Does the spectacle of men enjoying crazy-hot peppers or million-Scoville hot sauces ever strike you as a bit disingenuous? Like there’s really another motive unrelated to making chicken wings tasty? You may be on to something.
A new study titled, Gender differences in the influence of personality traits on spicy food liking and intake(paywalled, and I admit to not having paid for the full text), will be published in the journal Food Quality and Preference this June. I was intrigued by this nugget from the Abstract:
In men, Sensitivity to Reward [as measured by a psychological assay –DCF] associated more strongly with liking and consumption of spicy foods, while in women, Sensation Seeking [likewise] associated more strongly with liking and intake of spicy foods. These differences suggest that in men and women, there may be divergent mechanisms leading to the intake of spicy foods; specifically, men may respond more to extrinsic factors, while women may respond more to intrinsic factors.
So the women who like hot sauce tend to like it because they like it, and the men who like hot sauce tend to like it because they expect? something? for liking it. Now I am not saying that we have some great Mars/Venus divide here with the two sexes facing off across an unbridgeable gulf. Far from it. It’s probably more like two bell curves that overlap but with their peaks separated by 15% of the length of the X-axis. 15% is just a guess. Getting a look at the exact numbers was my biggest temptation toward plunking down the price of a pretty good bottle of wine for this article.
But I’m even more interested in: what is the reward? Is the adulation of peers enough? Maybe. A software and consulting company where I worked around the turn of the century used to have informal hot-sauce eating contests. At the last one ever, a fellow overdid it to the point he passed out and had to be taken to the ER. I believe it was a tablespoon of Dave’s Insanity that ended the day’s festivities. Afterward, having survived, he most certainly did not mind that nobody would stop telling the story of why we didn’t have informal hot-sauce eating contests any more.
I’m assuming he still doesn’t mind, even 18 years later.
Mary Cheney saw the previews for RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 7, and flipped out. Although out as a lesbian herself, she can usually be found attacking LGBTQ communities to make political hay for those who trade on the Red base’s homophobia. She wrote,
Why is it socially acceptable – as a form of entertainment – for men to put on dresses, make up and high heels and act out every offensive stereotype of women (bitchy, catty, dumb, slutty, etc.) – but it is not socially acceptable – as a form of entertainment – for a white person to put on blackface and act out offensive stereotypes of African Americans? Shouldn’t both be ok or neither? Why does society treat these activities differently?
Wow… equating drag and blackface! I wonder if she also sees no difference between MMA and gay-bashing assaults like this one. Hey, both use fists and feet as weapons!
There was a lot of buzz around this, which is too bad because it’s just what she wanted. Maybe some people found her deliberately muddled framing of the question created difficulty expressing a good response. One who had no such trouble was Marriage Equality vlogger Matt Baume:
This is an important distinction. We go to drag shows pretty often – another one today! And we have never seen a drag performer do anything remotely denigrating to women. To us, the point of drag is… well, it’s just fun. But the serious point underlying it is, Gender is not a binary value, 1 or 0 and that’s all there is. Gender is a spectrum. Well, actually a few of them but that’s a topic for another day. The binary view of gender does great damage to people whose true self doesn’t notch cleanly into a box at end or another. Drag is a way to explore that issue in a fun setting. And to get back to the “fun” aspect, a drag performer who fit Cheney’s straw-man description of drag would just be… bad.
Full disclosure: we are definitely fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and especially of one of the contestants on Season 7, Mrs. Kasha Davis. She’s the hometown favorite for Rochester this year, and on Mar 2nd we’ll be rooting!
From the earliest age, boys are taught that there is a certain range of behaviors and feelings required of them if they will ever be considered men, and that straying beyond these borders is really not acceptable. “Act like a man!” “Real men don’t cry!”
