Much of the workI’vedonehere at Feministing has been an attempt to unpack the oppressive nature of our current constructs of masculinity. Sometimes this means discussing the ways in which defining masculinity around dominance, violence, coercion, and invulnerability limit the identities and expression of men who are beholden to this definition.
And I continue to believe that is an important conversation to have. It’s true that a patriarchal definition of masculinity and manhood is damaging to men — physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
But I’ve recently been disheartened by conversations I’ve had with activists and advocates who believe deeply in redefining masculinity, but only speak of it in terms of how it affects men and boys. I understand the impulse. We can pour through our culture and see the ways in which men have attempted to define themselves, but there’s been little in the way of an intentional conversation that gets to the heart of “why?” Why do men believe their manhood is defined through physical domination or sexual coercion? Why do men think that in order to be properly performing manhood they can’t express any emotions other than anger? Why is only one narrowly defined sexual identity considered acceptable under the current definition of masculinity? These are all questions that deserve answers. And after we have answered them, we need to move forward in finding ways for men to not be limited to this archaic view of masculinity in their daily lives.
My issue is that masculinity acts as oppressive force, and any conversation about oppression that leaves out the oppressed is not one I find worth having. What masculinity does to heterosexual cis men is important to discuss, but what it does to everyone else, especially women, is far more important. Because while it can leave us men broken in many ways, the privilege to be able to move through the world adopting this masculinity bestows upon us a tremendous amount of power. That power has been used to render everyone else second- and third-class citizens. This is the true danger.
When people of good faith and goodwill push this to the side to focus solely on the ways in which masculinity affects men and boys, it only serves to diminish the fight for gender equality by not dealing with it directly. When we re-center men in this discussion, we’re saying that the effects felt by women are not just secondary but can be ignored and still eradicated. That’s simply not true. It’s possible to do the work of redefining masculinity and liberating men from patriarchy and still reinforce the same gendered power dynamics under the guise of a “progressive masculinity.”
Read the rest of this piece on feministing, where it was first published.
I think my biggest “huh” moment with respect to gender roles is when it was pointed out to me that your typical “geek” is just as hypermasculine as your typical “jock” when you look at it from the right angle.
As male geeks, a great deal of our identity is built on the notion that male geeks are, in some sense, gender-nonconformant, insofar as we’re unwilling or unable to live up to certain physical ideals about what a man “should” be. Indeed, many of us take pride in how putatively unmanly we are.
Viewed from an historical perspective, however, the virtues of the ideal geek are essentially those of the ideal aristocrat: a cultured polymath with expertise in a vast array of subjects; rarefied or eccentric taste in food, clothing, music, etc.; identity politics that revolve around one’s hobbies or pastimes; open disdain for physical labour and those who perform it; a sense of natural entitlement to positions of authority (“you should be flipping my burgers!”); and so forth.
And the thing about that aristocratic ideal? It’s intensely masculine. It may seem more welcoming to women on the surface, but - as recent events will readily illustrate - this is a facade: we pretend to be egalitarian because it suits our refined self-image, but that affectation falls away in a heartbeat when challenged.
Basically, the whole “geeks versus jocks” thing that gets drilled into us by media and the educational system isn’t about degrees of masculinity at all. It’s just two different flavours of the same toxic bullshit: the ideal geek is the alpha-male-as-philosopher-king, as opposed to the ideal jock’s alpha-male-as-warrior-king. It’s still a big dick-measuring contest - we’re just using different rulers.
What men reply:Ew nevermind you're not pretty anymore
What the reply really means:I can't handle it when a woman knows her own worth and isn't an object for me to project my faux validation onto. You're hurting my masculine savior complex and making me uncomfortable with your confidence stop making me realize that my "generous nice guy" opinion is unneeded you're oppressing me :(
Men who are afraid to feel must keep women around to do their feeling for them while dismissing us for the same supposedly “inferior” capacity to feel deeply. But in this way also, men deny themselves their own essential humanity, becoming trapped in dependency and fear.
In Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing, and mixed martial arts, there is a rule that you never hit “below the belt.” The area of biggest concern is the testicles. As the Ultimate Fighting Championship rules specify, “groin attacks of any kind” are a foul. This is probably because groin attacks might make for short fights or ones where everyone just goes around protecting their balls. In any case, the skills being tested are of a different kind. But, even aside from that, this seems like a good idea and very civilized. I do not advocate for testicle kicking, not groin attacks of any kind, for what it’s worth.
I do think it’s somewhat odd, though, that men who fight each other outside of controlled conditions—men in street fights, bar brawls, and parking lot scuffles—also usually avoid hitting below the belt. These fights aren’t about training or skill, like those between professional athletes, they’re real attempts to do some damage out of anger or defensiveness. So, why no hits to the balls?
The question was posed by a woman on Yahoo! Answers: “If you dislike each other enough to want them to get hurt,” she asked, “why not do the worst?”
The answers, admittedly unscientific, were interesting. One of the common responses involved the idea that not hitting below the belt was “an unspoken rule.” Maybe it’s the Golden Rule—do onto others as you would have them do unto you—and some men mentioned that, but others suggested that it was a rule specific to manhood. It’s a “cheap shot,” said one. A “low blow,” said another.
But why? Why do men agree not to kick each other in the balls? Why is that part of the code?
I think it’s because it serves to protect men’s egos as well as men’s balls.
What would street fights between guys look like—or professional fights for that matter—if onecould go below the belt? For one, there’d be a lot more collapsing. Two, a lot more writhing in pain. Three, a lot less getting up. All in all, it would add up to less time looking powerful and more time looking pitiful. And it would send a clear message that men’s bodies are vulnerable.
Chris Tuchscherer not having been just hit in the balls:
Chris Tuchscherer having been just hit in the balls:
Not hitting below the belt, then, protects the idea that men’s bodies are fighting machines. It protects masculinity, the very idea that men are big and strong, pain- and impact-resistant, impenetrable like an edifice. So not hitting below the belt doesn’t just protect individual men from pain, it protects our ideas about masculinity.
When a man hits below the belt, he is revealing to everyone present that masculinity is a fiction. That’s why one guy said: “For ‘alpha male’ fights, nut shots are just wrong.” Alpha male fights are about figuring out which male is alpha, while preserving the idea that the alpha male is a thing that matters.
This is why men are quick to criticize other men who break the code. One of the best ways to control men is to threaten to kick them out of the man club. “If a guy kicks another guy in the balls on purpose during a fight,” one replied to the question on Yahoo, “he will forever be banished from manhood.” Another said: “Winning like this means that you cannot beat up the other guy by ‘real’ fighting.” It’s a matter of one’s own reputation: “A man who kicks another man in the balls,” said a third, “immediately loses all manliness and respect.”
So, men generally agree to pretend that the balls just aren’t there. The effect is that we tend to forget just how vulnerable men are to the right attack and continue to think of women as naturally more fragile.
I still don’t want anyone to get kicked in the balls, though, just to be clear.
“In one survey, women and men were asked what they were most afraid of. Women responded that they were most afraid of being raped and murdered. Men responded that they were most afraid of being laughed at.”
Michael Kimmel, “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence, in the Construction of Gender Identity,” Toward a New Psychology of Gender
Vancouver-based photographer and self-proclaimed “gender terrorist” S.D. Holman gives us an answer with BUTCH: Not like the other girls, a photography project that delves into female masculinity and demonstrates that the “butch” identity is very much alive and well in 2014.
“There is only one emotion that patriarchy values when expressed by men; that emotion is anger. Real men get mad. And their mad-ness, no matter how violent or violating, is deemed natural—a positive expression of patriarchal masculinity. Anger is the best hiding place for anybody seeking to conceal pain or anguish of spirit”
Bell Hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love p. 7
Last week, grisly details emerged in the case of an 18-year-old in the United Kingdom who stabbed three women last summer in what he called “an act of revenge because of the life they gave me.” The case is terrifying because the teen, Portsmouth, Hampshire, resident Ben Moynihan, did not know any of the women and was simply seeking blind revenge for his continued virginity.
Moynihan left a plethora of evidence detailing the motive for his attacks: basically, rejection and misogyny. “I think every girl is a type of slut,” he said in a video recorded on his laptop. “They are fussy with men nowadays, they do not give boys like us a chance.”