PREFACE: While recognizing that the core of Feminist theory and thought is the liberation of women from systemic and individual oppression caused by misogynistic and patriarchal realities in society and culture, I am writing this piece from a place of the broader side of Feminism as I have read and understood it from my studies. While this piece is focusing on how Feminism can be a healing factor in the lives of men, I do not discount that Feminism exists, primarily, as a platform for women, by women, that seeks to liberate women from oppression and advocate, above all else, for women’s issues and concerns in society. Even though Feminism can be heuristic for men, we must acknowledge that we are first allies in Feminism and not seek to hijack a movement for women to serve our own means and disappoints and hurts with toxic masculinity and patriarchy. With this in mind, I hope female readers will feel heard, respected, allied with in their cause, and listened to.
Sit around sometime and think about the stereotypes of men that exists and what society says constitutes masculinity, being manly, and “being a real man!”
Think about the cultural expectations placed on men. How often is crying seen as weakness? The last thing a man should want to be perceived as is weak. Think about how men are taught to express only anger and suppress all other emotions. Think about the media, news, and movies and how men are told to be and what constitutes masculinity by these forces that shape and influence us all unlike any other time in history.
Look at how stay-at-home dads are frowned upon and taught they are lesser than their wives, and that a man must earn more than a woman, so he can be the “provider”.
Think about gender stereotypes and how they play into this. Men must be tough, manly, emotionless, stoic, brave, and not weak. It’s there if we think about the messages, the shame, the cultural expectations, and stereotypes constantly bombarding us!
I think a lot of cultural expectations via media and socio-political factors tell men that they have to be physically strong, emotionally numb/unavailable, the breadwinner to the point that all that matters is how much one makes and how much one works, and that crying or emotional sensitivity is viewed as weakness that is to be ratified. That a man is tough, grows a beard, drinks beer, conquers women, and rises above the competition. Any man outside these expectations is shunned. Watch this video by Huff Post about some of these messages men receive.
Then there’s things like the Evangelical subculture attempt to answer the question “What is a man?,” which often has answers just as poor and shaming (see Mark Driscoll and his hyper-masculine message).
For me, there is no doubt masculinity is lost and struggling in our culture of porn, death, violence, fear, shame, broken homes, and fatherlessness.
A Collectivist/Feminist Perspective
It’s American culture to think individually. Civil rights are all about that. Libertarianism goes hand-in-hand with individualism. I, as an aspiring therapist, on the other hand share more with collectivist cultures. I see things systemically and societally through a collective lens for me that is Feminism, Constructivist/Narrative Theory, Family Systems, Multiculturalism, and Existentialism.
I don’t hone in on individuals and their problems or challenges per se. For me, a lot of the time problems and such lie outside the individual in society, culture, and the structures placed above us. It’s good to keep that in mind with a conversation about patriarchy, what I want address next, which is clearly a systemic issue, not an individual one. However, we should think beyond individualism to address such issues.
Patriarchies are the near-universal hierarchical social systems in which attributes associated with maleness are privileged and those attributed to women are denigrated…no matter the sex of the individual in whom those qualities are found. Patriarchal systems are identified by feminist therapy and theory as the primary sources of human distress, including those kinds of distress that are organized into diagnostic categories and labeled psychopathology by the mental health disciplines. The actual distress or dysfunction about which an individual initiates therapy is thus seen not as pathological per se, no matter how much it impairs a person’s functioning, but most likely a response to being immersed in toxic patriarchal realities. Such toxic social hierarchies of value are construed inherently inimical to personal power and healthy function for all people, even those apparently privileged by patriarchal norms of dominance and hierarchy.” – Laura Brown (John Sommers-Flanagan and Rita Sommers-Flanagan, 2015)
Patriarchy has its own, what I believe to be false, definitions of masculinity and “what it means to be a man.”
Eve Ensler, in her TEDTalk “Embrace Your Inner Girl,” points out the fact that patriarchy doesn’t equate being male and that it has harmed males just as much if not more as it has harmed females. She doesn’t degrade or say anything hateful about being a male. Male doesn’t equal patriarchy. Patriarchy is more of an ideology and system that is oppressive and caters to what it considers male.
Patriarchy, in my own words, is the established privilege one gets with being born male, especially white, European-descended, Christian male in American culture, and degrading being female. Examples today can include, but aren’t limited to:
-Women who continue to make less for doing the same job
-Targeting female infants in the womb for extinction
-Males getting promotions over females for the sole reason that they are male
-Men dominating politics
-Men raging war around the globe
-Male support of abortion to get out of parenthood
-Males thinking women are overly sensitive and overly emotional
-Men being willing and able to only express anger as the only valid emotion
-Men not allowing themselves to feel or cry
-Men treating women as sex objects
These are but a few examples, and it is also very easy for women to participate in the continual reinforcement of these examples and to discriminate or stereotype, so don’t think it’s just men participating in patriarchy.
The Feminine Antidote
[Feminism is] the belief that human beings are of equal worth and that the pervading patriarchal social structures which perpetuate a hierarchy of dominance, based upon gender, must be resisted and transformed toward a more equitable system.” -Funderburk and Fukuyama (John Sommers-Flanagan and Rita Sommers-Flanagan, 2015)
Modern Feminism, rightly understood and practiced (which means radicals can and will pervert it), isn’t about blaming men at all, but working together to end patriarchal ideas that harm men and women from the start.
