Male Rituals And The Forging Of Masculinity

Saturday was Queens Day in Holland. It was a time when everything goes orange and everyone has fun, it was a time I experienced male rituals in the small town of Eemnes through Tonnetje Steken.

What I loved was not just that people had fun but that they had fun with family and friends in their town. People were enjoying themselves because they knew the people they were spending time with and they enjoyed making fools of themselves.

Having Fun

This is something that is almost unknown to me, the idea of having fun with people you have known all your life. I have spent my life moving and travelling, never settling. I love it but there are times like this when I see what I miss.

People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.
Dagobert D. Runes

Male Rituals

In Eemnes there were a lot of men having enormous fun getting wet, one of their traditional male rituals. It was one of those occasions when men of all ages enjoy getting together and showing off. It is a rare moment when you see many of the inherent male characteristics coming out, powerfully but harmlessly.

At the end of a small lane in the village there is a trailer from a truck parked across the lane. The trailer is full of men of all ages in costumes and orange clothing. From the edge of the trailer, down into the lane, is a sloping track with a small truck on it. The truck is just big enough for a man to sit in.

Above the sloping track is a barrel of water that rotates on a rod across the lane. below the barrel, but fixed to it, is a piece of wood with a hole in it. Each man in turn is let loose to roll quickly down the track holding a long pole, like a lance. He has to feed the pole through the hole and catch it the other side as he careers down.

Getting Very Wet

Sounds simple... The catch is that if you miss the hole and hit the piece of wood, or if you get it stuck going through, you rotate the barrel and tip the water from the barrel all over yourself. You get very wet!

As time goes on the atmosphere gets more and more frenetic, the crowd gets rowdier and the contestants get more drunk, one of many male rituals. The result is more water being spilt and more hilarity. The crowd loves seeing the men get wet, particularly if they are well-known in the village. So that you miss nothing there is a constant humourous commentary by a man who seems to know everyone.

Two things struck me about it. The first was the age range of those involved. The men running it were middle-aged and most of the men taking part were teens to 30's. At the end of the track watching and shouting encouragement were the youngsters too young to take part. They were clearly looking forward to when it would be their turn.

The second was the willingness for the men to show off their manhood in a non-threatening way. Men love a challenge and these men took the challenge with relish, celebrated their success and enjoyed their failure. This was all done publicly, another of the male rituals.

I saw only two girls take part while I was there, the women mostly stood around and loved seeing their men take part.

A Chance To Show Off

Many men, such as me, miss out on this sense of ritual in a context where you are known. It's a chance to show off and learn how to be a man in a non-threatening environment. Manhood used to be won through ritual and rites of passage. Much of this has disappeared in modern society leaving men with no context to understand or judge their masculinity.

Masculinity takes many forms but is always forged in competition with other men. In threatening contexts this competition becomes physical and nasty and creates a masculinity which is destructive. In environments such as this one in Holland it can create a challenging, creative masculinity which benefits the whole of society.

Ritual is necessary for us to know anything.
Ken Kesey