So there's this article in Time titled "Masculinity, a Delicate Flower," which is all about how men are obliged to establish, assert, and constantly maintain their masculinity throughout their lives. It's a very basic article, so superficial in its examination of the concepts of gender construction and performance, and so imprecise in drawing any distinction between socialized gender expectations and gender essentialism, that it would hardly be worth mentioning to this crowd were it not for its concluding paragraph:
The authors said this research also begins to illuminate the negative effects of gender on men — depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and violence. And, at the very least, it may persuade ladies to cut their guys a little slack. "When I was younger I felt annoyed by my male friends who would refuse to hold a pocketbook or say whether they thought another man was attractive. I thought it was a personal shortcoming that they were so anxious about their manhood. Now I feel much more sympathy for men," [psychologist and researcher Jennifer K. Bosson] said in a statement.
*insert the sound of record scratching here*

Whoa whoa whoa there, partner. First of all, "depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and violence" are not "the negative effects of gender." They are the negative effects of the Patriarchy, and conformity thereto. That's not a matter of semantics; that's the whole fucking point.

It isn't being male, nor being a man, that is a problem, but believing that to be male, or to be a man, is to have to project a very specific and rigid definition of masculinity—which defines itself in contradistinction to the feminine, thus forcing men to conceal and deny any part of themselves that anyone could call feminine; which limits men's emotional spectrum to anger; which forces men to exist in a permanent state of insecurity, constantly monitoring the boundaries of their masculinity and engaging in displays of bravado to prove their self-worth; which considers sheer brawn and physical toughness the only acceptable kind of strength, while the kind of strength which informs one's character, what might be described as emotional strength, the kind of strength that means walking away from a fight, or being patient, or showing empathy, isn't allowed to play much of a role at all in the definition of masculinity—which leaves men, whose physical attributes of masculine strength will wane with time and age, keenly aware that their masculinity is ever threatened by their own mortality, because they haven't been encouraged to cultivate a compassion and resiliency that can't be measured in kilos or KOs.

That's not about being a man. That's about being a man in a Patriarchy, who's never been offered an alternative paradigm.

Well. I've got an offer for you, gents! (Though you needn't just listen to me!)

And, suffice it to say, I don't agree with the contention that an awareness of how the Patriarchy hurts men, too, should "persuade ladies to cut their guys a little slack." Women don't have the luxury of "slack." Most gay/bi men don't have the luxury of "slack." Most trans* men don't have the luxury of "slack." Many men who are physically disabled, many men with dwarfism, many men with psychological disabilities, any man who is (wrongly) perceived, for whatever reason, to be "weak" via some inability to conform to the exacting demands of the Patriarchal male norm, don't have the luxury of "slack."

Slack is a privilege.

Understanding that subscribing to Patriarchy-approved narratives of masculinity is the issue, not some innate maleness, but something over which men have some control, have a choice, means that if "ladies" (and all the other men who have made a different choice regarding masculinity) are persuaded to do anything, it should be to expect more.

Once upon a time, I suggested to Iain that something he was doing (which was pissing me off) stemmed from a latent sexist notion that it was his prerogative as The Man to do this specific thing, which is not an accusation I wield carelessly or often; I have little reason to, since Iain is rationally egalitarian—and viscerally egalitarian for the most part, too. Anyway, we talked it out, and Iain was generously honest, saying that, yeah, that was the reason he was doing it and, wow, he hadn't realized it, but, shit, that feeling was totally there, ick. No hard feelings; it's not like I've never been called out for deeply internalized bullshit. We move forward with a new understanding.

It took a long time to get there, though, and at one point, Iain had said, "You know, if you weren't a feminist, this probably wouldn't even bother you."

I replied, "No, if I weren't a feminist, it would still bother me, but instead of acknowledging that you're an indoctrinated member of a patriarchy just like I am, I'd just think you were being a lousy shithead."

He chewed on that for a moment, and then said, "Fuck."

That was the first time Iain really understood how my feminism was benefiting him—that feminism doesn't make me see problems that aren't there, but provides the tools which allow me to analyze and prescribe solutions based on a context larger than my immediate experience. And existent outside the narrowly-drawn borders of constrictive stereotyping.

Implicit in feminism/womanism is not only the belief, but the expectation, that men are not brutish nor infantile—nor stupid, useless, inept, emotionally stunted, or any other negative stereotype feminists have been accused of promoting—but instead our equals just as much as we are theirs, capable not only of understanding feminism (and feminists), but of actively and rigorously engaging challenges to their socialization, too.

Feminists, of course, have the terrible reputation, but it isn't we who consider all men babies, dopes, dogs, and potential rapists. The holders of those views are the women and men who root for the patriarchy—which itself, after all, takes a rather unpleasantly dim view of most people.

I don't have slack to offer men. What I have is the alternative to a life spent swallowing one's emotions and feeling a constant anxious insecurity where one's contended self-esteem should be—and that seems a lot more valuable to me than "slack."

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus