotion with their friends,” he says, “I’m wondering why the media depicts young men or boys like that.”

Media is enormously influential to us whether we like it or not; it tells us what to wear, how to smell, what music to listen to, what lifestyle to lead, and it doubles as an inadvertent guidebook to life. People—especially young people—look to television and the media to try to understand who they’re supposed to be. I remember looking to the TV for cues on how to be when I was a kid and sometimes I took on fabricated affectations because I wasn’t sure what else to do, and hey, if they did it on TV there must be some kind of truth to it, right?

Wrong.

Jeff Perera, Community Engagement Manager at the White Ribbon Campaign says in the film, “To be human is to be yourself; society is about trying to put you in a box.” It’s that gender box that Jeff is referring to and what Brandyn’s film is about.

When I met with Brandyn recently, we talked about the limitations of living in a gender-stereotyped box. “TV shows show only a few specific types of men: a) genius/smart guy, b) dim-witted, c) strong, or d) a wimp,” Brandyn says, “I noticed how the stereotypes don’t allow men and boys to be anything else.”

The men and boys in Brandyn’s film discuss the unreal masculine ideal presented in media, where males are always slim, fit, emotionless, macho, in control, and tough; good-looking, sports-obsessed, beer-drinking, video game-playing slices of the masculine ideal, out of touch with reality and their natural emotions.

These media stereotypes have the power to take us hostage and hold the dagger of social expectation to our throats. For some people like Brandyn, the media-generated masculine stereotype is not only confusing, “it is depressing for young people when they recognize they don’t fit the role and image of what is presented in the media.”

Contradiction, shame, insult

As a young person, Brandyn is quick to call out the media’s mixed messages. “I don’t know how I should act,” he says, “the message aimed at young people is to be yourself, but the next second we’re being told to conform. It’s confusing.”

Not only confusing but potentially damaging. We’ve had gender ideals pushed on us since birth, and some people believe so strongly in prescribed gender roles that they will cause trouble for people who fail to embody these expectations.

Calling someone “gay” as the go-to insult of childhood is sadly still holding its ground and it’s been around for a very long time. Brandyn told me about a time when one of his friends (a girl who has her own suite of gender expectations to deal with) accused him of being gay because he didn’t like all of the stereotypical masculine pastimes she learned about via media.

I’m quite sure that a child calling someone “gay” doesn’t understand what “gay” really means, though they do pick up on the term as an insult. Accusing someone of being “gay” really means that there is something “wrong” with that person because he doesn’t conform to the (white, str8, patriarchal) media-generated and socially sustained gender stereotype.

Brandyn says products “make kids cool” and explained that a few grades ago, he and his friends picked up on and adopted the gender stereotypes and products associated with it out of fear of not fitting in and the shame attached to that. Fear plays a strong role in motivation and retailers and marketers work this to their advantage.

Gender-differentiated products means more profit for retailers. Gendered colour is manufactured and nothing more than manipulation by the retail industry to get you to spend more money. Gender-specific products and marketing drive profits, and sexism in media sustains gendered ideals that are best left in the dark ages.

Deep down we know that no matter how much we shop and try to adopt these perfect lifestyles presented by the media, we never will truly become what we see and so we must settle on being ourselves. Jeff Perera believes that we need examples of diversity in media, to see men from different racial backgrounds, different sizes, shapes, tastes, and talents, to offer people more options to relate to.

Instead of ridiculous and unnatural gender codes, let’s celebrate and appreciate men and boys as wonderful unique creatures who can enjoy sports and video games if they want to, but may also like to sing, cook, and write short stories.

Guys like Brandyn.

 

Liberace!

20 Jun

My grandmother loved Liberace. liberace1

He was on TV a lot when I was a kid in the 70s, and every time he was on a variety show,  she would sit glued to the set.

She loved his sparkling costumes, the jewelry, the furs, and of course, his ivory-tinkling (he was an extremely talented pianist).  I don’t remember her talking about him so I never got to find out what it was about this rouged and sequined piano player that drew her attention so much.

But when I was in high school, I had a grand-daughterly deja vu with a flamboyant musician myself, so I understood where she was coming from.

I immediately fell in love when I heard Culture Club’s Time (Clock of the Heart) on the radio in 1981, and for the next few years, I had Boy George’s face plastered all over my bedroom walls. There was something about him that I was hopelessly drawn to – his individuality, his creativity, and the courage to be himself. But surely, I was attracted to him, he was a man after all… but something was amiss.

My love of Boy George confused me, just like my grandmother’s attraction to Liberace – we both had rigid gender roles stuffed down our throats, and any behaviour that strayed from what was “normal” for men and for women was suspect – illegal, in fact, during my grandmother’s era – but these were entertainers and they were allowed to be a little “eccentric”.

