Sunday, 26 August 2012

Men & Masculinity

Patriarchy. This word doesn't usually feature in most peoples vocabulary let alone in their day to day conversations, yet its ideals (or rather lack of) are the most important factors that teaches men what it means to be a man. Patriarchy is a system of social organisation in which the male is the head figure of society or family. In western civilisation, we live under a patriarchal system. There are very few matriarchal civilisations left in the world, however, where there are, it is usually indigenous populations (that haven't yet been severely effected by globalisation).
Patriarchy effectively defines the different roles, qualities and characteristics that are assigned to each gender.
If it is considered necessary for a man to be strong, emotionless and protective, and a woman to be weak, emotional, and acquiescent, it is because of the patriarchal definition of gender. However, it goes without saying that since the rise of the feminist movement, in the 1960s, the oppression placed on women under patriarchy has begun to lift, very slowly, however, patriarchy is very destructive to men as well.
Patriarchy teaches men that anger is an acceptable emotional response for the majority of situations. This ends up creating the kinds of men who are emotionally disconnected, and one could go even so far as to say, emotionally stunted. If you are a real man, you get angry, you get mad. You do manly things, like fight. Fighting is manly. Violence is an appropriate conditioned response. Contrarily, you do not cry, you certainly do not, nor do you admit to it, certainly not in public. You do not show any emotion that may make you seem vulnerable whether it is happiness or sadness, smiles or tears. A man who smiles too much is seen as equally weak, as he who has cried. This incomprehensible thinking is conditioned from a young age, through the socialisation process (family, school, media etc). I remember when I was young, in situations when I cried, I was told by my parents/family members that boys do not cry. As a result, in any situation, even if it was warranted, I did not cry. It takes a high level of emotional disconnection to not cry, after many years of conditioning, it becomes the norm, and you do not realise, you just think its the way you are and the way you should be - as a man. Now then, how are we expected to have healthy relationships, in which we build a connection, emotional bond, with our partners, and environment, if we cannot be emotionally true to ourselves? And because anger is the only conditioned response that men are taught as the norm, in relationships, men are the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of domestic violence. The problem with anger is, it prevents love, and isolates the one who is angry. The one who is angry isolates themselves through fear of being vulnerable or weak.
Men and women are both complicit in reinforcing this rigid and inhibiting view of masculinity, however, it is men that are the main benefactors under patriarchy, though it is also destructive to them. Women - Mothers, Aunties and girlfriends/wifes etc - reinforce this in many ways. For example, a girlfriend who states she wants a "real man" maybe unaware that she is actually asking for an emotionally disconnected and angry person, yet she will still expect to be loved and force an emotional. How many times have you heard that saying? A real man? (Is my heart not pumping jor?)
Also, many women will ask for real men yet expect them to open up emotionally and if the man is brave enough to, it is overwhelming and can destroy the ideal image she had of her partner being a real man, and thus the relationship is ruined. If she now sees him as weak, how can he now protect her? Furthermore, where can a man go, to release if not to his loved one(s). There is no real avenue for expression for men, so what happens is the pain is internalised and expressed in another destructive, usually violent, medium. There are men, who are ready to remove this conditioning but it is impossible to do it alone. Kay Leigh Hagan writes:

      "For both men and women, Good Men can be somewhat disturbing to be around because they usually
      do not act in ways associated with typical men; they listen more than they talk; they self-reflect on their    
      behaviour and motives, they actively educate themselves about women's reality by seeking out women's
      culture and listening to women... they intervene in other men's misogynist behaviour even when women
      are not present, and they work hard to recognise and challenge their own... they understand that male
      privilege prevents them not only from becoming whole, authentic human beings but also from knowing
      the truth about the world"

We must redefine gender and gender norms, for men and woman, in a way that creates balanced individuals. It must not be seen as wrong for men to cry, but okay for a woman to cry, instead, we must teach how to be emotionally balanced individuals who responding accordingly to a situation.
Patriarchy is destructive in many ways, so in this piece, I am not covering all the destructiveness of the patriarchal system, this must be an ongoing societal dialogue, instead, I am merely questioning masculinity and trying to stimulate debate and provoke thought that could lead us on that path.

