The Masculine Mystique: The True Nature Of Aaron Smith’s Transgression

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MASCULINITY – can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Well, that’s half true. A world in which masculinity no longer dominated human affairs would probably be much improved. What went on in airport toilets between consenting adults would count for much less. And the ideas espoused by female candidates for high political office – rather than what they were wearing and how often they smiled – would count for much more.

New Zealand’s problems with masculinity are deeply embedded in its social and cultural history. New Zealand men are notorious for being excessively repressed and emotionally unavailable: tightly-wound machines with an aversion to mechanics. Trained from birth to value self-reliance above all other virtues, their responses to vulnerability and complexity range from dismissive impatience to outright hostility. Their most prized quality is mastery. Mastery of what? Well, just about anything: the world’s highest mountain; the British Lions; women.

It’s why so many Kiwi males are furious with Aaron Smith. Not because he had sex in an airport toilet with someone who wasn’t his partner, but because he was willing to risk everything to do it. As an All Black, he was expected to master his lustful urges. Succumbing to temptation in the way he did marked him down as a man not in control of himself. Weak.

As something constructed and in need of constant maintenance, masculinity is forever being scrutinised and assessed by those who feel in need of its protection. For most Kiwi men, achieving All Black status represents something pretty close to perfection in the masculinity stakes. That Aaron Smith was willing to risk it all for a quick shag wasn’t just reckless and stupid, it devalued the currency of masculinity itself.

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That the woman involved in the incident is accorded no real agency or consequence shows just how peripheral living, breathing, autonomous human females are to the construction of masculine identity. For so many men a woman is just one more thing to master, and all-too-often her presence at a man’s side is valued only for the indisputable proof it offers of his competitiveness in the masculinity stakes.

It’s why so many men turn nasty when “their” woman decides she no longer wishes to remain in the relationship. By walking away she is stripping him of one of the key proofs of his status as a “real” man – the ability to attract and “keep” a woman. Very little is more threatening to masculinity than a woman who refuses to devote her life to shoring-up her man’s identity. By forcing him to acknowledge her as something more than a mere adjunct to his ego, she is challenging him to move beyond the self-imposed limitations of masculinity and become fully human.

Many men accept their partner’s challenge to break out of the character armour in which they have encased themselves – and are better people for it. But, many men do not. The price of their failure is revealed in New Zealand’s shocking levels of domestic violence.

What happens in the domestic environment finds its reflection in the public domain – most particularly in men’s reaction to women who seek and attain political office. The ideology of masculinity simply is hostile to the very notion of women exercising power over men. Such women are perceived as having abandoned their “natural” social role in much the same way as the woman who deserts her husband. Instantly, she becomes a “bitch” – someone who, by asserting her humanity has forfeited her right to be treated with the “courtesy” and “respect” reserved for women who accept the masculine code.

This masculinist viciousness was fully on display in the latter years of Helen Clark’s prime-ministership. No epithet was too vile to hurl at this woman who had crushed three National Party leaders in a row. Even more telling was the way in which Clark’s opponents sought to paint her as being both criminal and sinful – as if, by stepping away from her assigned role in the masculine universe, she had broken not only the laws of men, but of God.

Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House has elicited an equally overheated response from the white, working-class defenders of American masculinity. Writing in the October issue of The Atlantic, Peter Beinart, records of his astonishment at the unrestrained misogyny he encountered at the Republican National Convention in Ohio:

“Inside the hall, delegates repeatedly broke into chants of ‘Lock her up.’ Outside the hall, vendors sold campaign paraphernalia. As I walked around, I recorded the merchandise on display. Here’s a sampling: Black pin reading DON’T BE A PUSSY. VOTE FOR TRUMP IN 2016. Black-and-red pin reading TRUMP 2016: FINALLY SOMEONE WITH BALLS. White T-shirt reading TRUMP THAT BITCH. White T-shirt reading HILLARY SUCKS BUT NOT LIKE MONICA. Red pin reading LIFE’S A BITCH: DON’T VOTE FOR ONE … White pin advertising KFC HILLARY SPECIAL. 2 FAT THIGHS. 2 SMALL BREASTS … LEFT WING.”

If this is what American men were saying about Hillary before she so comprehensively trounced their masculinist avatar, Donald Trump, in the first debate, one can only imagine what they’re saying now. And God alone knows how they’ll cope if (or should that be ‘when’) she wins!

What a world of torment men consign themselves to in this hopeless quest to attain perfect masculinity. Their desire for women is matched only by their fear of becoming its slave. They are allowed to be tempted, but must never surrender to temptation on anything other than their own terms. And those terms must never include anything which undermines their standing in the eyes of other men. That was Aaron Smith’s true sin: not only to have allowed his desire for a woman to master him, but to have made the whole world privy to his weakness. He let the side down. Not just the All Black side, but the side to which every worshipper of masculinity belongs – and can only leave in disgrace.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Good grief, such an extensive post on that sideshow of foolishness by two “passionate” or “hot” adults, I wonder where the real problem lies. And generalisations do not help, this is not simply a “male” problem in New Zealand, if it is a “problem”.

    I fear Chris reads far too much into the incident, and thus even elevates the “topic” yet again.

    Move on, they should have been warned for unauthorised use of a DISABLED toilet, and we should focus on what is IMPORTANT for the country, perhaps?!

