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An Invitation To Men To Tell Me I'm Wrong

In recent years my studies in gender have expanded and I've become very interested in "masculine" as a gender construct. It's harder to study, partly because there's not as much research and literature, and partly because I don't have the personal experience. But I've become more aware of the ways in which (our) society creates and enforces masculinity.

It's very interesting to see how my experience in understanding it is similar to what I've seen in men struggling with their own socially conditioned misogyny. It's fairly easy to point to obvious "external" issues, but much harder to identify our own biases and prejudices. I can say, "Society doesn't allow men to express emotions and that's wrong." But then I have to identify the gap between recognizing that intellectually and deconstructing my own socialization. Because for me it's only theoretical that men have emotions. I assume they do because it stands to reason, and because I understand how gender construction works. But on another level, I'm instilled with the belief that men don't really have feelings-- not like women do.

So this is my process. I'm going to try to start identifying beliefs about men and masculinity that I think are a result of my conditioning; in other words, beliefs that almost certainly aren't true. I'm not stating them as facts, I'm stating them as "what society has told me" and which I'd actually like to not believe. And I'm inviting male-identifying people to confirm that yes, I am in fact wrong if I believe these things. (As well as inviting broader discussion.)

1. Men cannot control themselves sexually. I was taught that I had to be very careful how far I let things get when being physical with a boy because at some point he would become aroused enough that he couldn't control himself and he would have sex with me whether I wanted to or not, but that it would be my fault for allowing things to get beyond that threshold. I understand there is a difference between a horny teenage boy and a grown man, but I think we see how this kind of belief saturates our society and is still prevalent-- the idea that women can arouse men beyond that man's ability to control himself.

2. Men do not want to have committed, emotionally intimate relationships. I was taught that no man actually wants to be in a relationship, and that as a woman I had to manipulate and entice him into one (and then into staying). It's also a very popular and ubiquitous idea-- as a society we believe that all women want to get married and men never want to and a woman has to somehow "trap" him into it. This has created a lot of anxiety for me, but it also means I don't really believe men need or want emotional intimacy and can't be trusted to commit to relationships.

3. Men only really care about what a woman looks like. This may be more a result of the way society values women, but that's why feminism ends up addressing gender inequity as a whole-- you can't really affect one without affecting the other. But in telling me that what matters about me is how I look, society is also telling me that men are superficial and don't particularly value intelligence, humour, character, etc. We are immersed in narratives about men leaving or cheating on their spouses because of some younger woman who has no qualities other than she's hot. (Which also goes back to the "men cannot control themselves" thing.) But the overall message is that is what men value and prioritize.

There is a myriad of other myths-- masculinity and non-hetero sexuality is a huge one, for example-- but the beliefs I've stated represent a kind of a core idea, I think. Or at least, they represent the ways in which myths of masculinity interfere with my ability to perceive men as full human beings, which is what I think the myths of femininity have done in terms of men and women.*

(*I apologize for the binary gender presentation. It isn't that I think gender is binary, and I desperately hope that our perception of gender is changing dramatically, but when dealing with the established constructs one is inevitably dealing with the binary model.)

I am very interested in hearing from male-identified persons in terms of how these myths are false (or true) and what experiences have resulted, as well as other myths. Or anything, really-- I'm exploring.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 10th, 2015 05:11 pm (UTC)
Myths have power, and lots of dudebros still believe these myths. Or at least the framing around them. Because those myths insulate them from responsibility and thoughtful action. And, to vary a truism, people whose self definition relies on certain beliefs are very reluctant to challenge those beliefs.

I can't speak for "men" I can only speak for myself. The myths you present are familiar and are reinforced throughout all levels of media and society. I don't hew to any of them, though I can't deny the force of their presence. It is like a background hum, the hum of the patriarchy, telling men they're powerful and irresponsible, and women they're weak and worthless.

For what it's worth, the myths themselves are objectively garbage. Mature, thoughtful men can indeed control themselves sexually, do want to have committed relationships, and care about far more than just appearance.

