I came across the phrase “incidental masculinity” in a true story about the attraction to a man from a gay women. She was breaking up with a girlfriend and simultaneously developing a platonic love for a man she met while performing in a college play. What intrigued me was that despite her sexual attraction to women, there was something about male energy that was so appealing to her. The fact that the attraction wasn’t sexual is of interest. His manliness fit a need that could not be fulfilled by a women. In the story she did not elaborate on exactly what characteristics or traits of manliness that attracted her but my guess was his projection of quiet strength, confidence and emotional protection. Score one for positive masculinity.
The author of the article on the attraction of a fantasy sports league answered his own question,”Why was I there? The straightforward answer is because my friends were, and I wanted to be with them. The actual draft was secondary to the event’s social function — an excuse to stay in touch, which has become increasingly difficult since I moved to the East Coast in 2012.” A survey quoted by the author found that 81% of fantasy participants were men in the peak of so called friendship collecting years – 18 to 34. After 34 men become more attentive to work, family and consequently do not have the time and energy necessary to maintain friendships.
This is a process that many people experience and that a body of literature gives anecdotal and statistical credence to the notion that male friendships start to evaporate. “Men Have No Friends,” reads the headline of a 2019 Harper’s Bazaar article by Melanie Hamlett, “Last year, the Survey Center on American Life found that the number of American adults with three or fewer close friends leaped from 27 percent in 1990 to 49 percent in 2021, with 15%of men having no close friendships at all, a fivefold increase since 1990. In addition, men are significantly less likely than women to discuss personal matters with the friends they do have. Frankly, there is no shortage of data to support the myriad of health risks sustained by loneliness.
“Loneliness can kill you,” reads one especially bleak subhead on a 2020 article from the University of Miami Health System. A November Psychology Today article claims that loneliness can shorten your life, describing side effects that include cardiovascular disease and stroke — even suicide. “Loneliness is as much of a health risk for men as smoking or being overweight,” reads a 2021 article at UCLA Health, citing Psychiatry Research. It “increases cancer risk by 10 percent, regardless of age, socioeconomic status, lifestyle, and other risk factors.”
Fantasy sports can be a partial antidote to increasing male friendships but there is a downside. On one hand meeting with your league partners- especially if can happen face to face – does offer a satisfying sense of camaraderie but without intimacy. Better than loneliness but insufficient to make up for the friendships of an earlier stage of life. Unfortunately, if the particular league goes virtual there is no chance for intimacy and in fact the online occupation with the fantasy world could easily divert men from the time and energy to form close friendships. A better and more sustainable road to friendships is joining an on-going men’s group.
A new way of talking to boys about being boys is being promoted as aspirational masculinity. The idea is that we need to talk to boys about their gender without focusing on the negative qualities that men have been associated with – toxic masculinity and the rigid man code. According to former professional football player Don McPherson — who is now a writer, activist, educator and the founder of the aspirational approach – is that previous efforts in communicating about masculinity to boys has failed. A big reason for this failure is inadequate vocabulary. Parents and caregivers to girls can rely on the word “feminism” should they want to frame girlhood as both positive and dynamic. Calling one’s daughter a “feminist” allows for change and progress without limiting girls or criticizing femininity. With boys, there was no such term. McPherson explains the concept as follows, “We need to stop only asking boys and men to make space for others and instead ask men to make new spaces for themselves that aren’t confined to the narrow definitions of masculinity.” Sounds good but nowhere in the description of his program does he address the notion of pride in being a boy/man that doesn’t simply mean making boys more aware of feminine needs and characteristics. The assumption seems to be that fighting against patriarchal behaviors will automatically make better men. What about defining for boys the virtues of being a man in the light rather than simply being an apologist for men in the shadow.