This era of gender fluidity in which we live presents some complicated situations for elderly gentlemen—among whom I am more and more often numbered.
By gender fluidity I mean two things. First, the long-time conversation around the issue of feminism, and what it means to be a woman in today’s world. The topic is not new, having been a part of our public discourse through most of my adult life.
Gloria Steinem, a journalist and activist, defined feminism as a recognition of “the equality and full humanity of women and men.” Bell Hooks, an author and activist, explained it as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.”
The second aspect arises from the increasing awareness and sometimes reluctant acceptance of people’s choices respecting their sexual orientation. The initials LGBTQ (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer/Questioning) were unheard of, at least in my circles, not so long ago.
Mind you, the issues confronting people who question their gender identities are not new. But the open, public conversation about them is a fairly recent development.
My viewpoint has always been live and let live, and I have never questioned the sincerity of those whose inclination leads them to follow a different path than I. Believing us all equal under the sun, I support those who agitate for equality among the genders; for recognition of gender identity; for a rethinking of what it is that makes us human; and especially for acknowledging what differentiates us as men and women.
But such issues do lead to complicated adjustments for me, an older man who cleaves to the old ways, who has never doubted or lamented the fact that I am male. Not privileged, not ascendant; just male.
I refer here to alterations to our language that seem to assail me for doing what I have always done. The changes involve substituting the word man for parts of otherwise perfectly understandable words, creating a verbal-portmanteau previously unknown to our language.
For example, when I sit down now, on a shared sofa or bus seat, I may be accused of manspreading, the act of sitting with my knees apart. This, I assure you, is less a hostile statement on my part, and more a search for comfort. I intend no offense by it, but now increasingly find myself trying to shrink into as small a space as I can possibly occupy.
If I am asked to account for this conditioned behaviour, I might be accused of mansplaining, which is apparently a less than satisfactory justification. Implied is the notion that I am merely defensively defending an unsustainable position.
Occasionally I find myself in a cluster of other men at a social gathering, enjoying our respective insights into politics, sports, or someone’s latest fishing trip. It’s never too long before one of our fair companions happens by to ask how long we plan to carry on our manversation. It feels like a putdown…or mandown!
But when we dare to get involved in a mixed-company discussion, and if one of us turns the talk in a different direction, we could be accused of manjacking the conversation.
I feel sometimes as if I’m being managed unfairly, or manipulated, even manhandled by those who resent what they assume is my inherent sense of masculine superiority. They come across as manic in their correctness.
If I, perchance, did consider myself superior, it wouldn’t be because I’m a man; rather, it would be due intellectual brilliance, sparkling wit, or matinee-idol appearance. Alas, given that none of these is true, I have long accepted the reality of my pedestrian, mundane maleness.
Perhaps it’s time I just man up and live with the new realities. But that feels so…so…mandescending!