Though publicly closeted, Liberace was the first gay man to have his own TV show, he starred in movies, he was raking in $50,000 a week at the Riviera in Las Vegas, and he sold millions and millions of records. Women adored him.

He wore outrageous costumes for a man a the time – hell, even for a woman at the time – and I wonder if his female fan following had to do with a mutual love of glitz and girlish glamour.

Liberace red cape

The American Fashion Foundation called him the best-dressed man in show business back in the day,  and apparently, our  Mr. Showmanship  modeled himself after 19th century Bavarian King Ludwig II,  a suspected gay man and patron of Wagner. To me, Liberace was more like a fabulous, flamboyant papal drag queen complete with dainty gold slippers and flowing robes.

Liberace’s tremendous wealth enabled him to surround himself in homes decorated in Rococo style, high-end cars, and custom-made pianos. He wore the most elaborate, heavily sequined, plumed, and embroidered costumes, encrusted with diamond buttons and pounds of Swarovski rhinestones. Even his shoes were custom-made to match his outfits.

Detail of a Liberace costume – hand-sewn sequins and beading

He was a costume designer’s dream and commissioned a new wardrobe every year. In a 1982 interview, Michael Travis, Liberace’s costume designer during the late 70s and early 80s,  said of Liberace, “There’s nothing he will not do. He’s very flexible.”

The article describes Liberace’s most expensive outfit ever – a $300,000, 137-pound shimmering fox fur with a 16-foot train worn over a bejeweled tuxedo valued at $50,000.

“Every time he plays to a new audience he wants to see what he can shock them with,” Travis said.

And shock he did, much to the delight of his femme-heavy fan base.

Cape inspired by Botticelli’s Birth of Venus?

People don’t realize how Liberace inspired many entertainers of our modern era. I can see how he may have inspired Prince who liked to wear ruffled shirts under sequined satin suits and heeled boots. Rob Lowe, who plays Dr. Jack  Startz,  Liberace’s plastic surgeon, in the 2013 HBO special, Behind the Candelabra, says of Liberace,  “He invented bling. Like the rappers of today wouldn’t be wearing or doing anything of what they’re doing without Liberace first.”

He was a true original and fantastically talented man who sadly denied his sexuality to his grave. It is through him that my grandmother’s gaydar found its glow, and I am pleased to have inherited it.

Happy Pride 2013!

Liberace links:

This short TIME video will make you smile.

Interview with Behind the Candelabra costume designer, Ellen Mirojnick.

Take a virtual tour of the (now closed) Liberace museum in Las Vegas. 

Learn about the sets, props, and costumes from the 2013 HBO special, Behind the Candelabra, in this video.

Christie Blatchford: Born in the 50s

15 Dec

You may have heard about the sensation writer Christie Blatchford caused in her recent National Post piece, “Toronto, City of Sissies” over the last week. It is a strong opinion piece that has drawn much ire from many people, especially – and obviously – those that live in Toronto.

Ms Blatchford writes that men and boys need to “toughen up” and take on an antiquated gender role, destined to die by the next generation. Her article seems to look at the world through the eyes of the controlling class that was in place during her youth – the days when uptight white men controlled everything from religious views to industry to social practices, and of course, women and women’s sexuality.

It was a time when women, who competently operated everything when men were away at war, were expected to settle into the gender role of the happy, obedient housewife and mother, when the men, returning from the war brave and stoic, got back into the driver’s seat and took over with military sharpness.

The post WWII period was a time of rebuilding countries and social systems, when men and women were segregated into gender roles in order to regenerate the population. Even clothing reflected this – Christian Dior’s “New Look” of the late 1940s sculpted women into hourglass figures, and according to my costume professor in university, symbolized the regeneration properties of women – the rounded puffy skirts of Dior’s line represented and exaggerated women’s hips, thus drawing men to them and thus begetting an increased population – hello baby boom generation.

It seems to me that Ms Blatchford chooses to remain living in an old school world where women were thought of as girls  and both sexes lived under strict gender expectations, and they were not allowed to cross the line. As the 50s mentality dictated, acting anything remotely feminine was a boy’s ultimate sin (for reasons that I still can’t put my finger on).

Ms Blatchford proclaims she is tired of men being in touch with their feminine sides because they have lost their handle on masculinity. She is “mortified and appalled” at the sight of school-aged boys greeting each other with hugs, instead of having a switchblade rumble, I guess.

Humans showing their humanity evidently makes Ms Blatchford uncomfortable, so please stop it, you’re causing the black and white gender lines to blur!

Behaviour expectation is about controlling the masses so the masses conform to the wishes of the ruling class. The most effective way to control people is to keep them in fear – fear of punishment, fear of ex-communication, fear of pain, fear of shame, and so on. Fear is a very potent behaviour modifier. We are controlled by threats of fear and consequences communicated to us in various ways, one of them being language.

