Walk Like a Man, My Son

Scientists are reportedly trying to uncover the secret of the Essex Walk - but Mark Simpson has been study­ing the Squaddie Spring and the Wide Boy Waltz for years

(Attitude, March 1998 & col­lec­ted in Sex Terror)

Putting one foot in front of the other is a tricky busi­ness when you’re a bloke. There’s so much scope for things going wrong. Seriously, shock­ingly wrong. You might be a Dennis Wise on the pitch, but if you walk off it like Frank Spencer you might as well hang up your boots.

Even though the map of human evol­u­tion seems to have gone from quadri-pedal to bi-pedal to couch-potato, how a man per­am­bu­lates his pegs remains the key to his mas­culin­ity. Walking on two legs is, after all, still mankind’s greatest achieve­ment, next to which all his tech­no­lo­gical tri­umphs are dwarfed. Neil Armstrong recog­nised this when he uttered those immor­tal words: ‘One small step for me; one giant blok­ish stomp for mankind’.

Unfortunately, Armstrong went and spoilt it all after he stepped off the Lunar Module by pran­cing like a fairy in slow motion. The only reason any­one bothered to fish him out of the Atlantic after splash­down was because Nasa sci­ent­ists in a dam­age lim­it­a­tion exer­cise explained at great length that it wasn’t Armstrong’s fault — that it was the moon’s reduced grav­it­a­tional attrac­tion that made him walk like that.

By far the most dan­ger­ous part about walk­ing, even in nor­mal grav­ity, is that it seems to be some­thing, after you get the hang of it, you can do without hav­ing to think about it. But this is a fatal error. Any man who lets his con­cen­tra­tion lapse while ambu­lat­ing and begins to allow him­self to, say, notice the fluffy clouds in the sky or the blue­bird on his shoulder, is bound to come a crop­per. For men, walk­ing isn’t a way of get­ting some­where — it’s a way of broad­cast­ing your ser­i­ous­ness to the world on the way to wherever the hell you’re headed.

This is why new recruits have to spend so much time square-bashing. In being taught how to walk like men instead of boys recruits are taught how to move like they mean busi­ness — that’s to say, how to look like they have rather less joints than females and pansies.

But for a lot of civil­ians and all off-duty squad­dies the key to suc­cess­ful walk­ing is remain­ing fully con­cen­trated on the task in hand, but affect­ing a cas­ual, happy-go-lucky air while execut­ing it — sort of the walk­ing equi­val­ent of rid­ing a bike without grip­ping the handlebars.

The Squaddie Spring

That jaunty little bounce that TV squad­dies do when going down the pub or on leave — elbows out, hands balled up near their chest or in their high jacket pock­ets, head mov­ing from side to side while doing some excess­ive heel-toe calf-work. The Squaddie Spring sig­nals that you’re full of beans and/or spunk, that you know how to have a good time and that you’re care-free in a determ­ined, cocky kind of way (see also Persil Skinhead — ‘Awww, Mum! — walk­ing down the street in freshly washed white shirt).

This crack­ing amble is par­tic­u­larly effect­ive if you have a sports bag/kit bag slung over your shoulder with ‘Head’ or ‘Man U’ on the side. Popular with cheeky chap­pies every­where: includ­ing com­pre­hens­ive school­boys and pub­lic school­boys want­ing to avoid get­ting beaten up by com­pre­hens­ive schoolboys.

The Bodybuilder Bowl

For those who want a walk with a bit more grav­itas, there’s the Bodybuilder Bowl, the key to the suc­cess­ful exe­cu­tion of which is ima­gin­ing that your limbs are so muscle-bound that you can barely move them — arms and legs must stick out at an angle of no less than 45 degrees. (Note: Head is not allowed to turn without the whole upper body mov­ing as well — oth­er­wise people might think you have a neck).

Arms are most not move at the shoulder, but are per­mit­ted some move­ment at the elbow. Legs can­not simply move for­wards and back­wards but must move in semi-circular robotic jerks. This lets the world know that your glu­tes are so huge they cause fric­tion burns and also hints that you still have some­thing resem­bling testicles, des­pite your massive ster­oid abuse. The BB Bowl is pop­u­lar with boun­cers, wrest­lers, male mas­seurs and lesbians.

The Wide Boy Waltz

For those look­ing for some­thing with a bit more élan, a bit more romance, there is the Wide Boy Waltz very pop­u­lar on North and East London hous­ing estates, foot­ball pitches and in the City. This requires the same 45 degree angle of the limbs as in the BB Bowl, but the actions is quicker, smoother, sup­pler and it advert­ises atti­tude not muscle. However, it is abso­lutely essen­tial that you keep your hips and arse com­pletely immob­ile. The head how­ever may move around, but only to clock birds and nice motors and gen­er­ally pro­claim a cock-o’-the-roost demean­our. One draw­back to the Wide Boy Waltz, of course, is that it requires hours of prac­tice walk­ing with an XXL butt plug up your arse.

