I am not writing this apropos of any particular incident, but as Professor Tolkien said, this does not mean that it is not applicable to any particular incident. This is just a brief sketch of some of my thoughts on being male, some basic axioms of social interaction that I have held with me since I was a teen. I am, in some ways, reluctant to put out what is just some sketchy thoughts without any real theories or evidence to back it up. However, I have noticed that is not always a barrier on this site, so bear with me, if you choose.

The first thing to understand about male psychology is that in the United States, men do not believe they have intrinsic worth. Now, not many men may say this, and some may debate it on religious or philosophical grounds, but in day to day interactions, neither men nor women treat men like they have intrinsic worth. A man is not interesting, lovable, or desirable because of who he is. A man's being is what he does. If a man wishes to gain interest, love or desire he has to do things. Lots of things. And it would be an easy out for me to say this is the message carried through television, but it actually pertains to all social interactions, a sediment of messages that builds up grain by grain from preschool on.

Now the problem is, doing things can be hard. And perhaps I should bring in television and movies here: the fact that getting things done is hard is compounded by the fact that men in pop culture don't usually have quite so much trouble getting things done, Harry Potter and Shinji Ikari sometimes excepted. Men as portrayed are self-confident, autonomous, and have skills and abilities that gain them respect. Meanwhile, here in the real world, your graduate school education won't get you a part time shift as a clerk at a used book store. There is always a gap between fantasy and reality, and that gap is only getting wider: what is the point of a male self-image based on manipulation of the world and accomplishment when those things are not really the matters of vital economic necessity that they once were. I have recently wondered whether the recent high unemployment rate is not just a blip, but is actually an underlying reality. This is hardly a radical idea on my part: Kurt Vonnegut wrote Player Piano, a book about the sociology of people in a world where employment was not necessary. And he wrote it in 1954, which was a while ago. But the question remains unanswered.

As an additional irony of the male situation, what remains of economic accomplishment is no longer accomplished by being Captain Kirk. If you hope to have an affluent career, you have to deal with lots of teamwork, and you have to be able to change your intellectual judgments, as well as have lots of empathy. Of course, while economic necessity wants men to have jobs where they spend their time reading e-Mails and interfacing with their co-workers, they still have social expectations to be lone prospectors, facing the world without help.

So here we have the dilemma: a social expectation of men to be autonomous and economically productive, to be rugged individualists who earn their place in the social and economic world; and a reality of where that just isn't very possible. There are (at least) two ways to deal with this dilemma. The first would be to start looking inward, trying to find your own self-worth, even as someone who is dependent on others, and maybe to start questioning aloud why affection and esteem is tied up with economic success, especially when productivity is not even needed in the way it used to be. To me, this would be the wiser course to take. Alternatively, and I have seen many young men take this route, is to cling more desperately to the myth, and to wrap themselves in a fantasy world where they are totally autonomous, where they have real ultimate power, and where their guns or fists make them superior. And if the friction between this self-image and reality causes problems, the thing to do is to delve deeper into the self-image of a misunderstood rugged individualist. Any dependency that the man does have is not his fault: it is the fault of a conformist world that tries to squash his individuality, etcetera. The more this becomes a problem, the more the man can retreat into a primativist dream world where he survives by tooth and claw. Surviving by tooth and claw is actually pretty hard, since humans are social animals, and we also don't have much in the way of teeth or claws. But that doesn't mean that the fantasy can't be maintained.

The irony of this is that the men who are seemingly the most individualistic and against society are the ones who, at heart, can not dare to challenge the basic assumption that their only value comes from their extrinsic actions. They are the ones who are afraid to value themselves as individuals.

And when will this be solved? I can't say, I do know that social acceptance of the fact that we are living in a world where their is not a constant fight against the environment seems to be lagging. Questioning these gender roles in a changed world seems to still be a topic that people greet with incomprehension, and while this is so, some people, mostly young and almost all men, will deal with it in as poor of a manner as they can.

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