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The Appeal of the Androgynous Man
by Amy Gross
James Dean was my first androgynous man. I figured I could talk to him. He was anguished and
I was 12, so we had a lot in common. With only a few exceptions, all the men I have liked or
loved have been a certain kind of man: a kind who doesn’t play football or watch the games on
Sunday, who doesn’t tell dirty jokes featuring broads or chicks, who is not contemptuous of
conversations that are philosophically speculative, introspective, or otherwise foolish according
to the other kind of man. He is more self-amused, less inflated, more quirky, vulnerable and
responsive than the other sort (the other sort, I’m visualizing as the guys on TV who advertise
deodorant in the locker room). He is more like me than the other sort. He is what social scientists
and feminists would call androgynous: having the characteristics of both male and female.
Now the first thing I want you to know about the androgynous man is that he is neither
effeminate nor hermaphroditic. All his primary and secondary sexual characteristics are in order
and I would say he’s all-man, but that is just what he is not. He is more than all-man.
The merely all-man man, for one thing, never walks to the grocery store unless
the little woman is away visiting her mother with the kids, or is in the hospital havinga kid, or
there is no little woman. All-men men don’t know how to shop in a grocery store unless it is to
buy a 6-pack and some pretzels. Their ideas of nutrition expand beyond a 6-pack and pretzels
only to take in steak, potatoes, scotch or rye whiskey, and maybe a wad of cake or apple pie. Allmen men have absolutely no taste in food, art, books, movies, theatre, dance, how to live, what
are good questions, what is funny, or anything else I care about.
It’s not exactly that the all-man’s man is an uncouth illiterate. He may be educated, wellmannered, and on a first name basis with fine wines. One all-man man I knew was a handsome
individual who gave the impression of being gentle, affectionate, and sensitive. He sat and ate
dinner one night while I was doing something endearingly feminine at the sink. At one point, he
mutely held up his glass to indicate in a primitive, even ape-like, way his need for a refill. This
was in 1967, before Women’s Liberation.
Even so, I was disturbed. Not enough to break the glass over his handsome head, not even
enough to mutely indicate the whereabouts of the refrigerator, but enough to rememberthat
moment in all its revelatory clarity. No androgynous man would ever brutishly expect to be
waited on without even a “please.” (With a “please,” maybe.)
The brute happened to be a doctor—not a hard hat—and, to all appearances, couth. But he had
bought the whole superman package, complete with that fragile beast, the male ego. The
androgynous man arrives with a male ego too, but his is not as imperialistic. It doesn’t invade
every area of his life and person. Most activities and thoughts have nothing to do with
masculinity or femininity. The androgynous man knows this. The all-man man doesn’t. He must
keep a constant guard against anything even vaguely feminine (i.e., “sissy”) rising up in him. It
must be a terrible strain.
Male chauvinism is an irritation, but the real problem I have with the all-man man is that it’s
hard for me to talk to him. He’s alien to me, and for this I’m at least half to blame. As his
interests have not carried him into the sissy, mine have never taken me very far into the typically
masculine terrains of sports, business and finance, politics, cars, boats and machines. But blame
or no blame, the reality is that it is almost as difficult for me to connect with him as it would be
to link up with an Arab shepherd or Bolivian sandal maker. There’s a similar culture gap.
It seems to me that the most masculine men usually end up with the most feminine women.
Maybe they like extreme polarity. I like polarity myself, but the poles
have to be within earshot. As I’ve implied, I’m very big on talking. I fall in love for at least three
hours with anyone who engages me in a real conversation. I’d rather a man point out a paragraph
in a book—wanting to share it with me—than bring me flowers. I’d rather a man ask what I
think than tell me I look pretty. (Women who are very pretty and accustomed to hearing that they
are pretty may feel differently.) My experience is that all-men men read books I don’t want to
see paragraphs of, and don’t really give a damn what I or any woman would think about most
issues so long as she looks pretty. They have a very limited use for women. I suspect they
don’t really like us. The androgynous man likes women as much or as little as he likes anyone.
