The Lenses of Masculinity

A theory is a set of reasoned assumptions.

Since that’s kind of a boring way to think, let’s play a game instead. I’m going to give you a camera and I’d like you to look through the camera and tell me what you can see when you look through the viewfinder.

Somewhere relatively close to you I’ve placed a man.

I’ve handed you a camera with a fixed 50mm lens so you can only really see the face of this guy. How would you describe him? Well, you can talk about his hair, the shape of his face, his eyes, maybe his age or if he has bad eyesight. That’s about it.

Now imagine I swap in the kit lens and you were able to adjust the camera to see a full view of the man standing in front of you. You now might notice that he’s completely nude and is waving his penis in a circular motion at you. He’s also wearing a bow tie and American Flag Keds. These are all important details you missed because you were looking at the man from the wrong lens.

You could have had a perfectly reasonable theory about this man by looking at his face. But you weren’t getting the whole picture. Using a different lens – literally – you can make new deductions. Like, maybe, he’s crazy. If you were to use a wider lens yet, you might be able to see that he was actually at an art exhibition. If you were to go back even further, maybe he’s in Sweden. (I’ve never been two Sweden so I don’t know if this kind of thing is typical.)

My absurd example is a bastardized version of what I learned in my men and masculinity course on day one. If we’re looking at something like masculinity, its important to use multiple lenses (or perspectives) to have a more well-rounded idea of whats going on.

You can’t just look at masculinity through a biological perspective. Though testosterone plays an important role in the life of a man, it ignores other important perspectives, like social psychology, or evolutionary psychology. You’d be missing some important details that only other perspectives could provide. 

I’ve fallen into this trap on more than one occasion, especially when talking about polyamory. Since it’s relatively new, it’s easy to lock on to the explanations for behavior that make sense. There is a lot of evolutionary psychology that discusses polyamory and having more than one partner and what that all means. I think it’s unfortunate that this happens so often because polyamory is very interesting and, if we’re looking at it through an evolutionary psychology lens, we’re going to be primarily looking at polyamory as a sexual experience. (At least in my own personal readings this tends to be the trend.)

Back to men – I think that it’s easy to rely on the biological. Men are a certain way because “thats the way that men are.” Obviously we’re paying more attention to the social perspective now and taking note of how men are socialized and whether or not that shapes men and the development of various masculinities.

I took this image at a bike fair a few years ago in Portland, OR.

What do you think?

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