Masculinities Mondays: 30th of June, 2014

It was a week that included awesome and multi-coloured pride parades around the world, an Orange Day to stop violence against women and ended with a controversial and regressive US Supreme Court ruling on employee contraception coverage (but at least someone’s singing about it). And, all the while, there were some interesting discussions about masculinities quietly going on in the background. 

This NPR story on the changing face of masculinity in America explores the issue that, while the everyday realities of being a man – such as the shifting gender dynamics of tertiary education or many men’s increasing involvement in childcare – have changed significantly in the past 50 years, attitudes about masculinity, and what it means to be a man, have not changed accordingly. But it was the comments at the end of the article that really struck a chord with me. One reader commented,

“I am glad someone is finally talking about this. As a man I have often struggled with this very question. I am nearly forty and I still don’t have a good answer. Having a one year old son, I’d like to find out those answers quick…I like to talk baby talk to my son and hold him, kiss his little feet and hands and cheeks. And sometimes I watch him sleep at night and start crying because he is so beautiful and so precious to me. Yet I keep these things hidden because I am a man, or at least, trying to be.”

Others quickly chimed in with support and similar sentiments, one calling the current gender role for men ‘a prison.’ Another (female) reader called for a ‘boy power’ movement:

“I don’t care if he plays football every day or if his favorite color is pink, every boy deserves to feel secure in his gender and proud of his masculinity…’Girl power’ was the idea that girls can do anything–math, science, legos, barbies, pedicures, sports–anything that she finds interesting, regardless of whether society has traditionally deemed it a masculine or feminine activity. Boys do not have the same freedom. They are shoved into narrow boxes of what masculinity is, and if they stray by, say, expressing the desire to be a cheerleader or a stay-at-home dad or anything outside of the narrow box they’ve been given, they are widely ridiculed, the same way women were once ridiculed for wanting to vote or work outside the home.”

It’s a fascinating discussion and I’m interested to see where it goes over the coming weeks. But just as it is now, I am so happy to see such open and progressive conversations about masculinities taking place in public – may there be many more!

Along the same line of promoting diverse, positive, non-violent ways to be a man, is Alyssa Royse’s article for the Good Men Project about the harm to both men and women caused by the very limiting ‘male predator/female victim’ discourse. In addition to calling for more of a focus on pleasure in how we speak to both boys and girls about sex, she also calls on men to speak out against rape culture and how that should not represent manhood. 

Also as part of their ‘Men in America‘ series, NPR posed the question to men, “What physical object makes you feel manly?” While I’m not a huge fan of trying to simplify the diversity of gender identity into a choice over material commodities, some of the responses – including men’s discussions of what they felt the should say – perhaps point to some small changes in concepts of what it means to be a man. 

Broadening the scope outside of the US, though, and away from material goods, I would be interested to hear from male readers, What makes you feel manly? It could be an object, if you like, or an action or a feeling or whatever. Is all this talk about changing masculinities way off the mark for you, or do you think there’s something to it? 

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Masculinities Mondays: 23rd of June 2014

After a month’s break, Masculinities Mondays is back! This week, we’re going to pick up from where we left off last time by looking at pieces by men who, in response to the recent #YesAllWomen/#NotAllMen debate, have acknowledged their role (and all men’s roles) in rape culture and patriarchy and have moved past the point of being defensive to come up with practical and simple steps that men can take to make the world a more equitable place.

From where I stand – and perhaps this didn’t come across clearly enough in my last post – this is not a matter of ‘good men’ and ‘bad men’ or even of ‘female victims’ and ‘male perpetrators’ (even if the latter is statistically true). In fact, I don’t see how framing rape culture in either of these simplistic dichotomies is helpful in the long run for sustainable social change. Without ignoring the very real gendered differences in terms of power, privilege, safety, and most other aspects of men and women’s lived realities, I’m looking forward to seeing this move further in the direction of #YesAllOfUs or #YesEveryone, in which everyone – regardless of gender – stops to think critically about the messages in the world around us that feed into rape culture and everyone feels empowered and motivated to call out those messages when we come across them – whether they come from the media, strangers on the internet, our friends, our families, our teachers, or ourselves.

  • First up is Zaron Burnett’s awesomely direct ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Rape Culture.’ In explaining his process of coming to understand his role in rape culture, Burnett writes, “When a woman first told me I was part of rape culture, I wanted to disagree for obvious reasons. Like many of you I wanted to say, ‘Whoa, that ain’t me.’ Instead, I listened…Men shouldn’t feel threatened or attacked when women point out rape culture — they’re telling us about our common enemy. We ought to listen.” The article also includes a handy list of things men can do to stop rape culture, including: 

    · Avoid using language that objectifies or degrades women

    · Speak out if you hear someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape

    · If a friend says she has been raped, take her seriously and be supportive

    · Think critically about the media’s messages about women, men, relationships, and violence

    · Be respectful of others’ physical space even in casual situations

    · Always communicate with sexual partners and do not assume consent

    · Define your own manhood or womanhood. Do not let stereotypes shape your actions.

  • Another good read is Charlie Glickman’s blog post “I Refuse to be One of the ‘Good Men.” Discussing the futility of the ‘good men/bad men’ dichotomy, Glickman writes, “When we say that ‘I’m not like that,’ we render those guys as other. Rather than seeing our shared humanity, we demonize them. Rather than seeing the ways in which sexism is trained and shamed into each of us, we call them evil and stop looking at ourselves. And rather than reaching out to them to help them move in a positive direction, we discard them so that we can be ‘not like them.‘”
  • For a heartwarming and faith-in-humanity restoring six minutes, watch these high school boys explain why they are feminists
  • If you’re interested in exploring this theme in a more academic/theoretical manner, I recommend Chris Crass’ post, “Against Patriarchy: 20 Tools for Men to Further Feminist Revolution.” In addition to an excellent suggested reading list and tips for promoting social justice, Crass’ explains, “While we did not choose to be men in a patriarchal society, we have the choice to be feminists and work against sexism.” 
  • And, finally, Qahera – our favourite female, Muslim superhero – calls out sexism when she sees it and reminds us that this is never just a man/woman thing.

Thanks for reading and feel free to share your thoughts or great articles you’ve come across.