Mr. Hyphen tomorrow, the quest for masculinity

mrhyphen08-stage

As some of you know, Mr. Hyphen is tomorrow.  Check it out if you’re in Oakland.  It’s a male pageant, something which I wrote about before.  I’m not crazy about the idea of male pageants for Asian American men.  It’s in a feminine context, and I’ve felt that men must make a hard impact in order to find their power.  But I’m not going to oppose it either.  They raise lots of money for causes, and you can’t fault them for that.  If I were in town, I might go myself.

Anyway, Mic on the Hyphen blog addressed some of the points in my last post:

http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/2009/11/mr-hyphen-and-the-great-questi.html

Here was the response that I posted:

Hi Mic,

Great post! Thanks so much for the dialogue. I really appreciate it. As some people may know, I was involved with the creation of Miss Asian Oregon last month, and so I am into the pageant scene too. All this dialogue helps me to make sense of what we’re doing.

I will post more on this later, but what I would say is this: I question whether this is a Western vs. Eastern thing. More likely it’s a MostPeople vs. SomePeople thing. I actually applaud what you’re doing. You guys are raising money for a good cause, and you’re having fun at the same time. More power to you.

My question is whether or not it challenges the status of Asian mens’ masculinity and attractiveness, as you mention above. Will this get more Asian American men and women dating? When we ask difficult questions of ourselves, this is really what it’s about–what can Asian American men do to be respected as men within our own Asian American society?

I brought up the money and performance art because of the observations by Lester Thurow and my own observations of performance artists–and we all live in a Western world. But would things be all that different if we were still in China? Do they have male pageants in China? The traditional Chinese male models have been figures such as Kwan Gung, the God of War, or the Monkey King, whose cleverness guided him through life. Even in the Three Kingdoms, we see qualities like loyalty and power and sacrifice as something to be practiced, not necessarily something to be seen.

I don’t feel pressure to be more “manly,” but if “manly” means a focus on achievement, then that is something that I would teach my kids. I don’t think that decision comes only from the Western mainstream way of seeing life

As for the money thing, perhaps we should encourage people to give it, and to use their money/power to create change. I’m just as annoyed by hoarders as everyone else. But things could change. I had people on my blog who decided to give money to Sam Yoon in order to advance the cause of Asian American men in politics. I think that’s pretty darn cool. I think that’s pretty darn proactive and militant.

Again, I’m not against what they’re doing.  But for something like Asian male masculinity, something that more than half the comments on this blog concern, it seems evident to me that we need to do something more.  We really want change.

My questions are as follows: Why are we trying to redefine masculinity in a less masculine setting?  What is so wrong about the masculinity in traditional Asian culture: the inner drive of Musashi Miyamoto, the cunning of the Monkey King, the power of Kwan Gung?

15 thoughts on “Mr. Hyphen tomorrow, the quest for masculinity

  1. Why are we trying to redefine masculinity in a less masculine setting? What is so wrong about the masculinity in traditional Asian culture: the inner drive of Musashi Miyamoto, the cunning of the Monkey King, the power of Kwan Gung?

    My point exactly. There have always been masculine ideals in Asian cultures.

    This is also the point Frank Chin makes in his writings as well. When a great cultural heritage has either been stripped, suppressed or forgotten, then men either emulate other cultural models to give them a sense of manhood or they make the sh!t up. We already have masculine ideals in Asian culture. It just needs to be a part of Asian American culture.

    Throughout history Asian men were laborers and soldiers in far off lands all over the world. They were away from their wives and loved ones for long periods of time.

    Don’t you think Asian men got busy doing the horizontal mambo with the local women in these far off places? Well if you look, at places all over the world, like the Philippines, Africa, Central Asia, the Americas and even in Europe, Asian men have left their sexual legacy. So much so that Asian men have altered the gene pool of entire countries.

    Now I’m not saying that being a man-whore is the masculine ideal to strive for. But people act like the Western masculinity and Asian masculinity are mutually exclusive. But men are men, no matter what part of the world you’re talking about. Men of all cultures do stupid sh!t, like wage war, screw lots of women and say things they later regret.

