The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 10 Mar 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Masculinity revisited and reimagined

I’ve just read one of the truest, most hideously insightful pieces of writing that I’ve ever read about masculinity. It’s from a woman called Rose Hackman and you can read it here. It contains one paragraph in particular that made me stop reading and fire up my laptop at half one in the morning and write this blog, because it feels that important and that relevant to me, Here it is:

“How much work have we done in terms of changing expectations we continue to place on men? How much do women praise ‘manly men’ who are able to lift and pay for dinner and offer comforting pats on the shoulder? Do we not still expect men to be strong and constant, financially able, successful in the public realm? My male contemporaries seem paralysed by the fear they are unable to fulfil societal expectations and therefore are not worthy enough for partnership, life planning and love.”

This is me. I have a huge and terrible sense that I’m not worthy of love and I also have a huge and heavy sense that I’m eternally falling short. This is not to say that I lend any credence at all to MRAs and their noxious lines of argument. If Trump’s candidacy is the dying kick of a racist and wilfully stupid white America, that’s exactly what the MRA movement is, an attempt, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, to define what masculine is and nail us all to that cross.as though what deviates from a sort of brain-dead, testosterone-laden funk of sullen aggression is wrong.

I reject that totally and utterly. These things are killing us, that’s men, in large numbers. We grapple, alone, with things that would defeat anyone, and conclude that we fall short and that the only way out is to take pills, hack our wrists or throw ourselves off or in front of something. The only corrective to this is to open up, the only possible thing that can save our lives is talking, and yet it’s the one thing the idiots of the men’s rights movement appear to disdain. So we’re being hit by people we may have thought were on our side. They’re not. They’re on the side, in the case of idiots like Martin Daubney, of what sells and what looks like a lucrative furrow to plough.

But we’re also being hit from another side as well. I identify as a feminist ally, largely because I think of all the systems of thought in the West, feminism has the most to say and because calling myself a feminist is way too problematic, so I’m clear that what I’m about to say is categorically NOT the fault of women, just in case my words are construed, or twisted, in the words of Kipling, by knaves in order to make a trap for fools. What we have here is not a gendered problem, but a societal one that is damaging men and boys to destruction.

Women have made massive strides in redefining themselves, their identities and what it means to be a woman. In this, they’ve been held back by damaging ways of seeing themselves reinforced by the media, by the people around them and by the way that they’ve been socialised. And they’ve also been held back by men. As men, we need to own this and recognise that, collectively, we’ve been a powerful conservative voice against social change and have held women back because it suited us to do so, when what we should have been doing was supporting them.

Men, however, haven’t been subject to the same process. If it follows that women forced their way into the masculinised world of work, where they are, admittedly, still devalued and harassed, if not worse, men, largely, have not. We hear about male nurses, and snigger. We think that primary school teaching is a job for women and anything that looks suspiciously like a ‘caring’ role is ripe for disdain and mockery, even though it relies on the very best human qualities. This is a self-limiting mindset and, if just one of the people who hears ‘jokes’ or, that hateful word ‘banter,’ is deterred from doing one of these jobs, then we’re all lesser for it.

What is increasingly happening is that men are being sexualised and objectified in exactly the same way that we’ve been doing to women. Posters of buff young lads with six packs are appearing, we’re being sold ‘rugged’ men like Bear bloody Grylls and it is being tacitly suggested that ‘real’ men could wrestle bears, cook a steak and then sing a lullaby to a child about the dogged virtues of self-reliance. This, say the MRAs and various, dunderheaded male followers, is equality. Men objectify women, women objectify men and that’s how it is. Really? So men take a whole load of utterly baseless cultural stereotypes about what constitutes attractiveness and foist them onto women, and they do the same back, which constitutes equality? No, no, no, no, no.

In the same way that I don’t want idiotic ideas imposed on women, I don’t want them imposed on me, either. Sometimes I will be a carer, but at other times, I will need to be cared for. Sometimes, I will earn the money but, sometimes, it would be one hell of a relief if my partner earned more and I could lean more heavily on her. Sometimes I will cook, sometimes I will be cooked for. Sometimes I will be weak, and sometimes I will be strong. And so it goes, in an archetype busting way. Men are being run over by a bus that we’ve helped build and, speaking as someone who had a breakdown when it ran over him, it bloody hurts.

Society needs to recognise what it’s doing and please, for pity’s sakes, stop. The Americans talk of New York’s Madison Avenue when they need to discuss the advertising industry and we have no such synonym, but unless advertisers, the media and sundry other things start showing us that it’s alright to be multi-dimensional and it’s alright not to have a six pack and chew logs out of trees that you can burn to warm your family, we’re all screwed. We’ll have women stressed by cheap, shoddy stereotypes, we’ll have men stressed by a different batch of shoddy stereotypes and all that will happen is that both sexes are trapped in the same prison.

I have utterly no idea who needs to read this blog or who it’s meant for, but I had to respond to Rose Hackman’s excellent piece and I had to add my voice, however small, however easily overlooked, to the conversation. Society, you’re killing us. Please stop.

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