My own definition of Feminism is to witness to the core goal of Feminism, but also to recognize the broadness of Feminist theory to wider society:
Feminism, at its core, is about the liberation of women in political and socio-economic arenas from the oppression of patriarchal ideals and values. Feminism’s primary goal is to end misogynistic wrongs and evils. Intersectional Feminism is about dismantling systemic oppression for primarily women, but also works to dismantle oppression for all people and promote the rights and equality of all people.
Thus, for me, Feminism means that all humans, whether men, women, children, gays, lesbians, transgender, black, white, people of color, disabled, deaf, blind, religious or not, whatever, all have equal worth in being first and foremost human persons. Thus, all persons, especially in a culture as rich and full of opportunities as ours, should have equal access to those opportunities. No one should be treated differently or as less than human based on any of those characteristics. Being a Feminist means respecting and promoting the rights and dignity of all people.
Being a Feminist, I also believe it also means resisting patriarchal ideals, values, and ways. Resisting patriarchy isn’t about bringing boys down or “killing men”, because, again, at the heart of feminism is acknowledging equality of men and women and sharing power, resources, leadership, etc. Resisting patriarchy isn’t about degrading men and boys or making them lower than or subordinate to women!
Patriarchy should be resisted by men and women because it creates an unfair, corrupted, and watered-down version of masculinity and completely does away with an egalitarian view of society and the world. It’s harmful to all because it places men and women at odds with one another instead of helping us take one another’s hands and working together.
Even aside from patriarchy, which is where I target the source of the problem lying, the main point is about what is being taught constitutes a “real man”. Patriarchy or not, that isn’t the point, there are still false ideas influenced, even based off patriarchal ideals and definitions, that influence and damage men.
Men are taught from birth to not be emotional, that any emotion besides anger is not appropriate to display. Counseling sessions across the country are full of broken, hurting marriages where men like that approach marriage, love, and relationships. I’ve read and studied enough books and research on marriage to know that is true.
I firmly believe Feminism isn’t for women alone, but for all people! I also believe that, as Eve points out in her video I spoke of earlier, that the way to develop a more robust, thorough, fair, nuanced, egalitarian Masculinity that men need to “embrace their inner girl cell,” which means learning to be in touch with our feelings, recognize the dangers in patriarchal “masculinity,” learn to voice and express our emotions in healthy ways, be in tune with our sensitive, nurturing parts, and begin to open ourselves up to the feminine within us all.
More on Media
The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence towards women. Instead, patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact ritual of power that will assault his self-esteem.” -Bell Hooks
I mean, think of media alone. Think about movies, shows, etc. How are men portrayed? You often have one of two things? The handsome, tough, no nonsense, no emotions, guy in action and drama or the goofy, incompetent, lost, submissive “girly” men like Ray Romano from “Everybody Loves Raymond” or Phil Dunphy from “Modern Family.”
A lot of the messages we hear as men are taught in culture, in societal expectations, gender roles, stereotypes, shame messages, media, movies, sports, high school locker rooms, and many other places.
For my male readers, have you heard anywhere at any moment of your life any of these messages?:
Crying is for pussies!
Real men don’t cry!
Men are tough!
Men must be providers and heads of their homes!
Men must work, work, work! Climb the ladder of materialistic and wealth-driven success!
Men must conquer females sexually!
Men who show emotions are weak!
Men aren’t afraid!
Men keep control!
Men who cry are girls!
Men who are sensitive are like women!
Men play sports, drink beer, and win!”
Never heard these? Not once heard any of these messages being taught, reinforced, and believed? I find that incredible hard to believe if not, but I’m sure that’s not the case. I’ve heard it, read it, seen it, experienced it, lived it, researched it, and believed it. My first marriage ended, in part, because I was taught to suppress my emotions and never show anything but anger and frustration, which led me to bottling things up and then exploding more often than not.
And media today reinforces these messages more than anything.
Masculinity is patriarchally defined in our culture and hence why I find it damaging to men, manhood, masculinity, and fatherhood. I find Feminism a helpful antidote to recovering what it means to be male, manly, and a “real man!” However, even if one isn’t a Feminist, I know we can’t have this conversation without talking about shame, culture, media, society, fear, and false ideas of what masculinity entails.
Masculinity is wavering and hurting in our culture due to the patriarchal ideas and values spread through various means of influence that men see and hear.
The cure to combatting these false ideas lie at recognizing the destructive ways patriarchy has hurt men and the healing ways true Feminism can help men. It also informs being aware of and educated about the ways media influences men and masculinity.
Finally, we can’t have this conversation without being vulnerable, open, real, raw, transparent, honest, introspective, and without including the females in our lives.
I know that we have systematically annihilated the girl cell. And I want to say we’ve annihilated it in men as well as in women. And I think in some ways we’ve been much harsher to men in the annihilation of their girl cell. I see how boys have been brought up, and I see this across the planet: to be tough, to be hardened, to distance themselves from their tenderness, to not cry. I actually realized once in Kosovo, when I watched a man break down, that bullets are actually hardened tears, that when we don’t allow men to have their girl self and have their vulnerability, and have their compassion, and have their hearts, that they become hardened and hurtful and violent.
And I think we have taught men to be secure when they are insecure, to pretend they know things when they don’t know things, or why would we be where we are? To pretend they’re not a mess when they are a mess.” -Eve Ensler “Embrace Your Inner Girl”