As a femme, I think about masculinity primarily as something that I define myself in opposition to. However, as I reflect on the idea of “Living Gender” for this month’s Gender Celebration Carnival, I wanted to think about the way that the models for masculinity in my life have informed my personal gender identity.
A few years ago, I hosted a series of interviews called “Musings on Masculinity”. Due to my general flakiness as a blogger, I failed to ever complete the wrap-up post where I would tie threads together and describe some of my own perspectives on the questions. I did have a draft of this post going, though, and it has been nominated to be resurrected from my Dead Letter Office.
For me, the most influential model of masculinity in my life has always been my Dad.
So, who is he? He is a high school drop-out that served in the Navy. He had a stack of LPs that I raided as a teenager – everything from Meat Loaf to Lou Reed. He stood by my mother as she battled cancer and mental illness for the entire span of their marriage. He rode a Harley long before I was born but has never stopped talking about it.
Because my Daddy had been a sailor, he swore like one. At some point during my early teenage years, it became accepted in our house that I might curse and as long as the swear wasn’t directed at him, there wasn’t a consequence. The only memory I have of being told directly what a woman is or does by my father is this. One day I was recounting some story of pain or anger or injustice and it included a tirade of f-bombs. He quietly listened to me finish speaking and then, looking beleaguered, he said, “Ellie, that isn’t very lady-like.”
My Dad saw me as a loose cannon because I didn’t have a mother. I know he fretted over it and I know that for part of him, every date he went on after my mother died was an audition. Was this the woman that could raise his daughter? I know my father thought of his masculinity as a hindrance to being a good single parent. Faced with the prospect of raising a young girl on the cusp of adolescence alone, his gut reaction was to seek out reinforcements. He dated several women under the agenda of finding me a “female figure” in my life.
Through my teenage years, he trusted me implicitly. I know he always thought I was getting up to much worse trouble than I really was. But he wasn’t an authoritarian, rather he was respectful of my autonomy and unrelentingly proud of my accomplishments.
For all the ways my Dad is rough and tumble, his version of masculinity is one that is informed by honesty, respect, and fidelity. He is fiercely protective of those he loves but he also taught me to be strong beyond any limitations that were placed on me or my gender.
So, as I reflect on gender lately and my fear of the masculine elements of myself, I remember the parts that come from my Dad and I become more comfortable embracing and inhabiting them.
The Carnival will chug along on Thursday, July 7th with a post by Dangerous Lilly. If you are interested in participating, see this post to learn a bit more. Then jump in! You can fill out the straggler entry form so that I can be sure to include you in the wrap-up at the end.