Masculinity re-defined

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Darren Major, MA ’15

In Emma Watson’s recent speech to the United Nations, she asked men to join in the feminist cause.

While I don’t believe men needed a formal invitation and should be already engaged in the fight for equality, many of Watson’s points touched on why men need to be engaged with feminism.

She argued that equality feminism seeks much more than equal pay for equal work; it’s seeks to deconstruct gender norms and value women as equal human beings. Watson’s speech was also one of the most mainstream evaluations of why men need feminism.

Men need feminism because hegemonic gender norms — dominant beliefs about qualities and attributes pertaining to specific genders — are detrimental to everyone.

Feminism challenges our conception of masculinity — which is a distorted, destructive conception, as it prescribes itself to values of control, strength and a lack of emotion. Feminism dismantles the idea that men must live up to pre-conceived notions of a masculine identity.

We need to consider a new way to frame masculinity outside of its current paradigm.

Historically, and unfortunately contemporarily, masculinity has been associated with strength and dominance. This association is especially prevalent when related to sex.

Current conceptions of masculinity force men into a sort of competition, where we’re constantly in a battle to “one-up” each other to prove our dominance. In regards to sex, men are encouraged to compare their “conquests” or “kill-count” to prove their worth as men.

Needless to say, this devalues women, but it also has detrimental impacts on men.

When women are considered “conquests” or “kills”, it devalues their worth as sexual partners.

When sexual experience is framed within this discourse, it suggests that our partners are disposable. It encourages men to have sex with females at any cost.

It also creates an environment in which this sort of behaviour is accepted or ignored, as it’s considered “normal” masculine behaviour. As it’s accepted as a norm, it creates a culture that allows these behaviours to take place unchecked, leading to assault. This is what’s called “rape culture”.

When women are devalued in this kind of mindset, it takes away from the possibilities of men having meaningful and emotional relationships.

This may not seem like an issue to most, but that’s because an expression of emotion is viewed as a sign of weakness in the current masculine framework.

Men are often not willing to express emotions such as love or compassion because they’re seen as too feminine.

Many believe and would suggest that a man who holds these traits is not a real man. By framing masculinity this way, we further devalue what is feminine.

Earlier this month, I encouraged a first-year student — whom I’d known previously from home — to take a gender studies course. His reaction was telling, as he asked if I was joking.

It’s likely that he associated gender studies with feminine ideals and perceived it as a threat to his masculine identity.

It’s exactly this sort of aversion to discussions revolving around gender that shows further education is required about why I‘d encouraged him in the first place.

This kind of education can be preventative as it dismantles a “rape culture” that allows certain behaviours to be passable. It can help men to recognize problematic behaviour and challenge what’s perceived to be “masculinity.”.

Consider the incident this year involving the University of Ottawa’s men’s hockey team, in which the team was suspended and two players were charged with sexual assault.

Also examine the sexual assault involving the Stubenville High School football team in 2012, in which players were convicted of rape after photographs of their assault were posted on social media.

If bystanders — especially male peers — were willing to speak out against this beahaviour in situations like these, perhaps sexual assault in this context could be prevented.

If we reframe masculinity and strength to be about expressing compassion and the willingness to speak out against destructive norms, then men won’t feel compelled to engage in a constant battle to prove their dominance — and women won’t be devalued through sexual relations and discourse.

We must not centralize men in feminism, but rather see the deconstruction of hegemonic masculinity as a stepping-stone to achieving gender equality and recognizing women as equal human counterparts.

Darren Major is a Teaching Assistant in the Department of Global Development Studies.

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