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Danish 'prick raiders' challenge confines of traditionel masculinity


The Norwegian masculinity researcher Jørgen Lorentzen has read two recent anthologies by young Danish men on what it means to be a man in Denmark today. And one is really something to get excited about.

FORUM/November 2000 Bravo! At last! I am excited. I have just read a new book in the quite extensive series of anthologies by young Scandinavian women and men, who write about themselves. And I finally there is something get excited about. It took a "prick raid" to arouse me intellectually.

The most recent addition to the series Pikstormerne (Prick Raiders) is as far as I know the sixth anthology (one Swedish, two Norwegian and three Danish) in what has proven to be a veritable wildfire of gender debate in the Nordic countries. We haven't seen anything like it since the great nordic War on Sexual Moral in the 1880s. This time around it was a flood of young Swedish women who started it off with their book fittstimm (Cunt Cascade, 1999 - read The Cunt Cascade Takes on Denmark).

During the past three years I have read what young women and men have to say about gender, feminism, equality and perhaps mostly what they have to say about themselves as women and men. And finally there is something to get excited about.

But let me backtrack a bit. During the past week I have read both Danish anthologies written by Danish men as a reaction to the new feminist debate. First off I read Hvordan mand (Being a man, 2000).

The men represented in Hvordan mand have obviously been aggravated by the recent feminist anthologies as is stated in the cover blurb: "A manifesto by a group of men that don't want any more nonsense." You'd be hard put to find a worse way to sell yourself! Not only that, it is very difficult to write well on the basis of aggravation or with the self awareness of wanting no more nonsense. The anthology's first essay perhaps expresses the essense of this book best. In it Oliver Stilling writes that unfortunately he can't participate in the anthology, because he doesn't have anything to say on the subject. He says: "I have wracked my brain for a long time, and it's a blank!" Nevertheless, this emptiness or blankness adds up to 8 pages.

This attitude, which Stilling openly admits to, permeates the entire book: It is characterised by a defensive rhetoric in which the contributors either do not have anything to say or do not really think the debate has anything to do with them. Thus it amounts to a range of superficial relections on the stereotypical portraits of men presented in the feminist anthologies and simplified reflections on one's own or society's masculinity.

In several essays there is a logical connection between women - hatred of men - feminists - war rhetoric, in relation to which men see themselves as complete innocents and outside of the terrible world of feminists and the debate on gender equality. The sweetest comment is by Andreas Fulg Thøgersen: "I am just a young man, who falls in love, goes to bed with women and goes out on the town with the guys and listens to songs about restlessness and who longs for endless highways, great adventures, new opportunities and far-away places, who dreams about driving into the sunset in a convertible with the wind in his face and the radio on full blast."

And on top of that - a brain that is completely vacant. Thøgersen doesn't seem to realise that it is precisely this empty-headed, spineless, action-orientated masculinity which many women (and men) react against. And that the metaphors he uses are basic metaphors for conquering, irresponsible masculinity: Great adventures, escape to far-away places, etc.

One of the most important philosophical works I have read is Emanuell Levinas' Totality and Infinity (Totalité et infini, 1980). He spends of lot of time on the concept of responsbility and how this concept has its root in "response": Responsibility is to respond to another's address. One demonstrates responsibility by giving an answer, in the same way that an answer demands taking responsibility. The way I look at it, Hvordan mand is an attempt to deliver a response to these young women without taking responsibility. And according to Levinas, this is impossible. Perhaps then Stilling is quite clever by not wanting to answer at all.

I wonder why none of the men in this anthology are in the least bit curious about why the feminist anthologies have chosen victimization as their main plot? Why aren't they curious about what their female contemporaries think and write has to do with them, about the opportunity that gender and equality can give them to reflect on their lives, about how one creates a dialogue between men and women, about how they
can take responsibility for both men and women feeling better about themselves and each other.

I wonder why female speech/writing so quickly gives rise to defensive rhetoric, incomprehension, aggression, banalization and retreat amongst so many men.

I wonder why so many men don't see that feminism and equality offers them endless opportunities to enrich their lives in exciting and challenging discussions with women. Women represent an otherness that can open up for new understanding and offer men the possibility of true response-ability, by filling the vacant spaces of the brain with reflection and challenge in relation to children, sexuality, family life, women, men and one's self and not least: By being in a continuing process in one's own life.

However, in defense of this group of men, I must add that the feminst anthologies aren't particularly characterised by open dialogue feminism. Many of the young women haven't stepped beyond war rhetoric and the confining dualism of victimization. Women also inscribe themselves into a master discourse combined with a superficial talk show culture where only what is personal in life is a foundation for validity.

