The multifaceted term that is “Feminism” deserves particular attention when it comes to the role it plays in the lives of those who often scoff at it the most.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a celebrated Nigerian author who is famously sampled on Beyonce’s new album, describes a feminist as: “someone who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” Note that this definition is not exclusively focused on raising the status of women, but rather on ensuring that both men and women are treated fairly in society. Gender equality can be achieved not just by encouraging women to break away from traditionally feminine roles, but also by reassuring the men in our lives that it is okay for them to change as well, which may be greatly beneficial to them. Therefore, gender equality requires an investigation of the way we see men as well as women.
The biggest influence on what it means to be masculine and feminine in today’s world is surely the media, and it is also probably the biggest obstacle in the way of achieving gender equality. The media creates a ubiquitous image of women as sex objects, dependent on men…but what image has society created for men?
American sociologist Michael Kimmel has a very useful list of the “rules of masculinity” as dictated by American society that might shed some light on this question:
1) a man should never show any sign of femininity
2) a man should achieve great wealth and status
3) a man should never be emotional
4) a man should be deliberate, daring, and aggressive in everything he does
Kimmel’s “rules of masculinity” reveal that society basicallys require men to be the opposite of women: strong and tough, controlling, assertive, emotional minimalists (except in cases of aggression), and rich. Now, the majority of men will probably have a hard time satisfying this definition. It is extremely unhealthy to repress emotions, difficult to achieve great wealth, and even quite counterintuitive to be daring and aggressive in everything one does. Given these narrow standards, men are just as much slaves to an unrealistic and confining definition of gender as women are, in which case they need feminism just as much.
The idea that men should be feminists is widely championed by Jackson Katz, author, film-maker, and famed creator of the anti-violence and anti-sexism education program, “Mentors in Violence Prevention.” Like Kimmel, he often discusses the male desire in modern day society to gain power over others in order to be considered truly masculine. Referring back to Kimmel’s rules of masculinity, that power can be sexual (the lady-killer), monetary (the business tycoon), or emotional (the He-man).
In his book, The Macho Paradox, Katz illustrates this desire for power with the following explanation of domestic violence: “Most abuse in heterosexual relationships is due not to a man’s inherent biological makeup, but to his learned need for power and control. The typical scenario is not that he loses control and then strikes her, but rather that he uses force, or the threat of force, to establish or maintain control in the relationship” (87). Katz llustrates the consequences of the corrosive pressure society places on men. Primarily due to the media and its propulsion of long-time sexist attitudes, men and boys are incessantly told that it’s a zero-sum game and they need to have the power. Consequently, men think they need to be in control of their relationships. But while these ends are made perfectly clear, it is the means to these ends that the man must determine.
Choosing violence as the means to control relationships, specifically sexual violence, seems to be the choice for more and more men: 99.8% of rapes in the US are committed by men, 85% of all murders are committed by men, and 95% of all child sexual abuse is also committed by men (Katz). What may come as a surprise is that 86% of the time, the victims of male violence are other men (Katz). While these statistics initially reek of misogyny, it is important to remember that the quest for power and control through violent and/or sexual domination is anything but exclusive. Grown men rape and sodomize other grown men; it happens all the time in America’s prison system (Fellner). Further, at least 1/6 boys will report some form of sexual abuse by age 18 (Child Sexual Abuse Fact).
And, of course, these statistics don’t account for the forgotten masses who, out of humiliation, fear, or denial, found themselves unable to report their experiences, or those whose cases were thoughtlessly dismissed with the age-old adage that “boys will be boys” and that whatever took place wasn’t really a crime.
What many men (and people in general) fail to realize, is that the mere act of willingly letting violent men off the hook reflects a deeper attitude of society that fiercely undermines what it means to be male. To repeatedly excuse the violent, disrespectful acts of men by claiming that their occurrence is a fact of life, is to assume that men are somehow incapable of being normal, decent human beings, of constraining themselves, thinking rationally, or caring about anything other than the abstract, intangible prize that is power (Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services). Dismissing these incidents with the idea that “boys will be boys” ultimately reduces our expectations of men to nothing more than narcissists and animals, further confining them to a stereotype that most of them don’t fit.
And for those who are convinced that it is simply a rule of nature for men and boys to exhibit violent patterns, let it be known that meticulous research by Niobe Way, a professor of psychology at NYU, shows boys to be emotionally expressive and connected in surprising ways until they hit adolescence, after which once “exuberant, expressive, emotional boys in middle school or so” feel the rumble of masculinity, the ideology of gender, policed by other men, relentlessly pursuing them from behind, threatening to eat them alive unless they somehow gain power over others (Kimmel and Sommers). No research or statistics are needed for people to acknowledge how poorly young boys treat other young boys who are different (i.e. who present traditionally feminine behaviours).
In the end, the quest for gender equality is not exclusively centered on women. Many, men, women, and transpeople currently suffer from unjust gender norms that not only perpetuate inequality, but also pressure many people to try and be something that they’re not, putting the happiness of a nation in jeopardy.
So if you think little boys who don’t exactly conform to the “rules of masculinity” shouldn’t be bullied, then feminism is for you.
If you think men shouldn’t turn to violence to be or feel masculine, then feminism is for you.
If you you think that men are capable of emotion, sympathy, and self-control, then feminism is for you.
Child Sexual Abuse Fact Sheet. N.p.: The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, n.d. Print.
Fellner, Jamie. “Stop Prison Rape Now.” The Daily Beast 4 Sept. 2013: n. pag. Print.
Katz, Jason. Tough Guise. Media Education Foundation. MEF, n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013. <http://www.mediaed.org/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=211>.
Kimmel, Michael, and Christina Sommers. “Do Boys Face More Sexism Than Girls?” Huffington Post 20 Feb. 2013: n. pag. Print.
Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services, ed. “Katz Quotes.” N.d. Microsoft Word file.