Weekend Reading

Spooky Reading, read at your own risk.

Back when masculinity was at its peak power, love wasn’t feminized. It didn’t need to be. Men were secure enough to experience the full range of human emotion — longing, grief, love, jealousy, desire — without feeling their identity as men threatened or reduced. Most of the love poetry we have was written by men, after all, and while for most of recorded history it shows that love hurt like hell, it couldn’t unman you. There was an explanatory model for what a rejected Jaylen might have felt. You were expected, as someone in his position, to want love, and to experience its loss as something bigger than the loss of potential sex. You could, as a fifteen-year-old boy, revel in that loss if you wanted to (look at Romeo) without risking your sense of self. You could watch the blue stars shiver in the distance.

These days, the source of some of the most virulent and lethal misogyny seems to stem from the lack of any tool to deal with feelings that are now — thanks to a strange hypercorrection among those invested in old ideas of gender — coded feminine.

For the past five years, I’ve mentored a refugee family from Myanmar. After living in a refugee camp for 15 years, they were relocated to the U.S. by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. They initially stocked their American kitchen with fresh produce, milk, chicken, rice, and frozen fish that they acquired through public assistance programs and several area food banks. Now five years later, one of the parents has a stable minimum wage job and the family has joined the ranks of the working poor. They all have iPhones, and their kitchen is filled with jugs of orange soda, chips, cookies, ramen noodles, and fast food wrappers. Three of the four of them have gained considerable weight, and the mother is now clinically obese. The two kids recently told me that before 2009 they had never seen or tasted a Coke—and now they drink several each day.

What should we make of this family’s story? On the one hand, their safety and religious freedom are no longer under threat. They have health care, free education, and the opportunity to work. They have shelter, electricity, clean clothes, and running water. On the other hand, they now chronically overeat and overspend. They are at risk for obesity and Type II diabetes. They have high-interest payday loans, as well as bad credit reports due to their misunderstanding of cell phone contracts. For their first year in the United States, their extreme poverty, combined with an ignorance of consumerism, paradoxically functioned as a protective factor, but as their incomes increased, they understandably wanted to join in the culture through the established tokens of membership: fast food, electronics, sodas, and sweets.

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