Manly Men Being Manly

My daughter’s middle school put on their yearly musical last weekend, and two of the leading male characters were played by girls at the school.  They both did a fine job in their parts, and I certainly couldn’t fault the show’s director for casting them to play males.  Quite frankly none of the boys who were in the play had the voices needed to handle those parts.  The show was fine for a middle school production, and as far as I could tell no one cared at all that there was a difference in gender between the girls and the parts they were playing.

No big deal.

A day or two later I started wondering why it wasn’t a big deal.  If the situation had been reversed and the director had cast a couple of the boys to play female characters, I have no doubt that there would have been a massive parental outcry.  You can't put those boys in dresses and have them pretend to be women!  What is wrong with you?!?  Think of the children!

Or think of the boys and the potential damage to their burgeoning manhood.

As it happens there’s a tangentially-related issue making news in the United States right now concerning which genders can use which bathrooms.  While in general the demand of the people fighting against allowing people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify is that everyone should go to the bathroom of the gender they were born with (I’m still not clear about what hermaphrodites are supposed to do), whenever I read articles or online comments or hear discussions about this, the real concern is always that men are going to go into a women’s bathroom.  It doesn’t seem that anyone, particularly men, care if a woman who identifies as male uses a men’s room.

One more example: until recently many states had laws against homosexual couples adopting children, with the thought that children needed to be in homes with a mother and a father and that it is harmful for a child to be raised by a gay couple.  However, if this thought was to be taken to its logical conclusion, efforts would be made to ban lesbian couples from using sperm banks and even to make it illegal for lesbian couples to have children.  While some countries, such has Switzerland, do limit sperm bank access to heterosexual couples, the United States has no such ban.

The common denominator in all of these examples as far as I can see it is an effort to control and enforce norms of what is societally considered to be proper male behavior.  Real men don’t wear dresses (except for comedic purposes where the point is to be terrible at being feminine), real men certainly don’t use the ladies restroom, and real men aren’t gay. 

Back to the bathroom example, a lot of the concern seems to be that men will pretend to be transgender in order to get into the women’s bathroom where they can attack “defenseless” females.  The message here is that male sexuality is predatory and to be feared. 

More than that, it seems to be that there is only one acceptable way to be a male in the United States, and many in our culture are deeply unsettled by any male that does not fit into those prescribed behaviors.  Boys cannot play with dolls, and they will not play with actions figures representing female character.  Boys cannot pretend to be girls, even when acting in a show.  And they must not ever feel that they actually want to be a girl or love another male.

None of this is to say that life is remotely easy for lesbians or transgender women who identify as male.  But it does seem to me that the emphasis is much more on quashing any expression of male sexuality and gender that does not fit with the norm.

A middle school aged girl may be able to play a male character without anyone batting an eye.  But I don’t believe that the reverse is going to be true any time soon.


I am taking a vacation for the summer.  Barring anything happening that I absolutely have to write about, regular Sunday posts will resume in a couple of months.  My Weekly Trek column will continue without interruption. 

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter