Destroying Masculinity: Who Does it Benefit and Why is it Important
This paper makes the argument that there has been a push by certain members of society to destroy the masculine world and substitute it with a world where everybody is “equal.” This paper also makes the argument that different members of the forces demanding change have different definitions of what it means to be equal. This paper will use four sources to support its claims that the destruction of masculinity will not benefit men, but rather, benefit those who believe that they cannot succeed in a “man’s world.”
Keywords: emasculation, social oppression, social reform
In recent decades, there has been a greater push by activists and reformers to destroy the masculine world and put in its place a fairer, more egalitarian world. Although fairness and equal opportunity for all should be a top priority in a western society, boys and men are suffering due to the oppression of their natural instincts. As part of the agenda to destroy the masculine world, activists and reformers use shame tactics to destroy the greatest symbols of masculinity, such as a man’s penis, chivalrous attitudes in romantic relationships, and social hierarchies in school contexts. Studies conducted by Roy Sugarman (2009), Ana L. Jaramillo and Katherine R. Allen (2012), and Michael Kehler and Wayne Martino (2007) exemplify these attitudes and will be used to support the claims of this paper that activists and reformers are either knowingly or unknowingly forcing harmful change upon men.
In “The Feminist Perspective: Searching the Cosmos for a Valid Voice” by Roy Sugarman (2009), there is a passage where he paraphrases two prominent female psychologists about penis envy and traditional masculinity; he writes:
And, to paraphrase Thompson (1952)1 and even Horney (1939)1, or rather distort the poor women entirely on the concept of Penis Envy, whilst the possession of a penis is not something necessarily to be proud of, the social power of its possession can be quite embarrassing when some people start waving theirs about: this angered early feminists so much that they considered that traditional family life had to be destroyed in order for women to be set free1. (Sugarman, 2009, p.4)
Should the possession of a penis be something to be ashamed of then? One would believe this to be true given the amount of negative connotations represented in the media. When considering the natural beauty of the world, what could be more natural and beautiful than the body of a woman? This is made most obvious by how often women’s bodies are used to promote a product or idea in society. The representation of liberty as a bare woman in classical paintings, the endless cohorts of models, and, the feminist’s favorite, Rosie the riveter are all examples of how woman are used in society to represent ideas and sell products. When we think of beauty, how often does the image of a bare man come to mind, however? Unless he is a well-known, handsome celebrity, men are rarely represented in a positive way in the media. Penises are better known as ugly, out of place, and tools for rape rather than as being beautiful, natural, and part of the process of creating life. What is more masculine than a penis? There is no benefit in penis shaming men, except for those who have something to gain from the destruction of what it represents.
Along with penis shaming, activists and reformers attack the traditional romantic relationships men experience in order to destroy their traditional perspectives and implant a “fairer,” more egalitarian one. Jaramillo-Sierra and Allen (2012), in “Who Pays After the First Date? Young Men’s Discourses of the Male-Provider Role,” make baseless claims in their study of different types of men and different types of chivalrous attitudes. They write:
First, considering that the good-provider role is a feature of traditional masculine ideology (Pleck, 1995), men who continue to hold on and enact the good-provider role are possible at greater risk of experiencing depression (Addis, 2008; Mahalik & Cournoyer, 2000), anxiety (Theodore & Lloyd, 2000), high levels of stress (Hayes & Mahalik, 2000), and low self-esteem (Mahalik, Locke, Theodore, Cournoyer, & Lloyd, 2001) as compared with men who have alternative ideas regarding the masculine-provider role. (Jaramillo-sierra & Allen, 2012)
From the perspective of a young man who considers himself traditionally masculine, the aforementioned findings are contradictory. One is more likely to feel elated that he has the privilege of paying for his counterpart’s dinner that he deems suitable for himself; one is more likely to feel less anxious and stressed knowing that he will be paying for dinner and not having to argue with his counterpart over the check; lastly, one is more likely to have high self-esteem if he deems himself worthy enough for his partners acceptance.
Viewing these claims from an activists or reformers perspective, however, offers better insight as to why they might want to destroy this aspect of traditional masculinity. The purpose of destroying this aspect of traditional masculinity is to destroy what it represents, the financial dependence women once relied on with men. It is doubtless to say that most women can, in fact, pay for their own meals, but in order for them to be “free” and perfectly equal with men, activists and reformers demand that they discontinue even the representative aspects of traditional romantic relationships. Jaramillo-sierra and Allen make the true purpose of their study known towards the end of their study. They write, “Therapists and educators working with young men could benefit from our description of provider types to promote more egalitarian relationships between young men and women” (Jaramillo-sierra & Allen, 2012). What better way to destroy masculinity than by brainwashing and “therapy?”
