Friday, February 12, 2010

Gender Complementarity Myth: Harmful To Men Too

To say that patriarchy hurts men, as well as women, is to make a statement of the obvious to anyone paying attention.

Under the ideology of gender complementarity, which posits that men and women constitute two halves of humanity that, when put together, comprise a special whole, masculinity is the normed superior mode of being, with femininity basically defined as Not Male.

And thus, unfortunately, for some men, clinging to the concept of "masculinity" and all of the privileges associated with it, outweighs the harms that follow from choosing to live in a man-made prison. These harms, they either ignore or, ironically, blame on feminists.

While I tend to focus on how the gender complementarity myth, gender roles, and sex role stereotyping harm women, Calvin Sandborn over at briarpatch relays the sad, alienating state of modern men:

"Noted psychologist Terrence Real estimates that almost half of all men suffer from some form of covert or overt depression. He attributes this to the way that men are socialized to deny their feelings.

Many of us trudge through life, feeling numb inside. Because of our social training, we have lost contact with our emotional lives. In fact, psychologist Ronald Levant estimates that close to 80 per cent of men suffer from some form of alexithymia-the inability to identify what one is feeling....

Over the centuries, a profound human tragedy occurred. Men and women were cut in half. Women lost their voices-and men lost their hearts. As Sam Keen puts it, 'Each gender is assigned half of the possible range of human virtues and vices. . . . Every man and every woman is half of a crippled whole.'...

Men miss a vital point in resenting feminist criticism: patriarchy has stolen our hearts and is killing us.

As the boy suppresses his real self, he replaces it with a 'false self' that fits the Code rules. This constructed self doesn’t allow itself tender feelings, or show them to others. It wears armour.

Pollack characterizes this false self as the 'mask of masculinity'-'a mask that most boys and men wear to hide their true inner feelings, and to present to the world an image of male toughness, stoicism, and strength, when in fact they feel desperately alone and afraid.'"

Although, yes, feminists have been saying essentially this for years, I applaud Sandborn for making these observations without falling into the MRA traps of (a) blaming feminism for the half-human state of men and (b) using the fact patriarchy hurts men too to "prove" that it is women who are privileged in society, rather than men.

My biggest issue with his piece, other than sketchy history of the evolution of patriarchy, is when he says "Every man and every woman is half of a crippled whole." This would only seem to be true for those who exist at the extreme ends, as caricatures, of masculinity or femininity. In reality, not all of us adhere to our assigned roles and, indeed, many people no matter their gender identity, exhibit behaviors that are assigned to the "other" gender. Women in particular have more freedom to act "masculine" than men have to act "feminine." What with the whole idea of masculinity being "better than" femininity and all.

Interestingly, if those who exist at caricatures of masculinity or femininity are sort of halves of a "crippled whole," this would suggest that individuals who display a mixture of both "feminine" and "masculine" qualities are most healthy and whole. Worth remembering the next time a representation of a Real Man or Real Woman is held up as though it's a model worth emulating.

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