Guest blog: unhooking ideas of masculinity

(As promised, this is the guest post by a certain remarkable woman in my life, on the topic of the “Man Skills Academy” I talked about in my last post: here.)


When Mr Vagabond himself told me about the Man Skills Meetup ‘class’ he was planning to attend, I was a little mystified (we’re going to have manliness overload here soon…there are already bullet-holes on the wall!), but otherwise benevolently amused in an I’m-not-really-paying-that-much-attention way (shhh…don’t tell).


However, when he laughingly told me about the first class’s ‘curriculum’, I instinctively gave the universal ‘Excuse me, what…?’ death-stare. I tried to soothe it away, I really did, telling myself that they mean no harm; they’re just having fun. But, this kind of ‘fun’, is it really that innocuous?


Skill number 1 is how to unhook a woman’s bra?


Ok, let’s take a look at the full description:


a0183-000060hMan Skill #1: There’s nothing more embarrassing or mood killing than not being able to get a woman’s/your girlfriend’s bra off. It really kills the mood for both parties. We’ve all been there. Practice makes perfect. Come practice unclasping bras with one hand on a mannequin.


Note: it’s not just unhooking a bra, it’s unhooking a bra with one hand.


I take issue with bra-unclasping as a metric for manliness anyway, but the emphasis on one-handedness really gives it that extra boost of offensiveness. And helpfully reveals the underlying assumption quite nicely, namely that ‘manly’ men, real men, bang lots of women.


How do I make that connection, you might ask?

Envision, if you will, a man who can smoothly whip off a bra with one hand. Who is that man?


Someone who has ‘hooked up’ with a lot of women.


Now here’s a class saying: let’s teach you how to appear to be such a man. Why? What is good about seeming to have slept with lots of women?


don-draperBecause a ‘successful’ man is one who’s been with many women…


So…fake it, till you make it, I guess?


By emphasizing the deft removal of underwear, they’re also furthering the idea that men should see women as objects, not people. After all, they’re basically saying: “we’re not going to teach you how to improve your interactions with women, treat them well, or even have cool sexual skills. No, just how to unhook their bras like a stud.”


Sure, we’ve all had an awkward bra-strap moment or two in our lives. Especially for the young and inexperienced, it can be a particularly embarrassing experience. But isn’t that part of learning that sex is…messy? Real? Frequently embarrassing or awkward? Not like it is onscreen, be it on tv, film, or porn.


It’s a real exchange between people. And I’m not talking emotion here: women are just as capable of, and interested in, casual encounters as men. Love or emotion do not need to be involved. It’s great if they are, it’s great if they’re not, as long as both parties are on the same wavelength.


But as equal adults engaging in a consensual sexual encounter, I would think that the logical assumption is that you can talk or laugh about an embarrassing moment, and, in fact, SHOULD. Heck, if you can’t laugh about the ridiculousness of human bodies, sexual acts, and/or occasional wardrobe gaffes together, then you’re doing it wrong. In that case, instead of learning how to seduce like a lothario, you’d be better served learning how to relax and accept the bumbling beauty of real life.


Dr-No-Dinner-SuitI would also hope that we all assume that a woman is competent and empowered enough to just reach back and undo it herself, should the deed be taking too long. Why would it be the man’s job to do it?


As my friend Katie likes to put it, sex is like a conversation:

“Exchanging ideas, having respect for that person, maybe learning something.”


It is a participatory activity.


By saying that a successful man should be capable of removing a woman’s bra one-handed, you’re at the very least suggesting that the man is the leader, if not the instigator. He is the dominant party, who is expected to be in control of the encounter.


It furthermore perpetuates the notion that Man must show that he has mastery of all things (a point made by the entire purpose of the class: Man Skills). Women will then surely swoon at his skill and prowess.


This is what it means to be a manly man – a notion that hurts both women AND men.


Men are taught that they cannot fumble, or be slightly embarrassed: don’t be human, guys! Be a suave, perfect, automaton in control of everything! No pressure!


And women, well, they just don’t have a voice, or participate. “Come practice on a mannequin,” eerily foreshadows how the woman would be expected to be: unmoving, cold, silent, perfectly moulded, just standing there…Anyone else running for the hills right about now?


Women aren’t unwilling or docile participants in sexuality. They’re not stupid or incapable either. And just as importantly: they’re not judgmental a**holes who will take umbrage at a person’s minor struggle with a clothing item.


Should a man really want to figure out the mystery of the bra clasp – because fighting with those things is annoying and he doesn’t want to do that any more – fair enough. But then go ask an actual expert in the things: a woman. Has Mansplaining  gotten so bad that men now need to Mansplain women’s things to other men?

Note: Please excuse gender- and hetero-normative generalizations made throughout this piece: my issue is with the assumptions the class makes and perpetuates, which include an assumption of hetero males – and all women wearing bras.