Am I A Masculine Writer?

Frank Bill has an interesting piece over at the Daily Beast about whether masculine writing is dead. It’s a good piece and raises some interesting questions, but his description of masculine writing set something off inside me I wasn’t quite aware was there and I posted the manifesto of a comment below to his Facebook link. I’ve long struggled with traditional definitions of masculinity because I don’t meet the minimum requirements for most of them. But I’ve never doubted my masculinity when it comes to providing for or protecting my family.

I don’t know that you have to be rough and rugged to be a survivor. My dad made a good living bolting doors on cars for GM and while other kids dads got them into the shop for summer jobs he never wanted me to be a part of it because he hated it so much and wanted something better for me.

I learned a trade, but my trade was typing and filing. Right out of high school I got a job pulling wire for an electrical company that paid okay but was miserable, hot work. I left that job for a temp job with Kelly Services that paid twice as much. That job led to more high paying office jobs that I took while my other friends were mowing lawns or roofing or landscaping. They all lost their jobs along the way while I found myself working for a state university with great benefits, good pay, and virtually guaranteed job security.

I don’t hunt or fish because my dad didn’t care for it and never taught me. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t survive if I had to. Survival skills are part of a man’s personality if he hones them, regardless of what his career is. I don’t know how to fight, but I’d punch and kick until I died to protect my family if I had to. I’ve put myself in a situation with my skills and personality where, hopefully, survival skills like this aren’t necessary.

And this is the world I write from. It may not be about fighting and rough labor, but it’s about failure, and great expectations, and searching for meaning in life. Most importantly it’s drawn from my life and I’m a man and that makes it masculine.

5 thoughts on “Am I A Masculine Writer?

  1. Bryon, I did’t see your comment on Frank’s page because I’m not on his friend’s list. Bottom line is no one really knows how they will react to a situation until it happens. Here’s a comment I left on Ben Whitmer’s page, though, re: the same essay:

    These types of essays make me cringe, frankly. I don’t know Frank, but people I do know and respect do and speak well of him, so he gets the benefit of the doubt. I too grew up in that kind of world but left, and I’m glad I did, even though I’m back living within miles of where I grew up. While I tend to identify 100% as a blue collar guy — despite my expensive leather briefcase and all my frequent flyer miles — I’m glad I left, because the people who never left that life I often find to be ignorant, misogynistic assholes. I agree with a lot of what Frank says in his essay, but at the same time I’m of a mind that if you have to talk about how tough and self-reliant you are, you probably aren’t. Nor should you judge a person until you’ve spent some time in their shoes. I’ve more pride in my ability to find, split, and stack a winter’s worth of firewood than I am my ability to restore a SQL database, by far, but that’s a preference gained by experiencing what it takes to do both. As for masculine writers, you can add Ed Abbey to the list, a guy I like . . . but he’s got a pretty healthy streak of misogyny running through him too, and that isn’t masculine, that’s just dickishness. A writer I do love these days is one I only recently discovered: Ralph Beer. His collection of essays, IN THESE HILLS, will never leave my possession. Fantastic stuff.

  2. I do think Frank raises a lot of good points about the lack of some kind of core among many men of recent generations, I just wanted to list my specific alternate experience as someone raised that way as well. Also, I think it’s good to remember that Frank wrote this to publicize his very masculine book so its not an objective examination of masculinity by any stretch. Thanks for commenting over here though. I always appreciate your no bullshit vision of things.

  3. I guess my issue is with calling a lot of that stuff “masculine.” I haven’t read DONNYBROOK so I can’t comment. I did read CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA and really didn’t care for it, so I haven’t been that interested in the new one when there is so much else to read. Of course plenty other people rave about Donald Ray Pollock as well, and I all but loathed KNOCKEMSTIFF. The title story was great, though. No biggie, though. It’s one of those things that I almost regret even commenting over at Facebook; hopefully it doesn’t come to that.

  4. Well put, fellas. I think there’s a tendency to romanticize the blue-collar while ignoring the ugly stuff, and I think in essays like these can be damn reductive, not to mention pretty harmful to the way we view men and ‘manliness’ in this day and age.

    I come from a fishing family. My uncle’s a lifelong fisherman. His brother, my dad, has been a doctor for thirty years. They’re both honest, hardworking men who keep their word and would die for their families, no matter how dirty their hands are or aren’t at the end of the day.

    I also wonder about how gay men are supposed to fit into this concept of masculinity, but I’m afraid I already know the answer.

  5. The problem with social trends of masculinity is how much it suppresses individuality. You got to ask: how masculine is it to pretend to be manly just to fit into a stereotype? Not too brave, I think.

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