Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On "Real Men," Part I

Believe it or not, I think that feminism and the men's rights movement share an important similarity. Neither of these movements is monolithic, so I'm going to try not to be too general here. Yet, I think that many adherents of both feminism and masculism would agree that gender stereotypes are often harmful, unfair, and de-humanizing.

Over at Glenn Sacks' website, a popular destination for (anti-feminist?) men's rights activists, a guy by the name of Robert Franklin has written a piece criticizing the popular stereotype of men and masculinity that says the only Real Men are those who are Warriors. I think that many feminists would agree with the core of his argument: It's a "crazy idea" permeating society that "the only 'real' man is a kick-ass stud under thirty with an AK-47 in his hands and lamp black on his face." It is a crazy idea. I really know of no real life man who fits such an image. And, in reality, most of the men I know would run with piss streaming down their legs if they ever came face-to-face with such a guy. This Man as Warrior caricature dehumanizes all men as being ruled by an insatiable desire for violent and sexual dominance and it denigrates men who fail to meet this "ideal" as wimps, "pussies," "fags," and other forms of "Not Real Men."

Franklin doesn't go into any great depth as to who originated this stereotype. In fact, he admits and dismisses his ignorance with a quick "someone-apparently"-began-it wave of the hand. Then, leaving behind such abstractions he zeros in on a more tangible villain-- feminism, of course. Treating feminism as a monolithic anti-male entity he writes:

"Feminism chipped in with its decades-long attack on everything feminists deemed masculine, whether real or imagined. To attack men, they caricatured them as sex-and violence-crazed brutes who were a danger to everyone, particularly women and children."

Really now? Notice he doesn't state which feminists, or even what types of feminism, have done this. Like many critics of feminism, Franklin's concept of feminism is a caricature of what it really is; it is mired in the excesses of 1960s radical feminism and ignorant of contemporary, less extreme, and the myriad other branches of feminism that exist. The thing is, nowadays no feminists except the most very radical are genuine man-haters who think all men are violent and who attack everything "masculine." What many feminists take issue with is precisely what Franklin takes issue with: This notion of violent, aggressive hyper-masculinity that is forced upon men. Why? Because forcing men to be hyper-masculine is damaging to both men and women.

Furthermore, criticizing this caricature of hyper-masculinity and its consequent violence is certainly not anti-male. It is anti-male only if men identify their selves with the stereotype, and identifying with the stereotype is precisely what Franklin and many feminists are urging men not to do. Ampersand at Alas, A blog puts it well:

"Similarly, I’ve more than once seen critics of feminism suggest that being critical of masculinity is anti-male. From my perspective, nothing in this world is more harmful to men than cultural norms of masculinity, and nothing more profoundly anti-male than the idea that the ideals of 'masculinity' should not be criticized or changed (or, preferably, done away with). Every person who is against challenging the idea of masculinity, is in favor of boys being beaten and bullied in schoolyards; is in favor of men going off to stupid wars where they can be shot and blown up, mainly by other men also trying to be masculine; etc, etc. But for other people, my entire line of thinking is somehow 'anti-male.'"

Why, just the other day I read a relevant article in Bitch, the magazine claiming to be "The Feminist Response to Pop Culture" and therefore probably having its finger on the pulse of current feminism moreso than Mr. Franklin, called "Guy Trouble" by Shira Tarrant. Like Franklin's piece, the Bitch piece addressed and critiqued the stale models of masculinity that the media and society offer men. In it, Tarrant sympathizes that:

"As long as a guy at least pretends he doesn't care about anything more than anger or lust, he is welcomed into the Man Club.... So what's a guy supposed to do? What does it mean to be a real man these days? Is it possible to find models of manhood to replace the old stereotypes that no longer seem to fit, or never felt right in the first place?"

Franklin, Ampersand, and Tarrant are essentially making the same arguments. Ideals of masculinity need to change, and men shouldn't buy into them. Real men are all around us, even if they're not trying to be or cannot be Rambo. In this way, masculists and feminists are natural allies because both seek to eradicate harmful and untrue gender stereotypes. Unfortunately, I also believe that many anti-feminist men's rights activists want to eradicate these negative stereotypes about masculinity and men while also maintaining their own male privilege and the beneficial stereotypes about men. And that is what I'm going to explore tomorrow, in Part II of this post.

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