Of course not everything in Hvordan mand is empty-headed. And it is gratifying that most of the men end their essays by pointing out that they want men and women to be able to meet in a more open and equal dialogue and live together in peace and tolerance. I particularly liked the chapter in which Christian Skovbjerg reflects on his inner man. For Skovbjerg, this inner man is the traditional agressive, sexist man and according to Skovbjerg we all of us have similar inner men that haunt us in various ways.

I think that it is exactly with this approach, which leads men start to reflect upon and give a name to differences, opposition and conflicts among men, that maleness and masculinity starts getting exciting. Whether these are conflicts within an individual man giving rise to for instance an inner man or conflicts in masculine culture, they open up for spaces which give men the opportunity of finding out what kind of men they are, and what kind of men they aspire to be. This approach also provides the opportunity to openly discuss the resistance which change in gender culture entails, both on an individual level and on a collective/societal level. I wish the anthology had started with Skovbjerg's inner man.

As luck would have it, this is exactly where the other anthology starts. That's why I am excited.

Pikstormerne (Prick raiders) does what fittstimm (Cunt Cascade) did - they embrace the opposition's concepts and use them for their own purposes. Thus Pikstormerne is not a whole regiment of young pricks storming ahead - rather the book gives voice to men who point to conflict and difference between masculinites and the struggle to change traditional masculinity. Niels Ulrik Sørensen says in his introduction, that Pikstormerne aims to "attack traditional masculinity, break it down and define it anew. For us Pikstormerne means change. Changing masculinity."

The "prick raiders" do not speak with just one voice. The book offers insight into many men's very different choices of life strategy, and the exciting part is that they try to say something about what their concrete choices have to do with masculinity and at times which consequences these choices have for their masculinity. We read about a porn-user, a body-builder, a lecher, a mountaineer, a bisexual, a model etc. and many of the texts offer us the possibility of gaining new insights into the problem of masculinity.

In an article about coming out, Thomas René Kristensen has a brief passage about the non-acceptance of bisexuals within the gay community. I find this quite interesting, because it says something about how the homosexual community has created a gender identity which is a reflection of heterosexual monolithic thinking, which does not leave much space for ambiguity, play and uncertain gender identity. Certain trends even seem to indicate that homosexual movements perhaps are at one with the most in-grown essensialists, namely a belief in being born homosexual as the only true gender identity. As different and odd as homosexuality can seem in relation to "normal" heterosexuality, Kristensens brief passage causes us to question whether or not homosexuality is as normative as heterosexuality and that any deviation from this norm meets with little tolerance - both within the lesbian and gay community.

Another piece I would like to highlight is Tue Gastons "I keep a harem". Gaston describes how he always has two to four different relationships going on with women at the same time. He is always completely honest in these relationships, something which causes many women to leave him after a short while. This means that Gastons constantly has to go out and replace members of his harem.

Because his text discusses a phenomenon which most keep secret (except for laughing about it with one's male friends), it offers an intriguing insight into a lecher's masculinity. Most interesting is the manner in which the text demonstrates a particular kind of service-minded masculinity, a man whose job it is to satisfy his "customers". To be service-minded is in many contexts a very good kind of masculinity, but when applied to sexuality it is problematic. Therefore Gaston has problems with his erection.

A loveless service-minded male sexuality is transformed into a sexuality without true arousal and with clear orgasmic difficulty. I associate to both many discussions about female sexuality and orgasmic difficulty, where the consequence of their desire to please their man is precisely that they are not satisfied sexually and to Susan Faludies latest book Stiffed, where her chapter on the porn industry shows that the male porn star's greatest problem is to get an erection.

What is fascinating here is, that the greatest of male fantasms - the harem and pornography's endless stream of willing women in fact brings with it masculinity's greatest fear: Not being able to get a hard-on. Men are possibly just at dependent on tenderness, intimacy, love and affection as women to be able to have good sexuality where the cock also swells with joy. However, the fantasm weighs so heavily on the male that fear is very close at hand. As far as I can tell, there is a groundswell of ignorance with regard to the functions and complexities of male sexuality.

I could keep on highlighting passages from the frank prick raiders that lead to new thoughts and insights to the hidden corridors of masculinity. This, however, I leave up to the readers themselves.

Jørgen Lorentzen is based at the University of Oslo and is a regular contributor to FORUM.

Translation: Annette Nielsen, FORUM Editor.

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