Wednesday, July 06, 2011

more on coffee, community, and gender relations

I stop sometimes on my way to work at an "indie" coffee place in Philadelphia that has, well, very good coffee and slightly weird people. This is not to be confused with my morning tea or coffee or my daily trip to the gym, which is also not to be confused with my occasional trip to the local pool after lunch, although I invariably take work to the latter and sometimes to the former, as well. (Are you beginning to see why my productivity has fallen off?)

One thing I notice at all of these places is the various ways that men have reacted to changing gender roles and the more general challenge of modern life. This is most obvious at the gym, where several people seem to spend the better part of the day [they're invariably there when I arrive and when I leave] and many of whom are in awesome physical shape. It's less obvious, but still noticeable, at the coffee place, where a disproportionate number of men seem to have some kind of facial hair, distinctively male tattoos, and other stylistic affectations (notably hats) that emphasize their maleness but in a largely nonthreatening--dare I say nonsexist--way. There are, of course, some less trivial examples, as when men come in pushing strollers or carrying children around. One fellow at the gym provides a neat combination, having an image of his children (grandchildren?) tattooed on his arm.

It's easy to make fun of these sometimes trivial manifestations of maleness, or to caricature them as examples of men in retreat before powerful women (she goes to the office, he spends all day at the gym, and so on). But isn't there something vaguely comforting about it, as well? Broadly speaking there are two ways for men to respond to feminism. One is to try to encourage and comfort your womenfolk, do your best not to be (or at very least not to act) threatened, and carve out a distinctively male space for one's self that neither endangers nor is endangered by the other sex's advances. The other is literally or metaphorically to wave one's prick at the nearest woman in an increasingly desperate effort to reclaim one's lost prerogatives. Many political figures, as of late, appear to have adopted the second alternative. The average Joes seem, by and large, to be adopting the first. Maybe this is one case where the average guys are smarter?