Crucial Minutia
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Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: Don’t Be A Pussy
6 Comments | posted March 19th, 2007 at 04:13 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

“Come on, guys! You barely need to get any air!” Trent called up, leaning against his ski poles fifty feet below us on the snowy slope. “Just enough to clear those rocks!”

Matt, my beanpole-shaped college roommate, took one last look over the edge and called back, “Sorry, Trent. My vagina hurts.” He skied around the precipice and came to stand with Trent and the girls below.

I nodded. Smart move on Matt’s part to go there; Trent would have no worse insult to add. I leaned over to look at the small cliff he had just jumped over. Mind you, this would be the second cliff I would jump off on this run if I did it—the last one was a five foot drop onto the steep, slushy slope that we had just skied down.

I couldn’t see the rocks very well, but it was a patch at least a few feet long. They were jagged, unforgiving granite. If I mistimed my jump, I could break my skis, my legs. But if I made it—Matt hadn’t done it. He usually took more risks than I did. I could leapfrog him, if only for that day, on the cojones scale. I carefully stepped my way back up the slope to get some approach speed. I peered down at the rocks again.

“Oh, just do it!” Trent yelled. “Don’t be a pussy.”

*     *     *

Pussy. In one form or another, it is the ultimate trump card a guy can play.

You don’t want to play football today? Come on—don’t be a wuss (a rhymed, more polite version of ‘puss’). We were going to do that double-black-diamond run through the trees backwards and blindfolded, but this guy pussied out. We hear variations on the theme so often, we don’t even stop to consider them anymore.

Basically what we’re saying is, “don’t be a girl.” Don’t be the literal piece of anatomy that defines a person as a woman. Why is that one of the worst things we can accuse a male of being? Girls don’t say, “don’t be a guy,” or “she penis’ed out,” so why do guys?

Freudian feminist Nancy Chodorow offers one theory. William Pollack describes it this way in his bestselling book Real Boys:

[Chodorow] showed that because, in our society, women are still largely responsible for child care, boys appear to have a harder time than girls in integrating their identities as males, their initial “gender identity.” Girls can remain comfortably bonded with the mother, she explained, but boys are threatened with remaining too close and not consolidating a safe enough sense of a “different,” more masculine self. Following from her argument, then…Being a boy becomes defined in the negative: not being a girl.

The argument makes sense, especially when you consider the often distant relationships between father and son (the topic of many future columns). Boys have strong emotional connections with their mothers, less with their fathers. Yet we need to be like our fathers, so culturally, we define ourselves as not female. The sad part is, this definition is not a one-time, adolescent process. It becomes a part of male culture, and as such, stays with us our whole lives.

*     *     *

I tried to make out the shapes below me on the slope. I saw Trent and Matt with another friend of ours, a girl. Below that, I saw Matt’s wife, and below her, my ex-girlfriend, with whom I’m still close. They were all watching, waiting to see if I would jump the cliff. I wanted to. I wanted to prove that I’m as much of a man as Trent.

But then I thought about my shins, how they were worn skinbare from the last three days of skiing. My legs were tired. It was the end of the day, the end of a three-day Vail ski vacation that had gone great so far. What was a “pussy?” Who was more the man here: Trent, who had taken the jump, or Matt, who didn’t, accepting the ridicule that would follow?

I skied around the precipice, following Matt’s tracks. I smacked him on the butt with my pole as I passed, trying to buck up both of our spirits. It doesn’t matter what you tell yourself: if you don’t jump the cliff, you don’t feel like a man.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 19th, 2007 at 4:13 pm and is filed under Pop Culture, Relationships, Gender. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 6 responses

  1. Ethan, this is a kickass post! xo, Kimmi

    This is the film I was telling you about:

    HIP-HOP: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a riveting documentary that tackles issues of masculinity, sexism, violence and homophobia in today’s hip-hop culture.

    March 20th, 2007 | 5:28 pm
  2. Felice Belle

    Friday night I called my friend a “pussy” because he was sipping a shot. He instantly tossed it back and slammed the glass on the bar. Boys are so easy.

    ps - I know you’re not a fan, but Prince has a great song called “Pussy Control” about the power of p.

    March 22nd, 2007 | 9:23 am
  3. This seems a simple matter of subconscious risk/benefit analysis, the kind of calculation evolution programmed us to do very well and very quickly. You ask “Is the expected benefit I will get from successfully jumping this cliff greater than the damage I will sustain if I fail,” with an adjustment made for your perception of the odds of success. We spend our lives gathering experience to perform this calculation better, comforted by the notion that we can maybe, one day, perfect it. Perfection is impossible, but it’s one of those comforting illusions that make getting out of bed possible.

    Without much calculation, you know it’s dangerous to jump the cliff, and you would not have jumped it of your own accord. Why question the wisdom born of millions of years of evolution? Because some shithead taunts you? Fuck THAT.

    The social pressure applied in that situation by your “friend” Trent is a sure sign that he is insecure in his manhood — anytime a dude creates a situation where other men must prove their manhood by performing a task HE HAS ALREADY PERFORMED, you have a “get-out-of-stupidity free” card. Not that you can point this out in the moment without sounding like a psychologist.

    No, gamesmanship requires a subtler ploy, and your strategy amounts to accusing him of the classic logical fallacy of “begging the question.” The man calling you a pussy has clearly LOST this game of one-upsmanship because, by not jumping, you and Matt:

    1) shot down his self-promoting premise that jumping made HIM a man, and therefore implicitly implied that

    2) the whole exercise was rather pathetic and tiresome, that REAL MEN (like you) don’t have to prove their manhood through silly and dangerous stunts.

    The only way to win these constructed manhood games is NOT TO PLAY. Kudos on rising above and keeping your self-respect. Next time don’t hesitate. Reject IMMEDIATELY.

    And try to hang out with fewer shitheads. You’ll be happier in the long run.

    PS: What about the two women in your party? Did they jump? Why are they only bystanders? I swear.

    March 30th, 2007 | 10:10 am
  4. Just for posterity’s sake, here’s the photo:

    Should I have jumped it (circled in red)? You be the judge.

    March 30th, 2007 | 1:15 pm
  5. S.McCalla

    No, you should not have jumped.

    April 14th, 2007 | 8:45 pm
  6. […] mater. My year, nearly half the class did a semester abroad, including my two best male friends (of cliff-jumping fame). My relationship with my then-girlfriend, H, was on the rocks, partially because without my male […]

    April 17th, 2007 | 2:43 pm

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