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Patriarchy’s unlikely victims


GI Joe is a typical embodiment of what a 'real man' should aspire to be like. cerebral pizza under a Creative Commons Licence

Men are highly privileged in our society, relative to the position of women. Because of this, few people see men as victims of the patriarchy under which we live, and movements aimed at challenging patriarchy are seen as being solely about the emancipation of women.

Some feminist events, for example, are ‘women-only’ events. There may be good reasons for this, but the exclusion of men from the debate plays into a false narrative that reduces men to the role of one-dimensional oppressors.

The reality is, however, far more complex. Even men who appear to be oppressive and chauvinistic may be victims of patriarchal societal norms and pressures – not in the same ways as women are, but victims nonetheless. Men should be actively involved in movements to challenge patriarchal structures, rather than being dismissed from such discussions.

How are men victims?

In our society we set out a clear framework for what it is to be a man and to be a woman. Some argue that such differences in gender are ‘natural’. For example, women are ‘open with their emotions’, while men are ‘more closed off’.

These are clearly gendered stereotypes, internalized through socialization, rather than pre-existing as a natural process. Yet these ideas are sold as ‘natural’ to young men who, as they get older, tend to wear masks and hide natural emotional urges, largely because young boys are brought up in a society that condemns male emotion.

The result is that men are unable to feel emotion safely without being ridiculed by male peers – and even by women. Strength (both physical and emotional), ego, pride and anger are seen as ‘male’ qualities, often seen as desirable. ‘Real’ men don’t cry, so men are taught to bottle up their emotions, rather than discussing them.

Those who are open about their feelings or who show sensitivity are likened to women who, of course, are portrayed as weak. Thus, female characteristics are seen as negative. Words like ‘pussy’ or ‘bitch’ are used to describe men or boys who show such weakness.

Tony Porter describes the negativity of this, remarking how he would always have time for his daughter if she was upset, but show little patience with his five-year-old son when he cried. He would dismiss him and tell him to ‘come back to me when you can talk to me like a man’.

Such statements are commonly heard by boys and men throughout their lives, with society constantly valuing male strength above all else. The result can be that men cannot deal with their emotions. It is not surprising that men are twice as likely to become alcoholics as women, for example. Many of my own male friends, for example, feel far more comfortable discussing their feelings when drunk.

In her brilliant book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, bell hooks posits that this prevents men from being truly loving towards their partners and that it contributes to issues such as domestic violence against women, which can be linked back to feelings of disempowerment.

hooks also argues that some men who are undervalued or emasculated in the workplace come home and take this out on the women in their lives, re-asserting their masculinity and re-enforcing patriarchy within the home.

Much male violence is the result of socialized anger. The ‘Male Emotional Funnel System’ highlights how society pushes men into channelling a wide range of emotional responses into anger.

Emma Watson’s recent speech at the UN was problematic in some areas, but it did highlight how important it is for men to involve themselves within the feminist movement, as too often, men do not see their own issues as linked to those of women.

Similarly, the feeling of emasculation of a working-class employee, for example, can be directly linked to the system of a white, capitalist patriarchy. Yet we do not openly acknowledge this enough.

As Tony Porter says: ‘My liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman.’ As long as we live in a patriarchal society, the majority of men will not be truly free.

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