Big muscles v. big wasp


As I exited the campground washroom, a couple of 20-year-old-ish men were dancing around, screeching. One of them was holding out the fabric on the front of his tank top and the other one was screaming “Jesus, what IS THAT?” while swatting ineffectively at his friend.

The swatting friend had a piece of clothing in his hand and was too scared to come close enough to be accurate, so the floppy, swishing fabric did not dislodge the deadly monster.

This went on for a weird, comical length of time. These men were tall, bronzed and very muscular. They had the all the earmarks of popular captain of the basketball team culture. I don’t mean to be judgmental [yes I do], but their looks were part of what’s interesting to me.

Now, I didn’t know what was on the guy’s chest, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to kill me. So I walked up to them and had a look. It was a large, gnarly-looking wasp thing. I loaded my flicking finger and fired it off the guy in 2 seconds.

I don’t mean to be a smug, older woman [yes I do] but in this culture, every chance a person gets to notice how courage is worth more than strength, go ahead and grab it.

I don’t know how the muscle of men became equated with toughness. I would love for young men to know that it isn’t. I would love for our culture to stop telling them they need to be buff to be tough. How about just stop misleading them about what toughness really is in the first place?

It’s character. It’s internal mastery of fear. It’s values and drive in the face of external pressure. How much are we teaching our sons those things? Who is teaching them, actually? How much are they even around somebody who is capable of aiding them toward their true power?

This translates beyond muscle into metaphor. This underpins the might is right theme responsible so much lost potential and suffering in our culture.

Oh masculinity in modern times. Now that’s a whole other subject. What is it? What part of that is toughness? One thing it isn’t is muscular posturing. Muscular posturing is brittle. It can’t even beat a wasp.


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  • Catherine, this reminds me of a story. When I was young (thirty years ago) I worked in a remote area of the Arctic, as a biologist. Here I was the lone female working with men. One day I was startled while sitting in the cook shack, my male Inuvialuit colleague, a model vision of the silent hunter, ever observant and trustworthy, started to yell ‘alee’ as he jumped up on the table. I was so startled by this maneuver, I lost my breath and looked around to see is a polar bear had entered! It soon became apparent that there was no bear and I followed his frightened gaze to the floor. One of my favourite creatures was scurrying around. Favourite as I had just spent three years studying them and their cousins. I sat lovingly looking at this creature while my friend stood in fright. This cultural divide, which is worth pausing to think about, had been created by a vole (its the size of a mouse)!

    • There is a lot more thinking I’d like to do about this subject. I want to explore what it means for men to be men in our culture and how I can be supportive if they want to break out of the cultural stereotypes placed upon them. Brené Brown says some really powerful stuff about the boxes male children get put into and how women often demand that they stay in there.

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