The Daddy Dribble

Another draw­back to the Wide Boy Waltz is that it often turns into the Daddy Dribble within just a few years. The Daddy Dribble is best achieved by ima­gin­ing your stride restric­ted by a push­chair or pram or shop­ping trol­ley full of Pampers. Also use­ful in achiev­ing the right effect is chan­ging your Nike shoes for Hush Puppies and ima­gin­ing your­self try­ing to remem­ber what sex with the lights on must be like.

Of course, there is a genus of mens’ walks which is designed to announce the fact that you are never going to have chil­dren or wear Hush Puppies. This is gay walk­ing. Gay walk­ing comes in two dif­fer­ent but imme­di­ately recog­nis­able styles.

The Mary Mince

To achieve the Mary Mince, you must walk as if you were nego­ti­at­ing a nar­row tightrope in heels whist try­ing to describe a per­fect circle around your hips with a lighted cigarette.

It is also very import­ant that your shoulders should appear attached to your feet by some invis­ible string. Alas, the Mary Mince is less pop­u­lar than it used to be with gays and tends to be prac­tised nowadays only by ex-husbands of Sandie Shaw and the lead-singer of Suede.

The Compton Street Swagger

This very intense form of prom­en­ad­ing has become the dom­in­ant form of gay walk­ing today, retain­ing within it the ghost of the Mary Mince but now over­laid with ele­ments of the Wide Boy Waltz and Body Builder Bowl (the Squaddie Spring is usu­ally omit­ted — per­haps because gays wouldn’t be seen dead car­ry­ing Head sports bags).

The Compton Street Swagger is, need­less to say, very, very alarm­ing and is very, very dif­fi­cult to describe since it is impossible to identify quite which joints remain rigid and which are allowed move­ment — in the Compton Street Swagger rigid­ity and passiv­ity blend into one ver­sat­ile action (£70 out calls; £50 in). The over­all effect is Graham Norton crossed with Dennis Wise crossed with Rhona Cameron crossed with a black dj shoulder bag and lots of Celtic rings.

Because the Compton Street Swagger is really at least three walks at once, it is by far the most ser­i­ous and business-like of all the ser­i­ous and business-like walks prac­tised by men today. Perhaps this is why most after­noons British Army Drill Instructors can be seen on Compton Street tak­ing notes.

As a vis­ibly shocked Armand reas­sures his extra­vag­antly queeny part­ner in Birdcage after wit­ness­ing him try­ing to walk like John Wayne ‘No, that was… fant­astic. I just never real­ised that John Wayne walked that way before.’

‘Sex Terror’ is now avail­able on Kindle

America to Machismo: How Do I Quit You?

Dire warn­ings of how men are doomed because more chapesses are now in work than chaps, are more edu­cated, and now earn­ing more (in large cit­ies), promp­ted a spe­cial ‘Man Up!’ issue of Newsweek a few weeks back on the ‘crisis of mas­culin­ity’.  The centrepiece was an inter­est­ing, lengthy – and oddly-conflicted – essay titled ‘Men’s Lib’ which seems to identify America’s con­tinu­ing love-affair with mach­ismo as hold­ing American men and America back from adapt­ing to a chan­ging world.

It calls for a ‘reima­gin­ing’ of mas­culin­ity.  Men need to jet­tison their pre­ju­dices and pride and embrace ‘girly’ pro­fes­sions and ‘chan­ging diapers’ to adapt and survive:

… as women assume pos­i­tions once occu­pied exclus­ively by men, and the more ‘manly’ sec­tors of the U.S. eco­nomy con­tinue to shrink, a more capa­cious notion of man­hood — the product of both new policies and new atti­tudes — is no longer a lux­ury. In fact, it may be exactly what’s needed to keep the American male, and America itself, com­pet­it­ive in the 21st century.

Which sounds splen­did, if some­what late in the day: this argu­ment could have been made at any time since at least the 80s when ‘mas­cu­line’ heavy indus­tries began to be replaced by ‘fem­in­ine’ ser­vice indus­tries.  It’s also charm­ing to see that ‘reima­gin­ing mas­culin­ity’ is cast as a pat­ri­otic pro­ject: Uncle Sam Needs YOU to change diapers!

The authors of this piece, Andrew Romano and Tony Dokoupil are very into chan­ging diapers.  And repro­duc­tion gen­er­ally.  Which is per­haps why they assume when talk­ing about ‘reima­gin­ing mas­culin­ity’, even at such length, that it is entirely het­ero­sexual.  I don’t men­tion this to score points. And repro­duc­tion is a won­der­ful, if slightly scary thing.  I men­tion it because fear of being thought homo – and thus emas­cu­lated, and thus out­side the world of men – has long been one of the chief ways in which tra­di­tional notions of mas­culin­ity have been main­tained.  Long past their use-by date – par­tic­u­larly in the US.