  2. “Throughout history Asian men were laborers and soldiers in far off lands all over the world. They were away from their wives and loved ones for long periods of time.

    Don’t you think Asian men got busy doing the horizontal mambo with the local women in these far off places?”

    They definatley got to knockin’ the boots in Jamaica.

  3. “My questions are as follows: Why are we trying to redefine masculinity in a less masculine setting? What is so wrong about the masculinity in traditional Asian culture: the inner drive of Musashi Miyamoto, the cunning of the Monkey King, the power of Kwan Gung?”

    I think you are already answering your own question, Jaehwan.

    Traditional Asian culture is not Asian American culture, its not even AZN culture. Those heroes were created in the context of a privileged, majority mindset. In the west, the context is different. Traditional western/white representations of masculinity currently exclude Yellow males, in many areas in white dominated societies. The best way to redefine Yellow masculinity would be through propagating media/films with strong Yellow masculine themes and Yellow male heroes. But you’d need a whole support structure for that, something that is really challenging for a minority to achieve.

    You’d need financing, access to production studios, distribution, and screening channels, and television airtime to consider. But to do all of this, you’d also need the human resources, Yellow actors, directors, producers, writers, distributors, a whole system producing pro Asian yellow supporters in the industry~ it cant happen in a vaccume. If you can’t do this, then what can you do? Whites dominate and control almost all western media, so if theres no social infrastructure in place to support Yellow masculinity in the media/Hollywood, then what can you do?

    Male pageants might not be the most desirable forum, but its a start. People are doing what they can do, in the best way they know how, with the resources they have.

    Thats why pageants like Hyphen arent so bad…

  4. Alpha:

    So I just learned that there is a catwalk for the Mr. Hyphen competitors. I almost had to change my view and oppose this pageant for moral reasons. But I think I’ll keep my current position. To each his own, right?

    You’re totally right. Masculinity isn’t all that different. And Asian men have made an impact before. They continue to make an impact in Asia. I prefer to relearn and re-fit what my ancestors knew, rather than reinvent some new masculinity.

    By the way, do you know the gender of your child yet? If it’s a boy, there’s a great book called “The Wonder of Boys” by Michael Gurian that I STRONGLY recommend. It’s by far the best book on raising boys that I’ve seen.

    King,

    I never visited Jamaica. Well, Jamaica, Queens, in NY, but that’s a little different. )

    Anna,

    Let me pose a question. When you think of White masculinity, do you think of Leonardo DiCaprio? Or Orlando Bloom? (haha…it’s a struggle because I don’t even know these guys’ names.) Or do you think of powerful athletes, politicians, businesspeople, civil rights leaders, and writers?

    The reason I ask is that I think actors simply portray. Some are powerful, but I think true masculinity takes place as often with people outside the media as it does with people within.

    I think I’d do the catwalk if it were for charity. But I wouldn’t expect it to challenge peoples’ views of Asian male masculinity. I’m not sure that kind of change necessarily takes place on a stage, unless it’s a rally or business meeting with defined goals.

  5. This just rubs me all wrong also. I’m all for promoting Asian-American masculinity also. But c’mon, not like this, for Christ’s sake!

    There’s something about a male pageant that just seems gay.

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  7. So I just learned that there is a catwalk for the Mr. Hyphen competitors. I almost had to change my view and oppose this pageant for moral reasons. But I think I’ll keep my current position. To each his own, right?

    By the way, do you know the gender of your child yet? If it’s a boy, there’s a great book called “The Wonder of Boys” by Michael Gurian that I STRONGLY recommend. It’s by far the best book on raising boys that I’ve seen.

    I thought the Mr. Hyphen contest always had a catwalk. it’s a beauty contest, so I expect nothing less.

    Anyway my wife and I are having a girl, YAY! Although I’m looking forward to be a father, it is a little daunting to know that your relationship with your daughter is going to influence how she relates to men later in life. I gotta dot my i’s and cross my T’s from now on.

