I’ve been working as a groundskeeper at the University of Winnipeg for a month now. It’s an interesting culture of work to be involved in as an unskilled labourer. The institution is not based around your work whatsoever, and you are cleaning up the filth of those far more important than yourself. My mornings are the carting of filth from one corner of the campus to the other. Thus I named my position that of Filth-swain. Trying to add some poetic importance to what is a very unglamourous existence. So much so, I am always super paranoid I smell like garbage. Specifically the smell of rancid coffee left sweltering in garbage cans over the weekend. I’m unsure much in this consumer society smells worse than garbage brewed timmies coffee. Just saying is all.
The culture of the people I work with is rather interesting, I guess. Something that I have to find humour in, because otherwise I’d be offended all the time. It is one of those places where caricatures come alive and give credence to our politically correct leftist stereotypes. What I mean is the way manhood is defined and a constant conversation in my work environment.
So many conversations are based around, “What real mean do,” or, “this is man’s work.” Whether it is the fact I don’t drink coffee or stare at the young women on campus, my masculinity is consistently challenged, albeit in a humourous friendly manner. But nonetheless still open to question because of my different way of behaving.
On first break many in our crew escape to the Garage where the machines are and drink coffee together in Smitty’s man-cave. It is a true man cave, complete with a swim-suit model calendar and the smell of gasoline. Gasoline is real man cologne I was informed at one point by my co-workers. There has not been one day in the past month while at work that there has not been a need for some of my coworkers to validate their masculinity in someway related to the shallowest of habits or behaviours.
It has even been suggested the consumption of copious amounts of coffee will exceptionally help me in my sexual prowess and desirability. Um, okay. Thanks for the tip I guess guys.
What I want to do is ask why does this type of culture exist as a way to promote cohesion and solidarity amongst the old white guys and the rest of us. But mostly the old white guys. At its very root I think it has to do with class. These guys are constantly serving and cleaning up the mess of those that will be considered their social betters: students. The supposed next middle class. It is because of the clear hierarchy and servitude that masculinity becomes such an important site of finding external and self-validation for my co-workers. We the servants of the students find our self-esteem in an absurd and anachronistic conception of manhood based in essentially lifting heavy things.
Oh and there is the apparent added benefit of being able to stare at young women all over campus. The main topic of discussion when not on break usually involves, “oh look at that one.” It seems to be one of the main selling points on the job for many people. I will admit, I do find many of the people who cross my sights rather gorgeous. But there is also something very gross about a bunch of dude’s standing around eye fucking girls that could be their daughters. Yet that is what exists. Its left for me to negotiate.
I’m consistently left wondering if I have my assumptions right that this need for external validation of manhood is a product of deep insecurity. My plan has been to subvert this discourse of real man, by engaging in consistent but well-meaning breaches of these codes of conduct. Whether it is drinking tea, talking about cute men, or refusing to check out women, it will be have to be done with abundant humour.
On the larger question, and what I hope to demonstrate to my co-workers is that real men are those who choose to identify as real men themselves, and do whatever the fuck they want with masculinity and can sit with themselves and be comfortable with whatever expression they have chosen. No amount of coffee in the world is going to make me comfortable in my own skin, or maybe I’m wrong there with how many people are so addicted to it.
I hope folks get where I was going with this.