Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mannies and our children

Reacting to Samina's presentation on masculinities and the Friends episode I watched tonight, my thoughts drifted to those dubbed "mannies": male nannies. Man nannies, if you prefer. Here are some websites about them: one, two, and three.

These men are retaking the private sphere, as it were. They are taking on a profession that for many years was reigned by women, doing what was termed as "women's work." And they're making a living at it. Yet as illustrated by a recent Friends episode (season 9 or 10?), not all men are comfortable leaving their children with another man.

Amidst many jokes about mannies, the character Ross expresses feelings he terms "uncomfortable" about the prospect of letting Freddie Prince Junior, a male nanny, take care of Emma, Ross's child with Rachel (sorry for the spoiler). Complains Ross, "It's like as if a woman wanted to be..." but doesn't finish his sentence. What *is* the end to that sentence? Are we to the point today that women can do anything and everything a man can do? Or is there an end to that sentence that doesn't have to do with male genitalia (Joey's answer)? Perhaps the military gives us the answer, as women are still not preferred for combat most of the time and perhaps might be termed excluded from part of the profession.

Ross says, "there's sensitive and then there's too sensitive". So what is too sensitive? Do we allow men to cry in public yet, or is there some line we still don't like our manly men to cross? Certainly there still exist certain biological differences, but they are getting a little ridiculous at this point: a penis model and a male wet nurse are both mentioned by Friends characters as jobs that a woman and a man respectively cannot do, both on the basis of sheer biology. But apart from such obviously gendered jobs, are there any other jobs that a man or a woman cannot or should not do? I would venture a guess that there isn't, and challenge you to think of one job that is so gendered that the other gender performing it would be ridiculous. Of course, as we've seen in North Country, breaking into a field previously dominated by males can be a steep challenge for women to do, even when it's a job nobody would really choose if they had a better choice.

Yet even after Ross fires the nanny (and what kind of message exactly does this send the viewer at home? The manly man wins out?), the nanny asks some pointed questions enabling Ross to realize where his ideas of masculinity emerge from. His father thought he should be a "tough guy" playing outside like a "real boy". The episode ends with the manny comforting Ross on the couch as Ross complains how he was never allowed to wear a tank top in the summer (see below for my blog that touches on fashion choices for men).

The manny may only last one episode on Friends, but in the real world many mannies last much longer than that. Personally speaking, I think it's a wonderful world where men can be so in tune with their emotions and nurturing sides that they can be sucessful in raising children, even very young children. I hope Freddie Prince Junior is not the last mannie we see... and that next time we see one, he won't be the joke of the episode.

No comments: