MASCULINITY AND THE DESCENT OF MAN

If you know me, you'll know that I 'go on' a lot about feminism. I write about it, I read about it, in all honesty I just can't get enough of it. And I'm completely okay with that, because I think that's the way things should be. I think that we should all aspire to go about life as if we can't get enough of feminism. Because embracing equality is something which all of us, women and men alike, should be striving to achieve.

I've often heard it discussed by both women and men that men have no place in feminism. That men who think they deserve a space in feminism should be focussing more on how they can make their own space in society more feminist. Although I agree to some extent that men and women should be working together to help women climb the ladder, I do disagree that men should only be focussing on us women.

I rave a hell of a lot about how we as women deserve equal opportunities and how we can go about getting those. But while us women are forming our army and fighting for a brighter and more feminist future, other battles on gender are being fought. This week I read Grayson Perry's new book The Descent of Man, and he poses the brilliantly put together argument that it's not just women who are affected by the way that society perceives and forces expectations of their gender, but men too.

I'm such a fan of Perry's, and after this book, even more so. It's fantastically written and poses the main question of whether men are held back by the concept of masculinity and all of the expected traits which come with it. The stereotypical man is strong, brave, tough, emotionless, resilient. He is the provider, the rugged forager, the brave war machine, the walking/talking gym bod. At least, that's what the media and outdated stereotypes lead us to believe.

Perry questions why we've come to this conclusion that men are nothing but emotionless machines and how it may be affecting modern men who try to stick to this mould. He investigates this concept from all angles and offers possible solutions as to how we can stop men from feeling like masculinity is a locked box which they may not stray from. I finished the book in just a couple of days and it was truly fantastic. I can't recommend it enough to both men and women alike. It taught me so much which I had never previously considered about gender and it's definitely given me a new perspective on how to be a better feminist.

Many of us modern thinking individuals, young  people especially, would much rather view gender as a spectrum. There is no barbed wire divide between men and women. There is nothing to stop us crossing between the two, taking parts from one and adapting it to the other, adopting traits from one whilst identifying as the other. The point is that gender goes much farther than just sex. It is a social construct. This, to me, is a valid reason for why the link between man and masculinity is completely outdated.

Stereotypical masculinity is a box of skills, traits and ideologies that men are expected to follow. They are expected not to stray from them and not to question them. In many societies and walks of life, they are judged if they don't follow them. But how completely insane is it to believe that every single man is going to come with the same set of rugged, brittle set of unadaptable qualities? And how completely boring would the world be if they did? To mock men for showing weakness, for indulging in hobbies or activities which are seen as stereotypically 'feminine' or for having emotions is completely damaging to them and to society.

If we are confining men to these small boxes, forcing them to hide their emotions inside themselves until they either explode with rage or fall into depression, is it any wonder that suicide is (as of May 2017) the biggest killer in men aged between 20-49? Society is leaving men with nowhere to feel safe and expecting them to keep up a facade which is quite literally killing them.

After reading The Descent of Man, I was left feeling shocked. The idea that masculinity is an unrecognisable plague has been on my radar for a while now, but it seems to have been hidden away, outside of my field of vision. Most of the men who I'm friends with and who are in my circles are what I'd refer to as the more 'modern man'. Gender and the barriers which come with it are less of an issue to these men and many of them are happy to step over the invisible boundaries without worrying about the reaction from society. These men are more fashion conscious, indulge in interests like writing, reading and photography (which in the past may have been considered feminine qualities, despite the fact, as Perry suggests, that most of the most successful individuals in all of these fields are men) and aren't afraid to show their emotions - both online and offline.

I decided to reach out to these men (predominantly on Twitter, through the thread here) and ask them for their opinions on how they feel about masculinity and whether it's ever held them back. While many of these men agreed that they liked to be labelled as masculine and found that it defined them in a positive way, many were quick to suggest that they don't feel governed by it. Most of these men shared the idea that although they were often aware of masculinity and the expectations which come with it, they no longer felt the need to stay within its box if they didn't feel like it. To me, many modern men seem going in the direction of this more liberal attitude to masculinity. To them, being a man is no longer defined by being strong and tough, but rather it takes it's own definition depending on the person.

Of course, it's not that easy to completely rid the world of a stereotype. I wouldn't be surprised if it took decades for society to completely evolve past this vision of how an ideal man should act. In older generations and in middle class homes and offices, the facade of the masculine man still seems to be a prominent figure which many men aren't prepared to let go of. In traditional families, this image of how young boys should act is still being reinforced through the toys which we base on gender and the 'boys will be boys' and 'man up' attitudes which we force upon them. But I think it's important to address that there's a generation out there which is beginning to take a step in the right direction when it comes to perceptions of gender. Man or woman, tough or emotional, strong or weak, we are all fighting our own battles. Compassion and an open-mind are all we need to keep taking steps forwards. I'm completely with Perry when I say, let the war on masculinity continue.

1 comment :

  1. Lauren, I absolutely love this entry. You are eloquent, and cover many important points to which I totally adhere. You have a great style!
    I had participated in a very limited way in that twitter question your directed this entry again, because I felt tweets would be far too limiting, as like you, I also “go on about feminism” once I’m given the floor.

    I cannot even imagine what goes on in the minds of those people who think we don’t need feminism, or that we don’t need to all of us participate in all the attempts to achieve an equal word for men, women and all other genders and spectrums around and in-betweens.

    Feminism is a core value for me, just like humanism, education and knowledge, and the importance of practicing critical thinking.
    I don’t mix well with those burly, ego-driven, emotionless and walking biceps, and tend to befriend more easily women – even if in the past 3 years, things have started to shift a bit in this respect.

    It took me many years to realize that I was a non-binary hetero man, and though I battle with a few aspects of my masculinity, I still manage to break down male stereotypes in a few ways that I’ll summarize here:

    Ever since I was a boy, my gait and emotional nature as well as interests and hobbies have been named “feminine” and all those cases out of ignorance and as a reproach. I owned it and never listened, remaining true to myself. At first, I hadn’t given this a name beyond cisgender terms, which I learned about only in the past 15 or so years, in gradual aspects and levels.

    I haven’t had a haircut in almost 3 years, letting my hair grow longer, which is already a bit of an oddity in my city, but I also get it dyed in pinks & purples that confuse so many people around here. Thus far, I have been mostly stared at, and on at least 3 occasions noticed men mock me from their cars, but I said nothing and moved on, letting my purple and long hair shine in their face with the hope they’d learn that colors have no gender, nor do hair – short, long or lack thereof. (I did, however, have a tiny fear the 4 men from the last incident would come out and beat me, as there was no one else around in that street).

    I continue my open-hearted discussions in person as well as online, and remain truthful to who I am, not caring about gender stereotypes, and aim to break them all down, one by one, or ten by ten, until we all have a new, better version of our society.

    Thank you again for your in-depth blog entry, Lauren! You are so well written!

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