  2. One more thing, we now hear a “scandal” about Donald Trump also, where he behaved himself inappropriately in the past, and boasted about it, this being recorded. He is now threatening to lift the lid on what Bill Clinton confided to him about that one’s escapades.

    Again, we have some get all hot and bothered, and I agree, what he did in the reported incidents was the behaviour of an arrogant, power abusing chauvinist.

    But let us get real, the world we live in is full of different types of humans, and a fair few of them are just fools, also opportunists, users, others also back-stabbers, some black mailers and whatever else.

    We live in a society where the rich, the successful, the powerful get adored, idealised and even chased by some, who seek attention and for a chance to also get into the limelight, or to get some perks or kicks – by socialising with these persons in the lime-light. Fame, favours, perks and pleasure through association seems to be their agenda.

    So they behave like fools, they have no problem with the one they want to become “personal” or “intimate” with, as they may even consider it “sexy” to get involved and more.

    Hence some make embarrassing mistakes, also get exploited, abused and worse, and later they run and scream, “this is wrong”, this is “unfair”, this is misogynistic, and cases end up in the media, before courts and in settlements or payments of damages.

    In some cases nothing happens. I am not talking about justice or the rights and wrongs of such things, just the phenomenon.

    Like perhaps our All Black in that Christchurch Airport toilet may have been, Donald Trump himself was also a ruthless opportunist, but the way many people think and behave, society makes it all too easy for them.

    And these “heroes”, rich and powerful, the ones adored, they are themselves fools also, as much of their conduct will eventually catch up with them. Being famous, well known, in the public eyes, and having also power, leads to making foolish mistakes, and we learned of such incidents recently (also before the courts). Often the ones involved, or guilty, are not even aware of their inappropriate conduct and abuse of power and privilege.

    But are we not creating this kind of society, by allowing people to be respected for being greedy, for competing successfully and “winning” – and ending up famous, privileged and/or in positions of some high degree of power and status?

    It is our very society, perhaps some of our human make-up, that leads to such excesses and stupidities, and while some learn, mature and move on, others suffer consequences.

    The MSM loves digging into such stories, as that is stuff that gets the attention of the public, many of it, and they then sell stories, and may even give incentives for others to exploit the same opportunities when they come across them.

    If we perhaps had a different society, where there is more mutual respect, more of a sense of collective responsibility and more focus on constructive behaviour, and doing things of importance together, rather than encourage the people to strive for fame, riches, glory and success, and indulgences offered alongside this, we may not have such stories, and less of such incidents to report on. It is though greed, desire to get ahead and to “make it to the top”, that is essential part of a neoliberal, capitalist society.

    I am tires of such crap, and it is time to concentrate on stuff that really matters to sort out our issues and plan for the future.

  3. Shows how fubar masculinity is in NZ, when consenting adults get thrashed in the media. But yet the deafening quite from our media over domestic violence is a disgrace, no one but the brave mention it.

    • Yes Chris and bit says a lot about what the MSM press is up to here, after our PM Jonkey confronted assaults on many girls when he made unwanted inappropriate advances of hair pulling, and he got a wet bus ticket for it while an 11yr old tape recording of an over-zealous wannabe (Trump)President in US is being constantly lambasted by their MSM from those old tape recordings as if he had now become un-electable!!!!!

      Wake up you useless MSM do your job for the public good for Christ sake!!!!.

  4. Interesting post but I tend to think guys get violent when their partner tries to leave them out of jealousy and anger. They can’t control their emotions or stop themselves acting on them which means they are prone to violence in general. The question is why so many men can’t rise above their negative emotions.

  5. There is indeed something one-dimensional about the traditional Kiwi male – something tribal, parochial and lacking in self-awareness. Currently we have hundreds dead in the Haiti hurricane, with Florida now threatened. We have climate change modelling predicting more of these cat. 4 /5 storms. We have moronic fools like Trump insulting our intelligence in the US. We have Russia bombing hospitals in Aleppo and an overall tally of thousands dead so far; with millions displaced by sectarian conflict, drought and corrupt governance in the Middle East and Africa. We have threats to civil rights and personal freedom in a number of countries including Turkey. At home, we have increased homelessness, water pollution, and tax evasion issues. It is fascinating, bizarre and pathetically childish that supposedly adult Kiwis are obsessed with obsolete tribal religions like rugby.

  6. Meh – consensual but in bad taste – a great leap forward for the All Blacks. Maybe they should just play their games & forget celebrity – trout fishermen have no expectations of fame or fortune from their leisure pursuits.

  7. Fascinating discussions on NZ male machismo, but agree with Graham that there are so many disastrous things going on with war and climate change that really can I just ask what will sort this shit out? Rugby players shouldn’t be role models – um, good idea. War is bullshit and should be outlawed immediately! Another good one, and then we need to change our energy away from polluting fossil fuels and plant more trees to stop climate change! Then we can easily focus on homes, food production going organic, limiting immigration, and increasing jobs, wages and benefits, and lastly or firstly, cutting all govt MPs and CEO’s and Judges and Laywers wages to $100 k MAX. Don;t like it, go private, as the arrogant bureaucracy hiding behind smirKey and Binglish etc just keep ‘business as usual’ practices going that are destroying our environment daily and like the missing million voters I am sick of it going on and on and on…

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