Michael Kehler’s and Wayne Martino’s “Questioning Masculinities: Interrogating Boys’ Capacities for Self-Problematization in schools,” is a study that serves the purpose of debunking the claims by those who believe that there has been a great push to feminize schools so that girls can stand on equal ground and that this feminization is hurting young boys. Their study, however, only strengthens these claims. They write:
Rather, in drawing attention to their willingness to question specific gender norms, we argue that this response appears to be related to their experiences of feeling constrained and pressured to conduct themselves according to the limits of what is defined as acceptable masculinity. (Kehler & Martino, 2007, p.95)
What are the established standards of masculinity exactly? Are there any standards that actually exist, or are they created by reformists and activists in order to support their claims for change? If there are standards to masculinity, I can think of one that always trumps the others, individuality. Men who can stand on their own two feet and carry themselves without the influence of others have always been the most masculine men. The fatal flaw with Kehler’s and
Martino’s study is that they conducted it using early adolescent men, boys in their early teen years. Early adolescents tend to rely more on their peers for acceptance. Laurence Steinberg, author “Adolescence,” writes about early adolescence as, “Adolescents at this stage are not yet involved in “partying” and typically spend their leisure time with a small group of friends, playing sports, talking, or simply hanging out” (Steinberg, 2011, pg.159). Early, male adolescents are more prone to exhibiting the aggressive sides of masculinity since their hierarchal system revolves around who has the power and who wields it in the “coolest” way. They do, however, grow out of this stage. By trying to force change on early adolescent males and oppressing behavior that is natural for their age group, you are feminizing them. In response to those who claim that boys are under threat of becoming feminized, Kehler and Martino write:
This context has involved resorting to calls for more male teachers, a boy friendly curriculum that caters more to boys’ learning styles, and single-sex classes as reform initiatives designed to counteract the feminization of schooling and its supposed detrimental impact on boys’ failing and flailing masculinities. (Kehler & Martino, 2007, p.91)
They continue on to explain that the missing ingredient in all of this is the opinion of boys and how they feel about these supposed standards that they must abide by. Many of the boys did, in fact, feel as though they were being constricted by these supposed standards and that activities that are deemed to be more feminine, such as painting, were more freeing (Kehler & Martino, 2007). As an argument against these claims there is an important message in the notes section the authors rightfully mentioned. It reads, “Although the boys, for the most part, claimed that they had not been exposed extensively to critical discourse about masculinity through their formal education, they did indicate that some English teachers had raised questions about gender stereotypes in class” (Kehler & Martino, 2007, pg.109). They also noted, “Several boys also mentioned the role of the researcher and the act of research itself in encouraging them to think critically about issues of masculinity and gender relations” (Kehler & Martino, 2007, pg. 109). These are important notes because they suggest that the boys did not take it upon themselves to questions the supposed standards of masculinity. The questions only arose when their teachers and researchers brought them up.
These sources highlight the continuous endeavor of activists and reformers to destroy the masculine world. They attack the very important representations of the masculine world, such as penises, chivalry relating to romantic partnerships, and social hierarchies in school contexts. Men stand to gain very little from the destruction of masculinity and this essay works to express that opinion. This paper also works to bring awareness to the fact that there are a growing number of fatherless children and young men who find themselves caught in the bonds of the prison system, especially amongst the poor. If there has been a push to destroy the masculine world and do away with the aggressive attitudes of masculinity, why has there not been a decrease in the number of fatherless children and criminal activity in young men? Perhaps the answer can be attributed to the baseless claims all of the aforementioned researchers make about masculinity. By destroying the world of masculinity, you are also destroying a world where men must take responsibility for their actions and themselves, where honor is found in how they treat others and not just themselves, and that brotherhood is a bond so strong that it mirrors the intimate relationships women have with one another. Men, and all those they interact with, would better benefit from the reinforcement of those traits of masculinity then the complete destruction of it.
Jaramillo-Sierra, A., & Allen, K. (2013, October). Who pays after the first date? young men’s discourses of the male-provider r. Retrieved from http://ovidsp.tx.ovid.com.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu/sp-3.10.0b/ovidweb.cgi?&S=GNJFFPEDKPDDFGGCNCNKIGOBAODJAA00&Link Set=S.sh.22.23.26|6|sl_10
Kehler, M., & Martino , W. (2007). Questioning masculinities: Interrogating boys' capacities for self-problematization schools. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ771847.pdf
Steinberg, L. (2011). Adolescence . (9th ed.). New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies
Sugarman, R. (2009). The feminist perspective: Searching the cosmos for a valid voice. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3151459/