Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Manly incompetence

I had occasion this weekend to go to an emergency room (everything's fine, no need to worry). Also there was a fiftyish married couple, to my eyes typical (to the point of being stereotypical for this area) in every way. As I observed them, particularly the husband, I got to thinking about traditional masculinity and how absolutely ridiculous it is.

The event that really triggered my thinking was when the woman checking him in (the husband was the patient; sprained elbow or something) asked for his insurance card. He did not have it--his wife carried it for him. The wife at first handed him her wallet, but he made her go through it to find the card for him. Whether this was because he didn't know what the card looked like or because he didn't want to touch a ladies' wallet in public, I don't know; my guess would be that both factored into it. Then, once he had the card in hand, he had to ask the wife to help him locate the insurance number. At this point I stopped paying attention for a moment, but when my attention settled back on them they were trying to locate another number on the card. "How do I know," the guy asked, irritated and condescending, and the woman said "Well what does it say?" She eventually had to look at the card herself and find it.

It was this irritated condescension that started me thinking. You're supposed to know this for me is what it said--That's what you're for. And it is by no means unique to this one guy--I've seen that exact reaction over and over throughout my life.

So this guy doesn't know how to care for his own health, because he's too much of a guy. I think it's a fair bet to say he probably doesn't know how to prepare his own meals, either. Or do dishes. Or clean his house. Or manage his money. Hell, a lot of the men like him that I've encountered don't even know how to answer the phone comfortably.

In other words, all of the functional aspects of maintaining life and navigating societal needs--these are women's work. Any realm of basic competency, with a few minor exceptions (car care, say), your real man is supposed completely ignorant of. Not just that: he's supposed to be proud of his incompetence, and insulted if he is called upon to display any kind of knowledge in these areas.

And then women are the ones who are labeled fragile and incompetent and emotional and weak and frivolous.

This is weird and fucked up.


JRB said...


Ethan said...

Where's a rimshot when you need one?