by Gail Goldsmith
Men with their arms draped around each other, leaning against each other, linking arms–these pictures
make the bro-hug
look standoffish. These aren’t couples posing–these are the equivalent of that time in middle school when Picture Day had the option of a friends’ photo. This is American male friendship, as it used to be–a time untouched by “no homo.”
The majority of social interaction for the middle- to upper-class man took place in private and public equivalents of the Man Cave, but these were neither retreats nor He-Man Women Haters Clubs, but rather condescending social separation based on the idea that women were delicate, feminizing influences that sapped male virility. Men had multi-dimensional lives, women were “angels of the house.” A man needed time to be a man among men, lead the strenuous life, and converse with his intellectual peers after long days in the public sphere.
You know, man stuff–run along and get us some cocktails, little lady.
Among working-class men, friendship was a recognition of mutual struggle and survival–and relaxation in bars and fraternal order meetinghouses. These pictures weren’t about symbolic Man Caves, but rather celebrations of deep long-standing bonds forged at work, through community, from childhood, on sports teams, and in wars.
Understanding gender history offers a nuanced rebuke to pop psychology and self-help books that peddle paradigms of understanding that denigrate the emotional capacity, empathy, and expression of men–especially if they are heterosexual and cisgender. Men aren’t “hard-wired to be X”, Men’s Health, they’re just socialized that way.
Manxiety is reactionary and gender panics, marked by strict codes of behavior, are cyclical. Give it a few years and these pictures will be back in style.
Gail Goldsmith is studying for a Master of Divinity at University of Chicago and may not get to write all her papers on sexuality, feminism, and kyriarchy in religion, but she will try to adapt. She moved from rural Virginia to follow her dreams in the big city, because she is kind of cheesy like that. She’s also on Twitter at @gailagoldsmith.