Jeremy over at Good As You blogged about a fictitious student spec ad that recently ran in CMYK magazine. The ad, which can be seen in this post, plays off on the stereotype that a man who does ballet is somehow less masculine than a man who plays football or some other sport. (Of course, I wonder what the guys who do ballet and play football would say to that.) Of course, on another level, some people are taking this as a homophobic ad, concerned about the stereotype that a man who does ballet is most likely gay.
As a gay man who is taking dance (though not ballet at this time) classes, I’m not too bothered by this ad. I have heard people suggest that dance in general and ballet in particular are not masculine activities, and I personally think their point of view is baseless and ignorant. My usual response to such a claim is to either roll my eyes and move the conversation along or to politely challenge the speaker to join me for one dance class before we discuss their opinion. I have yet to have any guy accept that challenge.
Personally, I’m not bothered by the ad because as a dancer, I know the lie behind it. And I know who I am and what I like, and I’m not willing to let the opinion of an ignorant person get to me. It’s really that simple.
However, one of Jeremy’s commenters, Lorion, does raise a good point. There are those people who are hurt by this kind of mentality. Some men — especially younger guys who are still trying to find themselves — are more deeply affected by this. It’s hard to be that seemingly rare teenage boy who’s interested in dance, singing, or theater. Friends who think men should follow more so-called masculine pursuits tend to tease, and that can be hard to handle. In fact, it could exert enough pressure to get a young man to reconsider pursuing such an interest. This is even worse if similar pressure comes from parents. And that is a problem that needs to be addressed.
It seems to me, however, that the proper way to address this problem is on an individual basis. After all, a student spec ad merely expresses an unfortunately common sentiment. That sentiment would have permeated some sectors of our society regardless of whether the ad was published. In some ways, I think it’s good that the ad was published, as it provides and opportunity to address the underlying mentality, its prevalence, and its effect on some people. It also gives us the opportunity to consider how to counteract and otherwise mitigate its effects.
I think that the first and most important step in helping a young man who finds himself ridiculed for having in interest in dance (or anything else) is simply to encourage him. I think it’s important to let him know that while others might not approve of his interests or seem them as worthy of respect and honor, we do. And we need to help him find others who share his interest. (After all, even though I’m secure in my own masculinity, I fully admit that it’s always a pleasant discovery when I find another guy is going to be in a particular class with me.) These things will stop the sense of isolation that such ridicule is usually intended to create and what ultimately empowers it to be hurtful.
I also think that it’s important to encourage sympathy for those who would choose to ridicule another. In my experience, it seems that the most common reason for such ridicule is that its a way for the ridiculer to mask his (I can’t think of a single woman who has ever made a negative comment about my interest in dance) own insecurities. Having your own masculinity challenged is much less painful when you realize that the challenger feels like his own is in jeopardy. (Indeed, it’s quite sad to continue that another man’s masculinity is so fragile as to face potential damage and even destruction simply because of how I choose to spend my free time.) Understanding this also opens up the possibility of compassion and even an opportunity for healing for the person who feels threatened and needs to lash out.