I'd like to recommend a very good, thought provoking book on this issue: The Will To Change. Men, Masculinity and Love by Bell Hooks. If you want to read more on this particular conversation.
Hooks writes "The unhappiness of men in relationships, the grief men feel about the failure of love, often goes unnoticed in our society precisely because the patriarchal culture really does not care if men are unhappy. When females are in emotional pain, the sexist thinking that says that emotions should and can matter to women makes it possible for most of us to at least voice our heart, to speak it to someone... patriarchal mores teach a form of emotional stoicism, to men that says they are more manly if they do not feel, and the feelings hurt, the manly response is to stuff them down, to forget about them, to hope they go away"

The question is, now that we are aware, where do we go from here? As men and women? Time will tell.


  1. Fascinating, but true.

  2. Interesting.I actually think that men ,in recent years have become alot more feminised for a number of different reasons.They seem to exhibit more of the traits that you would traditionally associate with women. I understand what you mean re 'Real Men' and women being surprised when they treat them like crap. However the erm feminised-man ( for want of a better phrase!) is becoming more prevalent.

  3. Interesting piece JJ. Not taking issue with what you say, simply jotting my thoughts down inspired by you touching on the subject, so thanks for inspiring that, and it's timely after my thoughts from this weekend at carnival. While I still feel a man should have a role of protector, I don't think this should be diminished by a man feeling and expressing emotion. If a true deep relationship is about finding soul mates, then this has to be achieved by a man expressing his feelings to his partner... I'd see that as a strength not a weakness. While I accept many men maybe victims of their own desire or inability to look within, I find it difficult to see men as victims in a world with so much abuse of women and children at the behest of men. If we look at something like this weekends carnival, it's photos of women's perceived "slack" behaviour that is doing the rounds on the internet.... yet I go to carnival in dismay of how men act, waiting for any chance to rub themselves on someone, particularly if the girl is drunk, with their men friends egging them on. There are many good thoughtful men out there, but the world is dominated by the negative ugly stereotype of maleness, and having seen it so often, I have reached a point where most of my friends are women. This was not a decision I made consciously, I simply gravitate to where I feel most comfortable. I reiterate, not all men... this is pure generalisation....but that's the key, it's down to all of us to break out of whatever stereotypes us as men... and we have to do that as individuals. Having emotion does not feminise a man. It makes him a deeper man.

  4. This is very true. I couldn't agree more. They do say 'it's a men's world'. Dare I say that patriarchy goes hand in hand with male privilege? I find that a lot of men are in denial of the benefits and upper-hand they have in society. This by itself perpetuates patriarchy. The feminist movement challenged those male privileges which is why some men are so against feminism and feminist tendencies. It's almost like a dirty word to them.

    Unless some men will seriously understand how they are benefiting from the patriarchal system and male privilege, things will sadly not change. Women can only do so much to demand more rights but attitudes towards women will remain the same. There are many stereotypes towards women which still makes a regular occurrence on TV, film, books etc. Men also have their own ideas on rape and how a woman should feel and also who's fault it is. Attitudes need changing and they need to begin at home too.

    Women and men both perpetuate this cycle because of their own attitudes on gender roles. We need to get away from how men and women should be because society is now globalised and everything is modernised. We are at time when many changes are occurring and people can't fit in their traditional gender roles any longer because of that. A lot of barriers have been broken but we still need to break many more (women still don't get equal pay in many Western countries).

    I have to say thought that things have changed (particularly since the turn of the last century) and women have slowly gained more respect, recognition and rights. Nothing can be done overnight but I do think we are SLOWLY but surely heading into the right direction.

  5. I would agree that women perpetuate these stereotypes, but only as sufferer's stockholm syndrome.

  6. Refreshing! so theres hope.....

  7. Well contextualised! Well said and true; indeed thought provoking. Thanks for the stimulus.