We need masculism, because…

pin up boysAbout a week before I became aware of the failed intentions of Twitter hashtag #INeedMasculismBecause I posted this for the consideration of my facebook friends:

 

Anyone ever come across a name for someone who opposes masculine normativity? For example, Jackson Katz: while he’s certainly a feminist, his ‘bag’ is writing about the construction of masculinity. He is brilliant. But what is he? A Man-in-ist? An Andronist? I feel this agenda should warrant a name other than ‘Gender Equality’ (since feminism has a specific name…even though we’re all really after the same outcome.)

 

While feminists, womanists and other marginalised activist groups have long been looking at the tangible ideological impact of under- or false-representation and the pervasive persistence of prejudice against societies ‘underdogs’, have we neglected the plight of the overdogs? Does the straight white male of Western society have a leg to stand on in discourses of oppression?

 

The first, simplest answer is: no, not in the way that you probably think I mean.

 

The Men’s Rights Activists, and other petty-minded people of the twittersphere (and, unfortunately, of the real world) poured out their shallow misunderstandings and perverse frustrations about life in the most predictably (and sometimes bewilderingly) sexist ways, for everyone else’s mocking pleasure. They formed a mighty and fascinating display of reasons why we need masculism, ranging from #INMB without us, where’s the workforce? to #INMB Feminists and Arts students are intellectually challenged. I am a mathematician. Said nutters’ defensive responses to people expressing palpable systemic inequalities in society reminds me of the complaint that it’s unfair to whites that black people have their own, special history month. Those entitled, privileged black bastards.

 

However, we need masculism. And it is important to distinguish the very specific reasons why. Before knowing the extent of ridiculous by which this ‘trend’ had been born, I had a Eureka moment: Masculism! That’s its name! I’d always considered ‘Maninism’ to be Feminism’s equivalent, but this failed my terminological standards due to sounding like an art movement that no one had ever needed because of anything. I’d almost settled on Andronism, though I didn’t feel it would ever catch on in the public consciousness due to a general unfamiliarity amongst my peers with the combining form andro- to mean male. (My lexical snobbery slaps me in the face as I realize that Masculism was the feminism-equivalent label in the first place. Even the MRAs worked that out.)

 

It should be fairly obvious that gender equality means gender equality. With that aim in mind, it would be counter productive to examine the minutiae of how the female and the feminine is problematically defined, and ignore the definitions of masculinity. (Personally I believe that) gender is a construct. We learn our traits, our neuro-automatic behaviours, and some of us are lucky enough to successfully un-learn the ones we don’t want during our lifetimes. Thus, at its most simplified, I believe males and females ‘exist’ in reality, whereas masculinity and femininity do not. So masculism, as I would (humbly) define it is about examining sexist assumptions about men, traits that have been defined as the ‘pillars’ of masculinity, and the representation of manly men men men in the media. (If you don’t get that last reference, you’re life is infinitely better than someone who does.)

 

We cannot equate masculine stereotyping to the oppression of and continuing sexual dehumanization of women. Even if we could, we do not need to play off against one another as though only the ‘worse off’ gender is allowed to campaign for fair representation and treatment. And I’m not even defining masculism as it is apparently usually defined (as in, “Who’s defending the fragility of MY rights, bro?!”) so I can only say how relevant I consider it to be in the context that I have assigned it. But if we are to progress towards a truly gender-equal society, we must examine what has been defined as ‘masculine’ as well as ‘feminine’. All inequalities within, and stereotypes of, gender normativity are a result of the patriarchal system by which ‘things’ have been, and to a huge extent, still are run; by examining all these restrictions and expectations, that normativity breaks down for everyone’s benefit. I can’t say it any better than Jackson Katz, who inspired me to ask the initial question with regard to male representation; he highlights the ways in which respectable masculinity is equated with violence and intimidation, and a disregard for compassion, sexual intimacy and respect for ‘others’. His work focuses on the perpetuation of these trends in contemporary media representation, though these stereotypes are reinforced in wider society, and have been throughout history.

 

The Media Education Foundation, with whom Katz works, are an organisation who distribute videos and educational resources highlighting the ideological impacts of trends in media representation. As a good example of the most base sexual power relations that our culture continues to reproduce, (if you can stomach it; I only got half way through and never finished it) watch Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video; a disturbing and thorough (a worthwhile but depressing combination) look at the gender power dynamics of the American music video. Many young adults will recognize these explicit videos (and idents, and backstage documentaries etc.) as staples of their childhood viewing; at 24, watching a woman’s bare buttock being branded with the MTV 2 logo is disturbing not only because of its sexualizing and dehumanizing nature but also because looking back, my friends and I grew up surrounded by these images, and since they were being broadcast by adults who ‘knew better’, assumed the were nothing worse than ‘edgy’. And edgy is exactly what most teenagers are told they should want to be. Within the music video universe, the smug, bragging, belligerent, fully-clothed face of masculinity can be seen amongst the female body parts, lauding it over everyone with their miming skills, unrestricted. But this is a restricted and shallow brand of masculinity. This sells a powerful idea of what men can do, should do, can have and should want, and the vulnerable young male is also given his acceptable gender position. Fortunately for him, he has a plethora of other male characters and masculine traits in his cultural sphere; but a frightening number of them blend respectability and likeable comedic frivolity with violence, indifference, domination, ignorance, hypocrisy, infallibility, and a distinct lack of compassion, intimacy and vulnerability. Much more research and education needs to be provided on our beliefs in gender roles as a whole, taking into account our belief in fixed gender itself.

 

So in the context of the construction and representation of gender and the power dynamics between us all, this idea of masculism could become radically transformative. If it catches on.

 

(Finally: there were a few tweets in the INMB feed that really broke my heart, and were obviously a cry for help. Jackson Kent tweeted #INMB it’s my fault that I get an uncontrollable boner at a woman’s overexposed cleavage; then, lashing out in pain, wrote #INMB women are fucking stupid. If you’d like to send Jackson a message of support, you can tweet @analwipe1.)

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3 thoughts on “We need masculism, because…

  1. Good post! Very good points, and haven’t you ever wondered what it’s like to be a man? Where we (females) get all the pressure to look fabulous all the time (and be able to bake, make babies and hold down a job), I always wonder what pressures men face nowadays. Because there’s the obvious bread-winning ventures and being romantic whilst also being able to “down it” (Fresher) in the pub with “the lads”, but what else? Has anything changed? And – who decides what masculism is? Is it us (the females)? Or is men too?

    On a side note, I find the phrase black history month jarring, but mainly because it’s sad people feel the need to highlight what’s happened to black people (only sad because it basically says our society only cares about our history), but also because the name itself kind of makes the division even more. If it had been “African History Month” or similar, it might not have been so reactive. But then, if it HAD been African History Month, I am sure a great many would look on it with colonial eyes, as it were, in the most patronising sense. Incidentally, it turns out I only really know the history that is relevant to me – being in Berlin, there’s so much I didn’t know about a place just three countries over from England.

  2. Hi Liz. Really good post, very interesting thoughts. I’ve been thinking about that too (though I’d been trying to call it “Masculinism”, which, on reflection, obviously isn’t right – thanks for introducing me to the proper term). Here’s some complementary thoughts of my own on the kind of issues we face with reclaiming masculinity.

    I think courage is the biggest issue. The macho stereotype in our culture is that a man should be fearless – but fearless in a specifically physical, violent sense. Actually, the challenges that we face much more often are social, emotional and moral. The kind of courage we really need for life is in these areas, and it’s precisely in these areas that the stereotype encourages us to make excuses and act in habitually cowardly ways.

    And this is also a confession, by the way – I’m only writing from my own, personal experience, though I see it repeated time and time again in men around me, men in the media and men in public life. I recognise that I am often afraid of emotional issues – I don’t know how to handle my own emotions or those of other people, and I often respond by repressing them or ignoring them. This kind of response is actively encouraged by our cultural perception of what is manly; yet, when put in these terms, it’s obvious that there is nothing manly about it. The manly thing would be to face up to those feelings, to that pain, to that complexity and stare it full in the face. To accept and try to deal with the reality rather than deny it. This is the reason I need masculism.

    One of the symptoms of this is in relationships. In many relationships, men dominate through their superior physical strength. In some other relationships, women dominate through their superior emotional strength. I’m not saying we should necessarily feel sorry for these poor, dominated men. In some cases, we just need to man up and face the emotional realities and stop hiding. In others, perhaps the woman needs to recognise the man’s more limited capacity in this regard – in the same way that strong men should use that strength to dominate and coerce, emotionally strong women need to exercise restraint in a relationship. I think the same principles would apply in relationships where the man is “emotionally stronger”, or in same sex relationships (though I am just sharing this as my opinion, I am no expert in any of this).

    Socially, as well, I know that I am often afraid of situations that I expect to be awkward or involving a social confrontation that will make me vulnerable. Again, our stereotypes of masculinity would encourage me to back away from the conversation – or to make a joke out of it and avoid engaging with what is happening in any meaningful way. Anyhow, you can see where I’m going with this – the really manly thing would be to engage, be vulnerable, accept my fears and deal with it, eat the awkwardness, etc.

    I’ve written lots, so I’ll leave it there. Thanks for inspiring me to write that down (it helps).

    Chris

    1. Chris,

      What a fantastic reply. Your thoughts are hugely rewarding, inspiring and enlightening for me to hear in response. Thank you!! I think your final comment, that the ‘manly’ thing to do would be to face up to certain situations that culturally you should avoid….I agree, but I’d like to add that I feel it would simply be the most human thing to do! I also would like to be better at doing this as I feel it’d make life more rewarding and calm, and feel it’s important for us to stop defining what we should do, because we are male/female. But this comes, as the vast majority of my writing and opinions have, from my very gender-effacing position, in which I know I stand as a minority.

      I especially appreciate your point that people who are emotionally stronger in a relationship (often women, because it is heavily cultivated in us, but not always) should use that strength for understanding rather than any kind of dominance. Unfortunately this is not always the case, and this is something I’m going to think on and use in future discourse! Thanks!

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