    “The Wonder of Boys” looks interesting. I think women don’t fully understand why men nowadays feel disinherited and disconnected from their sense of masculinity. Which is why the book and movie “Fight Club” is so popular.

    I think with Asian American men, this disconnect is compounded by the fact that we’re a minority with few role models. Which is why I do the Alpha Asian blog. I post videos of Asian American men of various backgrounds doing their own thing, being Alpha or successful in their own ways.

  8. Jaehwan,

    White Masculinity? really?

    Well to be honest i think of Brad pitt in fight club. The “Spartan” men in the movie 300. Blond Hair, blue eyes. Ripling muscular bodies, semi naked. Aryan, like Edward Norton in American History X. Men who always know what to do and always get the girl, like Pierce Brosnan in James Bond, Tom Cruise in Mission impossible. Physically imposing like Russel Crowe in Gladiator or Vin Diesal in Fast and the Furious. Not afraid to kill, ruthless and dominant. Almost always closet racist, but with privilege and institutionalised power behind him. Wealthy. Fit. Handsome. Muscular.

    That to me is the image of white masculinity imprinted in my mind. Although logically I know this is an incorrect view, with all the stinky, fat , fugly pasty faced white slobs i’ve seen in real life daily, the power of propaganda and the media is still strong on me.

    White masculinity to me is represented in the media. (western mainstream/white media that is). In real life, most white men i know or associate with are not “masculine”, not by the definition propagated by white media, nor in my own definition of masculinity. Sure some of the white guys i know might be built and muscular, but they never act like the heroes in the movies, they act more cowardly and weak in real life, and often racist and deceitful as well. Conniving, self centred, think white is superior, condescending white men.

    So the white ideal of masculinity being propagated in white media is just that. An ideal, it can never be defeated because its a concept, an ideal. Thats what makes it powerful, because even if real life shows it incorrect, it can never be incorrect, because the ideal is right, and everyone else is an anomoly.

    Thats what i mean when i say about the power of films and media…

  9. If you look at the reactions of some of the audience members at the Mr. Hyphen contest, it looks a little bit like a Chippendales’ performance. There is kind of a “Woo hoo. Bring on the hawtness!” air to them.

    http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/2009/11/mr-hyphen-your-ticket-to-a-goo.html#more

    This could be one reason why some Asian guys are not feeling the contest.

    Personally, I think if they added a lap dance component to the competition, Mr. Hyphen could really blow up even bigger than it already is. :)

  10. Damn, two big contests tonight–Pacquiao vs. Cotto and Mr. Hyphen. Pacquiao-Cotto starts in another 20 minutes. I’m getting too old for this kind of excitement.

    James,

    Congrats on the girl! I know lots of people with kiddies, and I think in general, girl babies are more complex. But it truly is a joy. I’m so happy that my second was a girl. She’ll definitely be Daddy’s little one.

    Check out the “Wonder of Boys” anyway. I think it could help as you develop the Alpha Asian website. I was absolutely floored by the book. He talks a lot about how we’ve come away from our traditional values, our traditional stories, and what it used to mean to be a man.

    Oh, and read it BEFORE the baby comes. Reading is what I miss most from the pre-child days.

    Anna,

    Thanks for your input. I may blog on this later. Right now, I’m just a bit nervous. I want Pacquiao to win, but that other guy is really big. (and nobody set up the PPV, so I’ll be checking online…)

  11. Thanks for the continued dialogue on this topic. As an editor and founder at Hyphen, allow me to clear up a few things:

    Yes, there is a catwalk at Mr. Hyphen. Not an actual catwalk, mind you. Those fashion runways are pricey to build, but we do invite local independent Asian American designers to showcase a collection (part of Hyphen’s mission is to support artists). And the Mr. Hyphen contestants walk out on stage wearing the clothes. And yes, ladies in particular cheer loudly for them, though there are also plenty of straight men in the audience who come to the event of their own volition.

