I often find lesbian culture to be an interesting place to look at masculinity, because you can isolate being “masculine” from being “male.”
Here’s an interesting thing that happens (or, is part of the gay cultural narrative anyway.) There exist masculine identified lesbians who only want to give sexual pleasure (usually, to feminine identified lesbians.) “Stone butch” is generally what it’s called, and here’s an article by someone who identifies as such. The phrase “stone femme” seems to usually indicate a desire to only receive sexual pleasure. The concept of a feminine person who receives her pleasure from *giving others* pleasure is very unusual.
There are several ways that seem usual for femininity to manifest:
– Recipient of pleasure
– Giver of pleasure for reasons other than sexual gratification (love, fairness, mental imbalance etc.)
– Giver of pain (this is the usual manifestation of female “dominance”)
Conversely, a feminine woman who *enjoys* giving her partner pleasure seems to find herself squarely in the cultural narrative as “slut.” Sure, many things can make someone a “slut” – but, the idea of a horny woman who goes over and blows some guy and heads out? That sounds like exactly like the type of stuff someone would would get the “s” label – usually with the implication there was something “wrong” with that woman. (Clearly, she has daddy issues, is just trying to please a man, etc.) Incidentally, I’m fairly sure many men hire *male* escorts so they can blow the escort – it’s totally cool for gay dudes to be into putting out, just cuz they like putting out.
At first, I had trouble reconciling the idea of “stone butch” with straight masculinity. Straight male masculinity seems very involved with male pleasure, while stone butches clearly are not into receiving physical pleasure. However, what they do both have in common, is the feminine party is supposed to be receiving pleasure from the masculine party. A lot of straight male phobias (am I big enough? can I last long enough?) seem to stem directly from the conflation of “masculinity” with “ability to please a woman.”
Conversely, the narrative of men who like to receive is very difficult. There’s a concept of a man as “rapist,” who will force sex on a woman against her will (so he is clearly not concerned with her pleasure in that case) but there he is still the active party.
One case of male passivity and female action is in the case of BDSM relationships. However, there the woman is usually giving *pain* to the male party, and not pleasure. Another thing I’d like to note is that there are a lot of submissive men who want to be “feminized” – i.e. to be dressed up in feminine clothing. I’ve dated a few guys like that myself, and part of what I think it is is that there’s not an easy way to square “being masculine” with “being receptive” or “being desired” so many of them skip the “being masculine” part in their fantasies.
Ultimately, feminine sexual agency for the pleasure of *another* person still seems troublesome for our society. Many feminists (male and female) seem to identify “sexual reciprocity” as “both parties receive as much pleasure.” However, it’s also sort of “known” that women are harder to bring to orgasm than men.
There’s almost become a new type of chivalry, where a man appreciates he’s going to be doing most of the sexual “work” – an idea which is reflected in areas of lesbian society that mirror traditional gender roles where “butch” lesbians (in theory) provide pleasure to “femme” ones. But, this leaves feminine women who enjoy giving pleasure out in the cold.
It may also be a way of maintaining traditional masculinity over femininity power dynamics. Power generally falls to the person giving the pleasure, the receiver is dependent on the giver. The fact that one of the more comfortable ways a woman can be “dominant” is to “give pain” is to deny her some of the power she’d have if she gave only pleasure. (Fewer people enjoy receiving “pain” than “pleasure,” so she becomes more dependent on her submissive partner than a fellatio expert would be.)
The tying trait, in all of these, seems to be creating structures for the feminine person to become dependent on the masculine person. And yet, femininity stands more clearly *alone* than masculinity does (Dresses? Feminine! Pants? Masculine?). If masculinity is explored by needing a feminine person to please, in a deep sense, masculinity is dependent on femininity. (I’d like to take a moment here to note that masculine gay men are often great at projecting their masculinity probably because they *don’t* rely on femininity to define their masculinity. Few straight men feel comfortable projecting a masculine sexuality to that degree.) This masculine dependence, however, is very uncomfortable for many masculine people – and I am inclined to think it’s a big cultural force for sexism in our society, but I have a client meeting and gotta wrap this post up so that’s a topic for another day.