Tuesday, 4 February 2014

"Man Up" -- and some of the harms of patriarchy

A topic I'm quite interested in is the question of "Where have all the good men gone?" -- or rather, what has happened to masculinity?, or what does it mean to be a man in this day and age where men are either hyper-masculinised or emasculated? Having always been very sensitive, emotionally attune, I experienced a great deal of bullying as a child: "boys don't cry", "stop being a sissy", "you have no guts", "man up!" With this in mind, the following spoken-word performance was heartening to see.

I recently finished reading a very thought-provoking book on bisexuality, in which the author list a number of problems with patriarchy, and the burden and harm it does to boys and men. Below is a passage from Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution:

Having internalized these patriarchal values, men learn to see themselves in terms of control, power, and domination. However, herein lies the sting: Since men are forced into the role of oppressor, they are expected to constantly be in control of both themselves and their environments. Kaufman writes: “We have to perform and stay in control. We’re supposed to conquer, be on top of things, and call the shots. We have to tough it out, provide, and achieve.” “Paradoxically, men are wounded by the very way we have learned to embody and exercise our power.” Men are expected to express their domination in various ways that end up hurting them. They are expected to be physically capable, strong, and able-bodied. Since early childhood, they are encouraged to engage in sports, be able to fight, be able to lift heavy objects, or otherwise physically manipulate their environments (build things, fix things, etc.). In certain cultures and groups, as they grow up they are also encouraged (or indeed, obligated by law) to become soldiers and to physically “fight for their country,” even to the death. By doing all of these things, men exhibit their ability to dominate their environments by exerting physical control. This expectation hurts the men who do not, or for any reason cannot, par with the standard. They get perceived as weak, or as having deficient masculinities, and therefore as lesser human beings (remember that fitting into the single standard of patriarchy is also the condition for being considered a valuable human). It also hurts the men who do engage in these activities, as the pressure and the intensity required of them often leads to physical injuries, permanent damage, or even death.
Men are expected to be able to provide for the physical needs of their (presumably heteronormative) families, to be the “breadwinner” or the one “putting the food on the table.” They are expected to do this by working hard, making money, and deciding what to do with it. By doing this, men prove their ability, status, and their domination of their families (women and children). They also earn respect for their work, and they control the money and its expenditure. This again hurts men who cannot fit into this standard, as they are perceived as lazy or incapable. The men who do perform this expectation get hurt because it means reducing their lives to working under capitalism, meaning that in most cases they feel alienated from their work and from other people (since they’re left with very little time for their personal lives).
Despite the fact that men are encouraged to provide for the physical needs of women and children, they are also expected to be emotionally distant from them, and from other people in general. As a general rule, men are expected never to act in ways that are nurturing, caring, or tender toward others. In fact, they are expected to never feel these things, want them, or admit to them. Their emotional distance is supposed to back up their controlling status over their families by showing that they are impartial and that emotional needs are insignificant in relation to the material needs that the man is obliged to provide. This hurts the men who do provide emotional support to their families by painting them as overcaring, overemotional, or even as being “pussywhipped” by their wives. It also hurts the men who do embody this expectation because it denies them of emotional intimacy and closeness to other people. In addition to maintaining emotional distance, men are supposed to be emotionally invulnerable and never to feel hurt, scared, or sad. Even if they do feel any of these things, they are expected to internalize them and never to speak of them or express them otherwise (“boys don’t cry,” as the popular saying goes). This expectation is supposed to be an expression of a man’s eternal and enduring strength, his ability to “take anything” without getting hurt or breaking down. Men who do express their emotions or indeed cry are often mocked or ridiculed. They’re considered to have deficient masculinities, or not to be “manly enough.” They are consequently derogated through comparisons to women, using nicknames such as “sissy,” “pussy,” etc. The men who do perform this expectation are hurt by it because they are forced into emotional numbness at best and into internalized negative feelings at worst. These internalized feelings might often lead men to self-destructive behaviors, hurting themselves as well as others since they can find no socially acceptable way to admit and express their emotions.
On par with the perception of men as “purely physical” beings, they are also expected to always want and be ready for sex. In fact, they are taught that not only does their masculinity depend upon it, but also their value as human beings. Sex is also supposed to be the only legitimate way for men to receive intimacy (since emotional intimacy is forbidden to them). The expression of sexual prowess is supposed to support the image of men as those who conquer and dominate women. Popular imagination compares men’s sexual encounters with women to imaginary notches on the belts of their masculinity. Men who do not fulfill this expectation are seen as losers or (god forbid!) as gay. Men who do internalize it learn to view women as objects rather than people, a distancing and alienating notion that might hurt their ability to create emotional intimacy.
[Trigger warning: general discussion of sexual assault and trauma] In addition, and importantly, this hurts men who have been sexually assaulted or raped. They sometime presume that, because they were hurt, then they were somehow “asking for it” or actually “wanting it.” It also leads society to question them and deny their trauma, because, as popular “wisdom” goes, “you can’t rape the willing” (presuming that men must always be willing). [End of trigger] 
Men are also expected never to do anything perceived as feminine. This applies to everything from clothing through body language to behavior, preferences, and beyond. A good example is external appearance: While women have fought—and still are fighting—for their right to wear pants, to not be required to wear makeup or shave their entire bodies, men are still strictly forbidden to wear skirts, jewelry, or makeup, to shave their body hair, or to otherwise “feminize” their appearance. Hell, even men who wear masculine clothes with colors that are too bright, or with the appearance of putting too much effort into it, are policed for their deviation. The complete ban on anything perceived as feminine is meant to secure masculinity’s status as superior and femininity’s status as inferior. (Famously, Iggy Pop said, “I’m not ashamed to dress like a woman because I don’t think it’s shameful to be a woman.”) Men who behave in ways that are perceived as feminine are regarded as “sissies,”“queers,” or “homos,” and undergo various forms of social policing and violence for their gender deviance. Men who act according to this expectation are denied a full spectrum of options for self-expression, creativity, and play, and are forced to limit themselves to a narrow standard of acceptable behavior.
Men are expected to be strictly and always heterosexual. As alluded to above, being gay is one of the most dreaded things that a man might be suspected of, and is often used as a derogatory term for policing men who have deviated from the sacred lines of manhood. That said, as American writer Greta Christina mentions in her blog post “Five Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men ,” once a man actually comes out as gay, this message of “[ D]on’t be even a little bit gay” is replaced with “Well . . . okay.” More than anything, this tells us that men are allowed to be monosexual (however begrudgingly in the case of gay men), but are strictly forbidden from being bisexual. Heterosexuality for men enforces their compliance with dominant masculinity as well as their value as human beings. Monosexuality for gay men secures their masculinity by exhibiting perceived decisiveness and stability. Bisexuality, however, does not fit together with this framework because its perceived instability, confusion, and indecisiveness clash with those values expected of men. It is of little surprise, then, that male bisexuality is constantly erased and denied. 
Eisner, Shiri (2013-07-02). Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. Seal Press. Kindle Edition. 

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