    Sure, the Mr. Hyphen competition is a little campy, a bit tongue in cheek. But if you’ve ever read our magazine, you’d know that this extends to many things that we do. Our writers are tongue-in-cheek (not with everything, but with a lot of things). We like appealing images and a lot of white space in our visual design. What does design in the magazine have to do with Mr. Hyphen? I’m just explaining that we value pleasing aesthetics and witty writing — it helps draw readers in — but underlying these good-looking, fun-loving magazine pages are serious messages. People, most people anyways, aren’t going to pick up a magazine that seems so serious. A spoonful of sugar makes it tasty.

    The same applies to Mr. Hyphen. We could hold an event honoring Asian American men and exploring community issues with panels and so on. But it’s just not as fun as an event on a stage with talent, interviews and yes, a fashion segment. It’s a good-looking, fun-loving event, but with serious messages. So, why a pageant format? Because it subverts the traditional (and often times sexist) notion of pageants, which tend to be about judging women on physical beauty. That’s part of the point: that we celebrate men in our community at the same time that we’re countering cliches of women. And for the record, Mr. Hyphen is NOT a beauty contest. The segment that weighs most heavily in scoring is the Q&A: how well the men are able to speak on community issues and represent.

    Jaehwan, you ask if there would be male pageants in China. I don’t know the answer to that. You ask what’s wrong about masculinity in traditional Asian culture, and I would answer: nothing. But we’re not in China and we’re not in a traditional Asian culture. We’re people of color in the United States.

    It’s curious that you say, “I’m not sure that kind of change necessarily takes place on a stage, unless it’s a rally or business meeting with defined goals” — especially since you are involved in starting a pageant yourself and regard it as an activist endeavor. This sentiment discounts actors, musicians, writers, performers and anyone else who advocates for change or educates others through the media or arts.

    You say that people need to do something more. Absolutely. We all do. We don’t regard Mr. Hyphen as some kind of be all end all. Just as Hyphen the magazine is a start — a way to bring attention to issues and encourage people to take action, it is the same with Mr. Hyphen. People leave the event feeling proud of the contestants and inspired by their example.

    I know this explanation won’t change some of your minds, particularly those of you who like to throw the word “gay” around as a put-down. It takes a man who is comfortable with himself, who is confident, and who is well-spoken to get up on that stage, represent his cause, and charm the audience. Those are admirable qualities in any man.

  12. Hi Melissa,

    Thanks for your post. I just got back from the Banana Conference, and I met your colleague erin, as well as your colleague (and my blog-colleaugue) Sylvie. It was fun times.

    I think it was erin who mentioned something during the conference about the gender divide continuing since the 70’s. This difference is probably why we have most guys on one side and many women on the other. I actually agree with most of what you wrote.

    I’ll try to write something further about this masculinity issue later. Or better yet, maybe we can do a podcast. Maybe we could do a podcast by Asian American fathers.

    If we agree that there is some value in traditional Asian male values for Asians, then perhaps we can agree that it’s at least worth a look to see if there is any applicable lesson for Asian “people of color in the United States.” As Asian Americans these days often go back to our roots with language, maybe we can also go back to our roots with culture, to examine how we came to be and why our ancestors did what they did. Then maybe I can talk about what we ought to be doing, rather than why Mr. Hyphen represents or doesn’t represent male empowerment. I can then be proactive. :)

  13. Hi Jaehwan, Yes, there is a gender divide in our community. But I hope folks are able to talk in a constructive manner, rather than yell at each other. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed threads devolving into yelling matches on numerous occasions.

    I think a podcast by Asian American fathers is a great idea. Looking forward to that.

  14. Thanks, Melissa. I just realized something–I hardly know any other Asian American dads who have sons. Not that a daughter dad couldn’t address masculinity, but wow…where have all the little boys gone?

    I’m going to start putting something together. Maybe we can do that podcast in early to mid December. I’ll let you know when it’s up.

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