The battle over the Pentagon’s ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’, still raging after nearly twenty years, is a very pub­lic example of this.  Whatever argu­ments tra­di­tion­al­ists might mar­tial in pub­lic against the repeal of this policy, such as ‘unit cohes­ive­ness’, ‘lack of pri­vacy’ and ‘oper­a­tional read­i­ness’, every­one knows that this is just a polite smokescreen, as much to spare their sens­ib­il­it­ies as any­one else’s. However reas­on­ably Don’t Tell-ers state their case we can all hear quite clearly the apo­pleptic D.I. super­ego shriek­ing inside their heads over and over, spray­ing their cere­bel­lum with spittle: ‘Fags AREN’T MEN!  They take it UP THE ASS, for chris­sakes!  And they ENJOY IT!  They bat for the OTHER SIDE!!’

How the devil can you motiv­ate American men to be men and do the ulti­mate ‘manly’ thing if they are serving along­side open sod­om­ites who aren’t pun­ished, can’t be drummed out of the ranks of men in dis­grace, and in fact have every legal right to the same respect and pro­tec­tion as any other sol­dier? (As with gay mar­riage, hardly any­one is ter­ribly worked up about les­bi­ans – but unfor­tu­nately for the ladies who love ladies they are, once again, lumped in with gay men for the sake of ‘con­sist­ency’, and also to avoid hav­ing to actu­ally acknow­ledge the, y’know, bum-sex obsession.)

The con­nec­tion between mach­ismo and homo­pho­bia isn’t, in the words of the some­what phal­lic cliché, rocket sci­ence.  Likewise, tack­ling homo­pho­bia is some­thing you have to do if you want to take on mach­ismo.  Sweden, the coun­try cited so approv­ingly in the Newsweek piece for its patern­ity leave pro­gramme is also one of if not the most gay-friendly coun­tries in the world (and the US one of the least gay-friendly in the Western world), though this goes unmentioned.

All in all, Newsweek’s clarion call for ‘men’s lib’ is sound­ing some­what muted.  So per­haps it’s not entirely ridicu­lous that the name given its pro­ject for ‘a more capa­cious notion of man­hood’ (that doesn’t appear to include any­thing non-heterosexual and non-reproductive), is ‘The New Macho’.

This mous­ta­chioed moniker has been wheeled out before – most amus­ingly in the form ‘macho­sexual’ – when the US was hav­ing its gigantic national nervous break­down over met­ro­sexu­al­ity in the mid Noughties, either as a reac­tion­ary knee-jerk response to that ‘girly man’/fag stuff.  Or as a men­dacious repack­aging of met­ro­sexu­al­ity for the older, more clenched gen­tle­men.

Perhaps it’s a really clever piece of mar­ket­ing by the Newsweek authors, pack­aging their call for rad­ical change as some­thing reas­sur­ing.  Maybe ‘New Macho’ is what you need if you want to tempt the old machos aboard the Twenty First Century.  Or even just aboard the lat­ter part of the Twentieth Century.  We prob­ably shouldn’t for­get that at the height of their fame the Village People were a band whom most of the US thought were just whole­some arche­types of all-American vir­il­ity.  And in a funny way, they were.  Either way, they cer­tainly knew a thing or two about repack­aging mach­ismo.  And packets.

By con­trast, I’m not so con­vinced by Newsweek’s spruced up handle­bar moustache.

It’s clear that we’ve arrived at another crossroads—only today the pre­vail­ing codes of man­hood have yet to adjust to the chan­ging demands on men. We’re not advoc­at­ing a gen­der­less soci­ety, a world in which men are “just like women.”

Well, c’mon guys you so are! At least in the sense that men should be able, just like women today, to go against tra­di­tional expect­a­tions.  (I know, know, you have to say these daft things because oth­er­wise you’ll sound… un-American.)

We’re not even averse to dec­or­at­ive man­hood, or the kind of escap­ism that men have turned to again and again—think Paul Bunyan, Tarzan, and bomber jackets—when the actual sub­stance of their lives felt light. If today’s men want to be hunters, or met­ro­sexu­als, or met­ro­sexu­als dressed in hunt­ing clothes, they should feel free.’

Yes, there are rather a lot of met­ros dress­ing in hunt­ing clothes these days. Particularly at Newsweek.  But ‘feel­ing free’ is the key here, of course.  Which is why this really is in the end about a kind of ‘men’s lib’. But my hunch is that a sys­tem as rigid, repress­ive — and now as cloy­ingly sen­ti­mental — as mach­ismo can’t be reformed, or re-styled by put­ting the word ‘new’ in front of it.  Like medal­lions and signet rings it just.  Has to.  Go.  (West.)

Along with Newsweek’s and the Pentagon’s notion that mas­culin­ity is always het­ero­sexual.

The world’s most perceptive writer about modern masculinity’

Is me, apparently.

I can’t really find it in me to disagree.

From the global trend-spotting/cool-hunting web­site Science of the Time:

Mark Simpson is prob­ably the world’s most per­cept­ive – and cer­tainly the wit­ti­est – writer about mod­ern mas­culin­ity. Mark Simpson has by far the sharpest mind when it comes to chan­ging mas­culin­it­ies. With a world­wide repu­ta­tion, a long story of excel­lence and many inter­na­tional pub­lic­a­tions he is simply world-wide leading.