Vignette: I’m eating lunch at work, sitting with some other men. Bob (no real names, of course) tells us he has just traded in a sporty roadster he’d been driving for a four year old mid-sized import sedan. He was able to pay cash for the sedan, which eliminates car payments as part of a larger effort to repair his credit, damaged by a business that went under some years earlier. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Not to Carl! He starts on Bob right away. “You bought a WHAT? Why do you want a pussy car like that? That’s a woman car.” I snap at Carl, defending Bob’s right to drive whatever the heck he wants, especially as it’s part of a sensible financial plan and not some display of Homo Sapiens Americansis’ peacock feathers.
On an intellectual level, I am puzzled by gender-insults being hurled at a car. But in a deeper way that I can’t get rid of, I know exactly what Carl means. After all, I, too, have been trained in the finer points of “manliness”; on the playgrounds and in the locker rooms of my youth. How many years of such training am I up against here? In some sense, is Carl just another prisoner of the Man Box?
Males are trained right from the start of life to be in control. To obtain money, cars, and girls (only girls!) for sex. To be aggressive, tough and athletic. Failure at any of these things is failure to “be a man.” To display any weakness or sensitivity, to cry, and oh especially to feel any attraction to another boy is truly a failure to “be a man”.
In this TED talk Tony Porter recounts an early experience where he had to deal with this pressure. Watch to the end (about 10 minutes) for what a nine-year-old had to say.
Nine years old.
Now as we all, know, beer is the Official Beverage of the Man Box. You can plainly tell by watching TV on a weekend afternoon for the repertoire of 30-second dramas recounting beer’s benefits, and its noble efforts at helping all men obtain money, cars, and girls (only girls!) for sex. One brand recently took it to its logical conclusion and offered a view of the other side of the coin. In this video, we explore not the benefits of remaining comfortably within the Man Box, but the penalties for venturing outside it.
Oh, no! You stepped outside the Man Box! You will now be crushed to death, as obviously must happen. Afterward, your friends and lovers will forget that you ever existed. Within about three seconds.
At this point, I think the only counter I can offer is awareness. Be aware as men (or as women in relationships with men) of when the Man Box is restricting us from something natural, something right. Then step outside it.
I promise the giant beer cans are not gonna get ya.
Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche is the title of a book that was published in 1982. Subtitled, “A Guidebook to All that is Truly Masculine,” it was a tongue-in-cheek1 look at some very real attitudes in America about masculinity and what we mean when we talk about that. Many experiences I have had, and many ways I myself have felt at one time or another, lead me to believe that we need to air this whole set of topics out thoroughly. So this is the first of an irregular series of posts that will explore them.
I think this is important now, because I think that the joke inherent in Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche would fall flat today. In the USA (at least), we have a very defective idea of masculinity that has grown into something of a monster. What may have been over the top in 1982 will come across now as pretty mild, perhaps too subtle even to be funny. Of course, the “masculine” thing to do would be never to talk about it.
So talk about it, we must.
There are a lot of intertwined threads to this conversation, and each of these bits of topic can lead one down its own rabbit-hole of research and, possibly, pessimism. Here are some of the items I thought of that are facets of this:
The astonishing array of nasty and brutish behaviors prescribed to us with the formula, “Real men….”
Various compilations of “Rules for Dating my Daughter” — wherein a young woman’s father makes it plain that his daughter’s virginity is his property, and any young man who tampers with his property will die horribly.
A series of TV commercials that depict men engaging in behavior that doesn’t fit the narrowest definition of “masculine”. They are immediately crushed to death for this offense, and forgotten by their friends within seconds.
Toleration of domestic violence (e.g., Ray Rice)
Catcalling and other expressions of rape culture
Homophobia and trans-phobia
Veneration of the military and paramilitary
…and all that just in a fifteen-minute brainstorming session with myself.
My plan over the next several weeks is to devote at least one post per week to a deep enough exploration of one of these topics that we can understand its roots and possibly to propose a way to change attitudes a little. Maybe enough to switch a negative to a positive, maybe only enough to have it come out neutral. I think it will be an improvement. I am not a social scientist, but I think I am logical enough to absorb some wisdom from their writings and pass along a hint or two.
1 I hope. It’s been a while since I read it, and Poe’s Law applies here, for sure.↩