“Toronto, City of Sissies”

Each generation has its own language that defines it and every generation has its own arsenal of derogatory language to keep people in line with the ways of the ruling class and generally keep them feeling bad about themselves. Queer, stupid, fag, lezbo, dork, geek, and fairy are the ones my Gen X friends and I remember, for example. None of them are cool; all of them hurt.

In keeping with her era, Ms Blatchford chooses “sissy” as her insulting term. “Sissy” (American, 1840-50) is one of those generational terms that we don’t hear much these days, but it has several meanings. It started out as a term of endearment towards one’s sister, or a diminutive of Cecelia, Frances, or Priscilla, but turned to something derogatory to describe an effeminate man, a man who does not conform to the traditional masculine role, a man who is interested in feminine pastimes or clothing, a man who is afraid, or a man who cries. “Sissy” is used in subversive sexual cultures involving erotic humiliation and bondage. Interestingly, the term sissyphobia is thought to be a combination of prejudice of women and homosexual males.

Knowing this, “Toronto, City of Sissies” seems rather an odd title because Ms Blatchford practically falls over herself  gushing about how much she loves gay men (…”as a downtowner, I live surrounded by gay men, who, like most women, I adore as a group”).

So if this is true, how is it that Ms Blatchford, a solid representative for the generation that demanded strong, silent men’s men, betrays her 50s mentality not just liking but adoring gay men? Surely gay men are sissies too, Ms Blatchford!

Violence as communication

I agree with Blatchford when she says, “the onus for stopping bullies lies not with the people being bullied, but with those who see it happen.” However, I don’t agree with her idea that “taking the bully out for a short pounding” is a solution.

“This has been true for centuries,” she insists, “and it is still true, and it works equally well in the locker room, the office, a bar, and on the factory floor or street.”

Pain, like fear, is another good motivator. A punch in the chops (or “assault” as it’s known nowadays) is a good way to get someone to see your way. Corporal punishment kept people in line during these darker days of modern masculinity when men and boys were not allowed to talk about their feelings (only girls do that!); they talked with their fists instead, in the hopes of teaching wordless lessons, symbolic of the ridiculous masculine stoicism of the generation.

What I think Ms Blatchford overlooks here is that “short poundings” don’t do well helping people understand why they’re getting pounded, and I expect that arbitrary poundings are painful, possibly maiming, and surely confusing, producing anger and/or depression in the pounded. Doesn’t she know how this works? Hasn’t she read Bukowski’s Ham On Rye? Humans are reasonable when they’re treated reasonably,  I find.

Action!

In her generational wisdom, Christie Blatchford understands the way boys and men are “supposed” to be. She offers us “a few reminders of the way it was once upon a time and really always should be,” recommending that boys engage in  “killing”, “whacking”, “shooting”, “kissing”, “farting” (on cue, no less), and “making the sound of a train in a tunnel” (hello Dr. Freud). “Hugging is not” on this list.

I’m just plain sick of hugs, giving and getting, from just about anyone, but particularly man-to-man hugs.

Not sure why this bothers her, or why she’s letting it get to her. She could simply turn her head away from the sight of a man expressing his warmth, fellowship, and affection to his friends.

Ms Blatchford says, “I know men have feelings too. I just don’t need to know much more than that.” This makes me think of emotionally immature males who are squeamish hearing about the inner workings of the female reproductive system – they just don’t want to know about it.

The people of Toronto have got into a bit of an uproar about Blatchford’s article, so much so that someone started a Facebook group, Christie Blatchford Needs A Hug. One member wrote, “…our whole society could definitely use more hugs. Affection makes us stronger, isolation only weakens society.”

In response to Blatchford’s “Sissies” article, Jeff Perera, of The Good Man Project, wrote The Invisible Gun of Manhood, saying,

Every one of us was meant to embrace our whole, full humanity. Yet, enforced ideas of what being a man is leaves every boy and man wrestling to suppress themselves. We are raised to value an unattainable standard and devalue anything “less than,” which is any aspect of our humanity labelled “feminine.”

Men are left feeling that they are not given permission (from others or from our own self) to discover our handcuffed array of emotions. Denying or being forced to deny sides of our selves, we are the walking dead, numb and emotionally illiterate. This leaves us numb to the very fact of the gun pressing on our soul. The sound of the resulting trauma inflected on the world is muted by a silencer, but the impact resonates like an endless echo of gunfire on women and men worldwide.

I’m not getting too excited about the Blatchford article because it originates from a place of obsolete thinking, and the world has changed too much to return to such a rigid existence. Toronto, next time you see Christie Blatchford walking her bull terrier around Rosedale, stop, embrace her, tell her you love her, and bring her up to speed about the modern world. Tell her about the internet and digital communication, about newly discovered species and advances in medicine, and don’t forget to break the news that Elvis Presley died 35 years ago.