What Kind of Men We Are

Masculinity and its Discontents (MAID) is the blog of two men, Jamie Berger and Daniel Oppenheimer, who want to discuss what it means to be a man in America in the early years of the 21st century. It’s our thesis (because behind every good man there’s a good thesis) that men, particularly "straight" men, aren’t nearly honest enough with themselves or open enough with each other about all the many-splendored things that constitute, condition, enliven and afflict male consciousness.

Men rarely talk about "these things" (ie sex, sexism, lust, love, porn, the list really does go on) candidly, and certainly not candidly and publicly. Instead, when in comes to matters of gender/sex/masculinity, we take refuge either in:

  1. misogynistic backslapping (not to mention butt-patting)
  2. a suffocating, supposedly enlightened perspective inside of which we censor ourselves for fear of being or being seen as sexist, misogynistic or objectifying.
  3. a semi-disaffected cynicism in which we put quotation marks around "misogynistic" and "objectifying" as if they’re hackneyed terms no longer worthy of serious consideration. (These men may backslap and catcall with the best of ’em, but, they will assure you, it’s in a purely post-postmodern way ? they are commenting on commenting on backslapping).

MAID’s foundational text is "Peep Show," a personal essay in which Jamie, who (like Dan) is proud (if sometimes confused) to have been raised in a feminist household, muses on his shame about/enjoyment of/obsession with peep shows and other forms of "adult" entertainment. The essay is important because it’s about a man and his sexuality, but also because it’s about politics, morality, insecurity, guilt, repression, family and commerce, and how all those things inflect and confuse and upset each other and the human beings who experience them.

Jamie writes: "At contemporary peeps, unlike the seedier Times Square shows of my youth, there’s no tipping, and no touching the dancers. And while the dancer-watcher/wanker dialogue is still an undoubtedly commercial interaction, the balance of power is a little more to my liking. I’m a sort of captive in my little cage-like booth: the dancer can choose to come over to my window or not, and once there she’s not bound or influenced by money; she can stay and dance for me until I’m done, or she can just walk away. It allows me to feel that, as improbable as this may sound, once in the bluest of blue moons a dancer may actually, conceivably enjoy our wordless interaction. Part of me wants to believe that if I can make even the tiniest connection with a woman in this most wretchedly sexist and commodified environment, I can somehow be understood by this naked stranger, and even forgiven for my eternal objectifying and wanton lust."

We’re trying to open things up a bit, start a long-stifled discussion, or a least join one that men have avoided joining, and to have and offer some fun while doing it; we also believe that the moment of the confessional (not to say confessing) male writer is upon us, and we aim to exploit that moment! As eager to exploit as we are, however, we will struggle oh so mightily to keep our memoirish entries as factually and emotionally true as our memories will allow (unlike so many writers and editors of "creative nonfiction" today). That?s a promise from us.

Author: Masculinity and Its Discontents

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