Another difference between the all-man man and the androgynous man is that the first is not a
star in the creativity department. If your image of the creative male accessorizes him with a
beret, smock and artist’s palette, you will not believe the all-man man has been seriously shortchanged. But if you allow as how creativity is a talent for freedom, associated with imagination,
wit, empathy, unpredictability, and receptivity to new impressions and connections, then you will
certainly pity the dull, thick-skinned, rigid fellow in whom creativity sets no fires.
Nor is the all-man man so hot when it comes to sensitivity. He may be true-blue in the trenches,
but if you are troubled, you’d be wasting your time trying to milk comfort from the all-man man.
This is not blind prejudice. It is enlightened prejudice. My biases were confirmed recently by a
psychologist named Sandra Lipsetz Bem, a professor at Stanford University.
She brought to attention the fact that high masculinity in males (and high femininity in females)
has been “consistently correlated with lower overall intelligence and lower creativity.” Another
psychologist, Donald W. MacKinnon, director of the Institute of Personality Assessment and
Research at the University of California in Berkeley, found that “creative males give more
expression to the feminine side of their nature than do less creative men. . . . [They] score
relatively high on femininity, and this despite the fact that, as a group, they do not present an
effeminate appearance or give evidence of increased homosexual interests or experiences. Their
elevated scores on femininity indicate rather an openness to their feelings and emotions, a
sensitive intellect and understanding self-awareness and wide-ranging interests including many
which in the American culture are thought of as more feminine. . . .” Dr. Bem ran a series of
experiments on college students who had been categorized as masculine, feminine, or
androgynous. In three tests of the degree of nurturance—warmth and caring—the masculine men
scored painfully low (painfully for anyone stuck with a masculine man, that is).
In one of those experiments, all the students were asked to listen to a “troubled talker”—a person
who was not neurotic but simply lonely, supposedly new in town and feeling like an outsider.
The masculine men were the least supportive, responsive or humane. “They lacked the ability to
express warmth, playfulness and concern,” Bem concluded. (She’s giving them the benefit of the
doubt. It’s possible the masculine men didn’t express those qualities because they didn’t possess
them.) The androgynous man, on the other hand, having been run through the same carnival of
tests, “performs spectacularly. He shuns no behavior just because our culture happens to label it
as female and his competence crosses both the instrumental [getting the job done, the problem
solved] and the expressive [showing a concern for the welfare of others, the harmony of the
Thus, he stands firm in his opinion, he cuddles kittens and bounces babies and he has a
sympathetic ear for someone in distress.” Well, a great mind, a sensitive and warm personality
are fine in their place, but you are perhaps skeptical of the gut appeal of the androgynous man.
As a friend, maybe, you’d like an androgynous man. For a sexual partner, though, you’d prefer
a jock. There’s no arguing chemistry, but consider the jock for a moment. He competes on the
field, whatever his field is, and bed is just one more field to him: another opportunity to perform,
another fray. Sensuality is for him candy to be doled out as lure. It is a ration whose flow is cut
off at the exact point when it has served its purpose—namely, to elicit your willingness to work
out on the field with him. Highly masculine men need to believe their sexual appetite is far
greater than a woman’s (than a nice woman’s). To them, females must be seduced: Seduction is a
euphemism for a power play, a con job. It pits man against woman (or woman against man). The
jock believes he must win you over, incite your body to rebel against your better judgment: in
other words—conquer you.
The androgynous man is not your opponent but your teammate. He does not seduce: he invites.
Sensuality is a pleasure for him. He’s not quite so goal-oriented. And to conclude, I think I need
only remind you here of his greater imagination, his wit and empathy, his unpredictability, and
his receptivity to new impressions and connections.
1. Why are you taking this course?
2. What is the most important thing you would like to learn?
3. What, if any, fears do you have about taking this course?
4. What strategies for reading discussed in the handouts did you find the most useful? Why did
you find them the most useful?
5. How does annotating your reading help you to be a more efficient, critical reader?
6. In your own words, state the thesis statement of “The Appeal of the Androgynous Man.”
7. Identify at least two writing strategies that Gross used that you would find useful and why you
would find them useful.
8. Identify at least two phrases from the essay that you found effective and why.
9. Identify at least two ideas that could spark your own writing and how they could.
Finally, do you agree with the author’s thesis? Why or why not?
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