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Androgynous Man - Noel Perrin

The summer I was 16, I took a train from New York to Steamboat Springs, Colo., where I Was going to be assistant horse wrangler at a camp. The trip took three days, and since I was much too shy to talk to strangers, I had quite a lot of time for reading.  I read all of "Gone With The Wind." n I read a;; the interesting articles in a couple of magazines I had, and then I went back and read all the dull stuff.  I also took all the quizzes, a thing of which magazines were even fuller of then than now.

The one that held my undivided attention was called "How Masculine/Feminine Are You?" It consisted of a large number of inkblots. The reader was supposed to decide which of four objects each blot most resembled.  The choices might be a cloud, a steam engine, a caterpillar and a sofa.  

When I finished the test, I was shocked to find that I was barely masculine at all.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I was about 1.2.  Me, the horse wrangler?  (And not just wrangler, either.  That summer, I had to skin a couple of horses that died - the camp owner wanted the hides.)

The results of that test were so terrifying to me that for the first time in my life I did a piece of original analysis.  Having unlimited time on the train, I looked at the "masculine" answers over and over, trying to find what it was that distinguished real men from people like me - and eventually I discovered two very simple patterns.  It was "masculine" to think the blots looked like man-made objects, and "feminine" to think they looked like natural objects.  It was masculine to think they looked like things capable of causing harm, and feminine to think of innocent things.

Even at 16, I had the sense to see that the compilers of the test were using rather limited criteria - maleness and femaleness are both more complicated than that - and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I wasn't necessarily a wimp, after all.

That the test did reveal something other than the superficiality of its makers I realized only many years later.  What it revealed was that there is a large class of men and women both, to which I belong, who are essentially androgynous.  That doesn't mean  we're gay, or low in appropriate hormones, or uncomfortable performing the jobs traditionally assigned our sexes.  (A few years after that summer, I was leading troops in combat and, unfashionable as it now is to admit this, having a very good time.  War is exciting.  What a pity the 20th century went and spoiled it with high-tech weapons.)

What it does mean to be spiritually androgynous is a kind of freedom.  Men who are all-male, or he-men, or 100 percent red-blooded Americans, have a little biological set that causes them to be attracted to physical power, and probably also to dominance. Maybe even to watching football.  I don't say this to criticize them.  Completely masculine men are quite often wonderful people: good husbands, good (though sometimes overwhelming) fathers, good members of society.  Furthermore, they are often so unself-consciously at ease in the world that other men seek to imitate the.  They just aren't as free as us androgynes.  They pretty nearly have to be what they are; we have range of choice open.

The sad part is that many of us never discover that.  Men who are not 100 percent red-blooded Americans - say, those who are only 75 percent red-blooded - often fail to notice their freedom.  They are too busy trying to copy the he-men ever to realize that men, like women, come in a wide variety of acceptable types.  Why this frantic imitation?  My Answer is mere speculation, but not casual.  I have speculated on this for a long time.

Partly they’re just envious of the he-man’s unconscious ease. Mostly they’re terrified of finding that there may be something wrong with them deep down, some weakness at the heart. To avoid discovering that, they spend their lives acting out the role that the he-man naturally lives. Sad.

One thing that men owe to the women's movement is that this kind of failure is less common than it used to be.  In releasing themselves from the single ideal of the dependant woman, women have more or less ancidentally released a lot of men from the single ideal of the dominant male.  The one mistake the feminists have made, I think, is in supposing that all men need this release, or that the world would be a better place is all men achieved it. It wouldn't. It would just be duller.

So far I have been pretty vague about just what the freedom of the androgynous man is.  Obviously it varies with the case. In the case I know best, my own, I can be quite specific. It has freed me most as a parent. I am, among other things, a fairly good natural mother. I like the nurturing role. It makes me feel good to see a child eat - and it turns me to mush to see a 4-year-old holding a glass with both hands, in order to drink. I even enjoyed sewing patches on the knees of my daughter Amy's Dr. Dentons when she was at the crawling stage. All that pleasure I would have lost if I had made myself stick to the notion of the paternal role that I started with.

Or take a smaller and rather ridiculous example.  I feel free to kiss cats. Until recently it never occurred to me that I would want to, though my daughters have been doing it all their lives. But my elder daughter is now 22, and in London. Of course, I get to look after her cat while she is gone. He's a big, handsome farm cat named Petrushka, very unsentimental, though used from kittenhood to being kissed on the top of the head by Elizabeth. I've gotten very fond of him (he's the adventurous kind of cat who likes to climb hills with you), and one night I simply felt like kissing him on top of the head, and did. Whey did no one tell me sooner how silky cat fur is?

Then there's my relationship to cars.  I am completely unembarrassed by my inability to diagnose even minor problems in whatever object I happen to be driving, and don't have to make some insider's remark to mechanics to try to establish that I, too, am a "Man With Him Machine."

The same ease extends to household maintenance.  I do it, of course. Service people are expensive. But for the last decade my house has functioned better than it used to because I've had the aid of a volume called "Home Repairs Any Woman Can Do," which is pitched just right for people at my technical level. As a youth, I'd as soon have touched such a book as I would have become a transvestite.  Even though common sense says there is really nothing sexual whatsoever about fixing sinks.

Let me come back to the inkblots , with their assumption that masculine equates with machinery and science, and feminine with art and nature.  I have no idea whether the right pronoun for God is He, She, or It.  But this I'm pretty sure of. If God could somehow be induced to take that test, God would not come out macho, and not feminismo, either, but right in the middle.  Fellow androgynes, it's a nice thought.


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