Our social framing saying men don't/can't do those things because the frames were latterly constructed by generations of wealthy kings and landowners who wanted to fuck whoever they could without consequence, and pass their wealth on (some of) their sons.

Frederich Engels, though (unjustly, if you ask me) tarnished by his association with Marx, wrote extensively about the patriarchal power dynamic and why, as a meme, it is so virulent. (I've attached a summary and link in the next comment.)

And yet, the myths I've received /about women/ are similarly repulsive and yet still to some degree shape my interactions with them.

1) Women don't like sex. It's a treat they put out only when necessary to secure a man's cooperation. Women who do like and seek out sex are somehow strange and defective and exotic and probably suffering from some kind of chemical imbalance.

2) Women don't want to work. They want to be provided for, so they can put on new outfits and have coffee with friends and show off new feathers they've bought for the nest.

3) Women are unreliable, untrustworthy and inconstant. They'll lie, dissemble or cheat their way into or out of any situation if it will give an advantage.

I still have a hard time with some of these myths. They still colour some of my thoughts. It's horrible, and unnerving, and disgusting, not just because it's wrong, but because it's so pervasive and subtle I can never be sure I'm being as objective as I ought to be about my interactions with women.
Nov. 10th, 2015 05:11 pm (UTC)

Engels' Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State goes into all of this and talks about WHY society is formed this way. Here is an excerpt from a review by Ewen & Ewen from Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality:

"Engels’s Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884) maintained that the disparities of power between men and women were not based on their inherent natures but were the result of social and historical circumstances, rooted in antiquity.

Engels contended that the earliest organized human communities lived according to the principles of a benevolent matriarchy. Classless and communal, he explained, these groupings owned neither land nor herds of animals. They derived their sustenance from the relatively uncultivated nature that surrounded them.

According to Engels, a sexual division of nature existed, but it was cooperative and egalitarian. As hunters, men were responsible for bringing meat to the table, while women took care of the social spaces in which the extended families lived, planting, preserving, and preparing food, maintaining the collective living space. Within such societies, he wrote, women were honored and lived freely. Since it was women who gave birth to children, family identity was naturally passed on through the mother line. When new conjugal bonds were established between social groups, males would move from their family of origin into the family circles of their mate. Under such circumstances, the physical domination of one sex by another served no practical purpose.

The coming of private property, initially in the form of livestock, changed all of this. As animals were domesticated, and organized breeding expanded the herd, the province of men was transformed into something unprecedented: property. With this development, the custom of defining lineage through women proved a serious problem. As long as “descent was reckoned according to mother right,” and the mother line determined a person’s family grouping or “gens,” males had no mechanism for passing on their property to their sons.

In response to this impasse, Engels speculated, men invented patriarchy, a system of inheritance that would travel through the father line, insuring that they and their male progeny would maintain ownership of the herd. As women bear children, and fatherhood is inherently uncertain, this called for severe measures. In an attempt to guarantee that their offspring would indeed be their own, men forcibly inhibited the social and sexual lives of their wives.

In order for patrilineage to work, a woman whose function was that of bearing heirs could not live freely. She was cut off from all unauthorized social contact.While male sexuality was unregulated, the law of monogamy was imposed on women, save those whose task was to fulfill the extramarital desires of men. A wife was to e ruled by her husband, “reduced to servitude.” She became “the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children.” This development, Engels declared, constituted “the world historical defeat of the female sex.”

There's a shit-ton of writing on these theories, and not everyone agrees, but it's startling nevertheless in how well it maps to and explains some of the effects our current shit-tastic society.

Engels' book itself can be read here: http://readingfromtheleft.com/PDF/EngelsOrigin.pdf
Nov. 10th, 2015 05:21 pm (UTC)
I'm very familiar with this kind of material as a result of having studied feminism for so long. It doesn't really deal with the deconstruction of masculinity, though, which is what I'm now ready to examine.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )