by Jason Stotts
In September of last year, on the old Erosophia, I published an essay called “Objectivism, Masculinity, Femininity, and Homosexuality: Initial Thoughts.” Recently, I was sent an e-mail, asking some very good questions about the essay and questioning my definitions of masculinity and femininity. Below, I am going to reprint that letter anonymously, and with the author’s permission, and my response to the author. I would advise, before you read this, to first read the essay on the old Erosophia, if you have not done so yet.
I just read your essay on Objectivism, Masculinity, Femininity, and Homosexuality: Initial Thoughts.
Very well written. It is intelligent, rational, thought provoking and informative. I applaud you for your work. In fact, your explanation on feeling masculine via Adonis is the best explanation I have ever heard on emotion experience via gay sex.
I still have some questions after reading your article that I hope that you can help me understand your view.
You have defined masculinity as “being the experience of one’s embodied maleness” rather than the traditional definition of “dominance.” “Masculinity is no more than the recognition of one’s maleness and the experience of masculinity is the experience of being an embodied man.” As far as I can deduce it, you are saying that male is as male does. If you feel it, then that’s masculinity. The same goes for femininity. If you feel as a female, then that’s femininity.
Please correct me if I am wrong because that’s all I can deduce your explanation to. Now my problem with it is you are still NOT explaining what masculinity is. I’m not saying that “dominance” is a good definition, but I suspect it became generally accepted because it is easier to accept a definition with a synonym (rightly or wrongly).
Your explanation of male is as male does, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to give me anything to grab onto as an definition.
The second part of your definition of masculinity is the desire for penetration; femininity is the desire for reception. As you adequately pointed out, the bottom in a gay sex situation, he clearly likes to receive. This puts masculinity as a definition at odds with itself. The bottom comes out of his sexual encounter feeling more male, not more female; yet his masculinity is achieved via reception and not penetration.
To take this a step further, if I disregard the second half of your definition, “masculinity” and “femininity” really sound like the same thing describing respective gender. Am I understanding you correctly?
And this is where I run into trouble, if masculinity and femininity are both just words describing the same thing, then men and women are truly and intrinsically alike. That would be true if you can prove to me that you can take any child and mold them into exactly the stereotypical maleness or femaleness. Of course that poses a question bordering on absurdity.
In my anecdotal, personal and non-scientific method of deduction, I believe that there are in-born maleness and femaleness. Being a female, I naturally like certain things girly. Perhaps I’ve been completely influenced by my upbringing, or perhaps some of it is in my genes. Unless you can say for a fact that it is all in my upbringing, whatever that is in my genes that is driving my feminine penchants then is the de-facto “femininity” – my inborn femaleness.
This is what I am getting at, it seems to me that there are intrinsic maleness and femaleness. I can’t tell you what they are. I agree that they are not as broad stroke as “dominance” and “submissiveness.” I also don’t think I can accept the definition as general as they are what they are. I am hoping for a more precise answer: what exactly is masculinity and what exactly is femininity? Or, put it this way: what is it that makes the bottom gay guy and the top lesbian girl feel their respective gender correctness?
Can you help? If I am missing a logic link here, please help me see it. I really appreciate it. This is a subject I’ve pondered on and have never quite came up with a satisfying answer. Your thoughts are welcome.
Thank you for writing. I always enjoy corresponding with people about the essays I write, but very few people ever write.In terms of the issue of masculinity and femininity, let me confess first that I don’t think that I’ve completely answered the question myself. The essay you read comes from a longer essay that served as the basis for a speech that I presented to the Ohio Objectivist Society last summer.
Now, in terms of the theory I’m developing, I’m not trying to say that masculinity is just what men do. I think that being male is necessary, but not sufficient, for masculinity. In fact, I think that a man could go his entire life without experiencing masculinity: simply being male is not enough. It’s the experience of your body (being embodied) in a sexual context that is masculinity: blood flowing to your penis and it hardening, your blood pumping faster, your breathing becoming faster and deeper, your skin becoming more sensitive, adrenaline flowing and causing your muscles to tighten, etc. In a sexual context, when you are aroused, not only do you experience your body in a different way that in any other context, but the partner you are with highlights this fact: a male/male pair would highlight it via what I’m calling “mirroring”, while a male/female pair would highlight it via “contrast.” When I’m sexually aroused and in a sexual context with a female partner, my experience of my body is very different than any other – even auto-erotic experiences. It is this unique experience of being male, sexually aroused, in a sexual context, and with a partner, in which I want to anchor masculinity.
Now, I acknowledge that attempting to put penetration and reception back into the definitions of masculinity and femininity causes problems and perhaps it is inappropriate to do so. The idea was, much as you point out, to give masculinity and femininity something more substantial to be grounded in. Unfortunately, it opens the definitions up to the same criticisms that I level at the definitions of dominance and submission.
However, I don’t think that it would mean that masculinity and femininity would be so fluid as to be able to be applied to a person of the opposite sex. The true anchor that I want to develop for those concepts is in the bodies response and our experience of it. If so anchored, it’s clear that you couldn’t apply masculinity to a female, as she would be incapable of experiencing her embodied maleness.
I certainly think that you’re right that there are differences between men and women. Some of these are clearly genetic: men tend to gain muscle faster, tend to be taller, have narrower hips, don’t develop breast tissue, have a penis, etc, while women tend to gain muscle slowly, tend to be shorter, have wider hips, develop breast tissue, have a vagina, etc. There are obviously a much wider difference between men and women in all cultures, but what this is can vary drastically between cultures. It’s hard to say what sorts of psychological traits are strongly influenced by genetics (I would never say caused here), and which are cultural. I don’t think that the the physical differences are the basis of masculinity and femininity, although they are clearly the basis of physical sex. But, as I said above, I don’t think physical sex and sexual essence (masculinity and femininity) are the same. Thus, I think you are right that there is an inborn “maleness” and “femaleness”, but I would deny this is the same as masculinity and femininity, unless we want to rob these concepts of all content and reduce them to the idea of “manliness” and “womanliness.”
In terms of your question about homosexuals and their experience of their sex, I think this is a very complicated question. Part of the complication is that they often do not feel as though they are of the sex of their physical body. From what I understand of the experience of being homosexual and experiencing your sexuality, and I don’t know that I understand it well enough to give a completely satisfying answer, there can be misalignments. Indeed, many homosexual couples end up taking on the paradigm of the M/F couple: one is the “man” and the other is the “woman” (whether it is two gay men or two lesbians). Obviously, current definitions of femininity as submission to the male and of masculinity as dominance over the feminine are incapable of handling this. Perhaps, though, if I do as you suggest and drop the idea of penetration and reception, and stick to just the idea of embodiedness, that my theory would be able to cover this case. For, surely, both lesbians feel female.
I think I still have some ways to go to completely understand the issues, but I want to think you for your questions. I think they have helped me to see the issue in a different light and perhaps I’ll be writing a new essay soon. In the meantime, I welcome more questions.
I think that the issues involved in the ideas of masculinity and femininity are quite interested and it looks like I’ll be writing a new essay on the subject soon. I think it is important that we remember that we are not looking for what it means to be “manly” or “womanly” in any particular culture, but for the universal concepts of masculinity and femininity, which are part of human nature and independent of culture.
I welcome other questions at this point as I head back to the metaphorical drawing board and begin my theorizing again.