On Being Very Manly, For A Single Saturday

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

This Saturday, I got together with my friend Eric to be extremely manly.  This was not our ostensible goal, of course – the end result was to make a custom-planned bookcase that would fit into an alcove in his attic.  Still, we were hauling out all sorts of power tools and indulging in very focused destruction and resting our hands on our hips as we debated how to approach the next step.
It’s weird for me, being a guy.
I have a lot of hobbies, and most of them aren’t really masculine in the traditional sense.  I write, of course, which is a field sadly dominated by men (also see the need for Women Destroy Science Fiction), but alas, “dominated by men” is not the same as “manly.”  Writing stories was the sort of thing that got you beaten up in sixth grade. As was having pretty pretty princess fingernail polish.  As was playing D&D.  As was discussing fine dining.
But operating limb-severing equipment to make something useful with your bare hands?  I would have been the envy of every sixth-grade bully.  (And those bullies were very concerned that I acted and dressed and looked like A Real Guy, to the point where they’d corner you in the gym and purple nurple you if you weren’t totally heteronormative.  They were society’s underaged enforcers, telling me that real men didn’t wear corduroy pants, they wore fuckin’ jeans.)
My woodworking is but one of several hobbies I have, but it is the one where I am most acutely aware of society’s expectations – mainly because I’m fulfilling them, albeit inadvertently.  I’ve learned to operate independently of society’s desires, because frankly so many of the things I adore are things that mainstream America considers a little freakish.
But when I power up the circular saw and start cutting shelves, a weird thing happens: my happiness at what I’m doing gets layered with a pride that I can discuss this with just about anyone, and have them laud me for my actions.
When I built my arcade cabinet, guys of all stripes said, “Aww, man, I wish I was that handy.”  Because there’s an encoded signal in American society that says, “Men should be handy,” and on some level most dudes feel a little unworthy when they have to call in a repairman.  We are the ones expected to fix and build things, and though that’s a bullshit sexist assumption that closets men into roles and denigrates the myriads of other talents that dudes can have yet not get credit for, it is kinda nice to do something and feel that glow of collective approval.
Yet still I had people going, “Oh, you’re, making, uh… an arcade cabinet?  Okay.”  Once again, I tumbled into the “nerd” role and felt that tiny sadness of confounding people.
But when I make a bookshelf with Eric, I don’t have to apologize for my hobbies for a while.  I can slot it into my “small talk” repertoire, the kind of harmless thing that goes over well anywhere.  Strangers on the bus think this is an awesome thing.  I’m who people think I should be, and having that pivot into alignment with what I naturally do is an intoxicating experience.
For this slim sliver of life, I did not have to answer the question, “Why would you want that?”  And oh God is that a glorious freedom.
And I wonder if the “traditionally” manly guys, the ones who go fishing and hunting and watch football and love cars and do all the things that Budweiser ads quietly imply that they should do, are aware of how much society covertly aligns with their loves.  I feel strangely buoyed when I quietly walk alongside of societal expectations, but that’s because most of what I do is so at odds with them.  Do they feel weighed down when they do something outside of the quote-unquote masculine sphere?  Would they even be aware of that pressure, except as some vague discomfort that they’re not supposed to be doing this?  Or are those guys so confident in what they do that they have ceased to give a damn altogether?
I don’t know.  I don’t walk in those spheres.
But I do know that thanks to having spent the last two Saturdays struggling with a circular saw, there’s a whole breed of guy that I can now carry on conversations with.  I can say, “Jesus, because my table saw only has a rip width of 12″ – twelve fuckin’ inches, man! – we had to spend two hours measuring and clamping down a fence to get one perfect cut with the circular saw,” and have them sympathize as we both indulged in a bit of societally-approved tool fetishization.
I can connect with men I had no interfacing point beforehand, and now we can grasp calloused hands for a brief period of time and discuss how somehow, that board cups or bows or blows out and you have to jury-rig a way to fix it.  I’m expected to be able to discuss that.  And I can.
Then I go back to nerding out on Twitter, and they back off a bit.  Dudes shouldn’t be too into Twitter, you know.  That social network thing.  Being super-into it is a little weird.  And I’ll still be here blogging, even though maybe when I bring up my blog on the bus you can see people struggling to find common ground with you, mentioning that they write posts on Facebook sometimes, even though they don’t really, they just don’t get it.
And society will step back just a little bit, as it always has, befuddled by my desires, unsure what to do.  Until the next time I build something.

1 Comment

  1. Bea
    Oct 14, 2014

    “I feel strangely buoyed when I quietly walk alongside of societal expectations, but that’s because most of what I do is so at odds with them.”
    Oh god, yes. This sentence made me burst into tears.
    I have it from the other side, societal expectations for women–when I buy new shoes, or pick up my housemate’s kid, or freaking SEW… and I’m just so aware, so self-aware that I’m–in that moment, in that action–being “approved of” socially. I feel so awkward and self-conscious while it’s happening, though. Because I spend so much time outside of what’s socially approved of that it just makes those moments uncomfortable.

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