What About the Men? Why Our Gender System Sucks for Men, Too

The tools of feminism can also be applied to the damage and deformation that men suffer in our sexist society – Published on AlterNet/Gender, by Ozy Frantz and Noah Brand, July 11, 2012.

This article is from a book in progress by Noah Brand and Ozy Frantz. If you are anything like us, you spent some time when you were younger playing with optical illusions: the vase that, if you looked at it differently, was two faces; the fish that were also birds; the old woman who was also a young lady … //  

… Men who do not fit the box of hegemonic masculinity get all kinds of stigmatized. For instance, consider men who want to help raise their children. Stay-at-home dads and men on the “mommy track” often face disapproval and the belief that they “laze around all day” or “aren’t real men.” In public, men are all too often patronized as “Mr. Mom” or treated as though it’s exceptional and startling that they want to spend time with their children; it’s depressingly common for men openly interested in childcare to be called pedophiles.

Social pressure has astonishing effects on people’s behavior: just ask any teenager who drove home drunk from a party. Many people find it so unthinkable that men might want to have traditionally feminine jobs such as nurses or teachers that they tend to promote men out of those jobs and into more traditionally masculine positions such as administration; this sounds like an advantage, but most people become nurses to take care of patients, not to deal with paperwork, and it’s based in misandric stereotypes around what men can do. The social pressure to conform to the man box can be internalized, sometimes with tragic effects: unemployment increases a man’s risk of suicide more than it does a woman’s, partially because of the association between masculinity and success.

Even if they don’t experience social pressure, the expectations that they should act in a certain way can disadvantage men who don’t act that way. Straight men are all too often expected to approach women, ask them out, and pay for the date—which causes disproportionate pain to men who are socially awkward, shy or just broke. Male virgins are more likely than their female counterparts to feel shame because of their virginity.

Ultimately, the most important concepts in hegemonic masculinity are “strong,” “tough,” and “winner.” Each of these is code for a wealth of symbolism and subconcepts, so that “tough” implies both “stoically emotionless” and “does not seek medical attention.” “Strong” covers “supports his family financially” and “bench-presses more than his bodyweight,” among other things. “Winner” is the key to a Pandora’s box of competition and inadequacy, where the twin concepts of “loser” and “failure” lurk, waiting to consume men’s sense of self at the least excuse.

Even for men who conform to these demands, these ideals of masculinity can burden them. Take toughness, for instance—it’s good to be tough, right? Chuck Norris is tough. Wolverine is tough. Toughness lets you survive in this hard world, keeps you from being weak and vulnerable. That’s a good thing to encourage people to be, right?

Turns out, not so much.

The ideal of physical toughness kills people. Especially men. Except for sex work, the most male-dominated jobs are the most dangerous, from lumberjacks to firefighters to soldiers, men are more likely to be injured on the job and suffer an astonishing 92% of fatal occupational injuries. Historically and cross-culturally, men’s life expectancy is shorter than women’s; in the United States, men tend to live four years less than women. While some of the discrepancy may be biological, much of it is due to socialization: in fact, the level of patriarchy in a society is associated with lower life expectancy for men. Men are encouraged to “tough out” pain and not go to doctors unless they absolutely need to.

Emotional toughness can also cause men pain; if you can’t open up emotionally to another person, it makes it more difficult to have friends. The social support gap is large and growing—men tend to report having fewer close friends and being less connected to their communities than women. For far too many men, romantic relationships are the only acceptable venue for them to express their feelings (and even there, the idea that men hate emotional intimacy limits them). In fact, men tend to report more distress due to a strained romantic relationship, possibly because women are far more likely to have a group of friends to help with the social support. The nervously joking societal construct of “bromance” arises from the notion that having a close male friend is something weird enough that it needs its own name.

Then there’s rape. When was the last time you heard men mentioned as rape or molestation victims in any public discussion of such issues? Despite the fact that 1 in 6 men are subject to unwanted sexual activity before the age of 18, despite the fact that 1 in 4 rape survivors in America is male, far too many people still believe a man cannot be raped, especially by a woman: the myth that an erection is consent, instead of a biological function, remains strong. The Centers for Disease Control’s own statistics draw a line between “rape” and “being forced to penetrate someone.” Not to be rude to the CDC, but we have a word for sex that someone is forced to have against their will. It’s called rape.

Even in cases of boys as young as 13 who are raped by teachers or other authority figures, many people congratulate them or call them lucky. Try to imagine anyone saying that to a 13-year-old girl who was molested by her teacher, and you begin to see how deep the gender gulf is here. In fact, some male rape survivors never acknowledge, even to themselves, that what they endured was rape. Rape of men is endemic within the prison system, which is not treated as a human rights outrage, but as an appropriate subject for jokes. Some even speak glowingly of prison rape as the real deterrent to criminal activity. It’s amazing how many people are downright enthusiastic about their government running rape camps, so long as the victims are male … //

… Unlearning your kyriarchal conditioning is a process. Nobody is as good as we deep down know we ought to be: you, us, Mother Teresa, famous people who write about feminism for big-name print magazines, everyone messes up. The point is to learn to do it less. As Samuel Beckett once said, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

That in mind, we two fallible, privileged, well-intentioned authors have some ideas about gender, about oppression, about the men.
(full long text).

Links on AlterNet:

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The Power of Being Single;

Parent Trigger Laws: Union Kryptonite?

The Demise of Gym Class;

Texas Schools Say No to Critical Thinking;

Bipartisan Support for Romney’s Business Past Should Scare Us All.

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