The Distorted Idea That the So-Called "Masculinity Crisis" Is Caused by Successful Women
Continued from previous page
A few months ago, my brother—who for many years was the quintessential “man-boy”—said something to me that really impacted the way I understood how men are dealing with this shifting idea of what it means to be a man. In previous years, he said, he thought being a man meant being unaccountable to women and ignoring their feelings. Looking back, he realized he’d abused his male privilege and acted selfishly in his relationships. In the last few years, he has made a concerted effort to be more accountable to women, even if just to tell them he was not interested. He changed the way he interacted with women to take the time to be responsible and share how he felt, listening and being as supportive as possible. This, he said, is what it really means to be a man, and part of his process was to unlearn what he had been taught it meant to be a man.
I was proud of my brother for reaching this conclusion and making such a serious effort to consciously change how he was relating to women, and this conversation opened my eyes to the damage that has been done to the psyche of male-identified folk by masculinity. Part of the reasoning behind calling the shift in masculinity a crisis is that it’s about uncovering this age-old conspiracy that men don’t have feelings. Rather than expose those feelings and the history of neglect and abuse that comes with it, it is much easier to suggest that being disaffected, abusive, unemotional, and disconnected is actually the natural way of being a man.
If men are still judged by external factors, like how much money they make, how nicely they dress, how tall they are, and how disconnected they can be from women, emotional dudes who don’t have high-paying jobs are not going to feel too good about themselves. When men are effeminate and chastised for it, this feeds into regressive ideas of masculinity and puts unfair pressure on men to act a certain way. Homophobic and sexist epithets are used to bully men of all ages into conforming to a rigid idea of what it means to be a man. All of these conditions indicate that we are lacking alternative models in masculinity.
Furthermore, women internalize these messages and they often expect their partners to be a certain way, not realizing how this expectation supports the very structure that keeps them stuck in rigid gender binaries. The worst impact of this is that it may lead men to act out violently, generally toward their intimate partners.
We are hardly living in a post-sexist culture. Male privilege is alive and thriving. But men have undue pressure on them to be studs and to act a certain way toward women as well. Until we redefine masculinity, we have to take a more radical and compassionate approach to dating. And it will take both men and women to shift the ways they think about the role of men and masculinity. For women, most of the time that means walking away when we are not getting what we need, or shifting our expectations in our relationships and working toward a conversation that allows for new and experimental types of masculinity. For men, it means thinking about how they benefit from male privilege, where they get their self-validation, and pushing themselves to think about emotional accountability and how they view women and relationships. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But it’s a good place to start.