One of the fun things you’ll come up with when you google ‘feminism’ are the articles featuring ‘men’s rights activists’, men who like to blame feminism for the deterioration of (what they believed was) their masculinity. In the blog site for the Canadian magazine, The Walrus, you’ll find an intriguing piece by Edward Keenan: It’s Really Not About Women. For the most part, the entry is positive towards feminism, and he calls men’s rights groups as he sees them (misguided), but Keenan mentions something which is an important topic for discussion:
“That said, I think underneath the… mostly sad complaints of men’s rights types, there is something worth discussing, which is that many men don’t feel like they have an obvious role to play in today’s society…or that the role they are supposed to play is unclear. And that is at least partly the result of the changes in the roles women and men feel allowed to play in society…”
What is it these men feel that they are missing? Men’s rights groups tend to think that taking orders from women is a terrible thing and that men are rightly the hunters/breadwinners of the family, so clearly what they are missing is the alpha male gendered identity.
As Sarah Womack wrote in the British newspaper the Telegraph, “asked what it meant to be a man in the 21st century, more than half thought society was turning them into ‘waxed and coiffed metrosexuals.'” And the men had to follow women’s orders? Gasp. What an outrage!
Womack continues to say that the hunter-gatherer role is a strong male instinct. But…is it? Is anything we identify as a masculine trait really instinct? Or is it socially encouraged? And these men advocating for a ‘menaissance’–a return to the “Manly Man”–is this really a good idea to begin with? Could there be problems with associating a gendered person with certain traits? And finally, what role does feminism play in all this?
Let Feminism Friday begin.
The Pitfalls of Gendered Identity.
We’ve all seen the commercials where men sit around at a restaurant together and expound on the many wonders of meat. Burger King, Arby’s, McDonalds, Hardees, and all other such restaurants love advertising their new burgers to a male-centered audience. And they like increasing their portions. A Bigger Meal for a Bigger Male…right? Leave the green stuff to the women. On the surface, this is just advertising. What’s the big deal? The big deal is that advertising is a big form of the media, and-as David Croteau & William Hoynes discuss in Media/Society-the media is a powerful socializing agent: “Media also affect how we learn about our world and interact with one another. That is, mass media are bound up with the process of social relations.” In other words…an ad is not *just* an ad. And men will (whether they realize it or not) internalize the “meat–good, green–bad,” message that these fast food chains are selling them.
Now. Really. Is this healthy?
No, not really. Who can say eating lots of burgers from any of those places is healthy? Remember Super Size Me? That should tell us something about that good hearty meat that men are supposed to consume instead of a salad or another healthier alternative.
Of course, this isn’t the only trait we associate with the alpha male. There’s also athleticism and, to a further degree, aggression. Men are encouraged from their youth to play outside, climb trees, go camping and fishing with dad, and a whole other assortment of things whereas girls are more likely to be encouraged to play with her dolls, play house, and idolize Disney princesses like Ariel from the Little Mermaid. A boy can get into all kinds of scrapes and if he gets into a fight, he might get into some trouble with the parents, but there’s the underlying assumption that, well, he’s a boy and this is what boys do. And even if he doesn’t get into a physical fight, he’s still got his GI Joes to do the warplay.
Now, if a girl got into a fight at school that involved some hitting/punching, she’d more than likely be admonished for her actions and told that she’s less of a girl because of it.
Here’s the big question: Why is it okay for boys to be so aggressive in the first place? What place does aggression really serve in our society that brings it value?
Point is–social upbringing is a big part of who we are, and it’s as much a part of who we are as are our genes. When we find out if the baby is going to be a boy or girl, the process of socialization begins. The clothes are picked out in pink/blue, the toys chosen for what’s appropriate for a ‘girl’ baby versus a ‘boy’ baby, and so on.
By this very socialization, we are putting children’s identities into boxes and limiting their roles. Boys can be tough and outgoing, but if they so much as shed a tear, they’ll be humiliated by their peers. Girls can play house all they want, but if they want to join the kids playing football or soccer, they’ll be laughed at and told to go away. It’s kinda like the episode in Freaks & Geeks, when geeky kid Bill Haverchuck-the kid who’s always picked last-gets tired of being picked last and asks the question: What if I am good at this but I never got the opportunity to find out?
Thus, we see why socializing our kids as ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ is limiting them as people. When we see a young woman on the street and assume her to be the kind of girl who is super sensitive and a natural caregiver, we’re ignoring the fact that she’s an individual. We’re boxing her into our social expectations. So next time you see a girl like that, change your mindset, and consider the fact that if you think she’s the perfect young lady she could very well kick your little arse straight outta the neighborhood.
Likewise, when we assume that junior high boy on the football team is the perfect example of stoicism, we’re ignoring his individuality and boxing him into social expectations. We’re not allowing him room to express emotion and–if he does–we’re wondering what in the world is wrong with him? For anyone to ignore their feelings can be damaging–both to that person and to the people around them. whether we like it or not, what is going on in our lives impacts our feelings which in turn impacts our immediate surroundings. and if we feign stoicism to ignore said feelings, we risk bottling them up which must then be released in a violent, aggressive manner–be it in a violent outburst against someone or the physical act of punching a wall and ending up in the hospital to treat that hand.
So, really…how attractive is it to be trapped in a box of social expectations?
Redefining Gender Through Feminism
All of the stuff I’ve written before is to help lead me to this point: Feminism is good for guys too. I know! Who would’ve thought?
One aspect of feminism is looking at gender through a critical gaze, disassembling it, and reworking it. Feminism encourages all genders to abandon traditional gender roles so that we can embrace who we really are and not be who people expect us to be. Feminism gives men the opportunity to ditch the antiquated notion of ‘hunter/gatherer’ for a more honest realization of self. And believe it or not, a feminist relationship is the best kind.
So here’s the thing, guys, you may not think you’re needed in the sense of the big man on campus, but the opportunities for what you can be when you think outside of the box is enormous. Fly with it.