Let me level with you reader – basically, last night I put together a blog post called “The Fragile Man”, meant to address the subject of Masculinity So Fragile, a campaign to show the frailty of masculinity in how men feel the need to showboat to prove their worth, justify the purchase of ‘feminine’ products by buying male-focused alternatives and mock those who do not fit into the predefined standard, be they genderqueer or effeminate. However, the culture of masculinity, the standards it imposes and the effects on men, women and all identities beyond and between is so profound that it won’t fit into one post. I did try but I missed out heaps, I had it proofread to find I knew very little of the female viewpoint so after talking about it with a variable collective of female friends, I’ve split this post in two. Tonight, I want to discuss the effects of masculinity on women, using my own reading and the real-life experiences of women I know, as well as the experiences of a genderqueer friend of mine. Just a heads up, it gets dark later on, if you’re the sort who reads sensitive subjects and gets triggered, steer clear of my blog for the next few days – it’s about men and women and power and sexism and gender identity, I’m sure you can guess which tough topics will be brushed upon, namely abuse for starters.
So if we think of the opposing standards of masculine and feminine, going on purely polar ideals, notice the difference in the traits? Masculinity is strength, resourcefulness, wisdom, stoicism, charisma whilst femininity is chastity, elegance, beauty, obedience and gentleness? A tough woman isn’t feminine, a quiet man isn’t masculine. The masculine traits are aspirational though – strength and ambition are goals to strive for, how does one strive for chastity or beauty? You might say you can do many things to beautify yourself but then you’re accused of faking it, you could refuse sexual advances but then you’re called frigid and prude, masculinity expects feminine traits of women but challenges them if they adhere too closely to the rules. Women are expected to be virgin saints, yet sluts in the bedroom, be cutesy and adorable yet also mature and alluring, it’s an impossible demand that the perfect woman be an angel and devil rolled seamlessly into one bundle.
You might think, so how does this relate to masculinity and its effect on women? Well, the Masculinity So Fragile dawned the No Hymen, No Diamond, essentially saying that women who don’t adhere to the most sacred of sexist rules imposed on women, chastity until commitment, don’t deserve marriage. Men attacked because they felt they were attacked, even though the masculine culture damages them too, but more on that another time. The stunted emotional growth of my gender, and myself for a good period of my life, led to generations of bitter angry men understanding any emotional response as anger, the unknown or the confusing is a challenge and challenges are qualms about capability. Challenges are accepted with aggression, machismo, violence – the word ‘fragile’ was an affront to their strength so they sought to prove it, as men often do. Women, does this sound familiar – a man treating you differently in the presence of his male peers to how he does when he’s alone? The difference being, with people to observe him he seems to show off? Has the boyfriend/husband ever referred to you as the ball and chain? A term suggestive that he is a caged or trapped beast, hindered in his quest for freedom and power. Masculinity, in the sense we know it, demeans women as the weaker sex in so many ways, some of which I want to discuss here and now.
The idea of women as sexual objects, as owing men sex for their patience or commitment, as sandwich makers, as posers and whores for having confidence, as the ‘ball and chain’ restraining a man, all are indicative of how women suffer because of masculinity. If a woman is a threat to a man’s testosterone, either by taming his beast through commitment or by having traits associated with men like confidence or wit, she is demeaned, abused, called out as being less of a woman or by being a nuisance to a man. She’ll be called a dyke, her gender identity challenged because they feel challenged in their own, seeing those outside their peer group display the personae they spent lives building. I have a genderqueer friend, they’ll remain nameless because I didn’t ask to use their name so I won’t risk it, but when they present as a man, they’re told they’re not so by other men, even though this person has the male identity down to a t – dress sense, interests, even their living space looks like a true bachelor pad. The rules of masculinity are unyielding indeed.
Here’s where it gets darker though, beyond the ‘friend zone’ fedora brigade and sexist jokes is the really horrid side – men who won’t date women more successful than them, the use of rape jokes and rape as a power play dynamic (To rape is to assert dominance, to be raped is to be dominated and thus, pathetic. Notice how men talk about ‘raping’ or ‘getting raped’ in contexts that aren’t even sexual just as indicators of performance). I fear for women in situations where there is the need for the ‘man’ of the house to keep people in line, so he will say, using physical or verbal abuse to show he is in charge. Men who fail and lash out at those that are physically weaker than them, at those who won’t hit back – wives, girlfriends, children. Men that were taught don’t cry and don’t fail and in turn become heartless savages, unable to talk through their grievances and finding release only in rough-housing others. The impossible standard of never bending and breaking can make men snap and some take it out on themselves but some shift the blame, be it selfishly or for sanity’s sake but very rarely do they unload their frustration on those who can endure it without consequence, they want to inflict hurt because they are hurt. For women in such a place, it’s not easy and it is certainly not right.
However, of the masculine image, the women I spoke to said that they liked a man who wasn’t so much masculine as secure. A confidence backed by substance and a self-acceptance, self-acceptance being the most attractive trait we seek in others, perhaps because we seek it so badly in ourselves. A remember a friend once told me “If you need to prove you have power, you have none at all”. Likewise, when I was a rough and tumble violent headcase, that wasn’t what got me noticed, it wasn’t fighting my way up to alpha male that got people to respect me, those who did respected traits I showed that were those of aspirational standards we can all seek – being self-assured, breaking the mold, expression of inner self. Masculinity and femininity are not inherently bad things, adhering to one like the law is, a truly good individual can feel comfortable in who they are whatever the label might be.
So you want a true man? A true man isn’t always the strong one, the smart one, the funniest or sharpest wit or possibly not all that practical but a true man has a strength all their own to use for good. A true man, as the standard should have it, is one who will stick up for those that can’t stick up for themselves, will go without because others need it more, will endure trial and hardship to win the day. However, a true man has tears, a true man has a heart that can love and lose, a penchant for pink he needn’t turn his nose up at and he needn’t see the world as stage to this contest that isn’t happening. In that, there can be a true man in us all and women are not less womanly because they strive for ambition and competition, nor are men less manly for wanting to wear mascara and bake cakes and above all, a man is no greater a man if he must achieve his greatness through the exploitation or abuse of others. We are equals, we are mankind.