As a feminist, there are two things i’ve grown to know to be certain. First and foremost, the conversation of feminism will only have a positive trajectory if we involve men in the conversation. Secondly – an extension of the first premise – its not men, the the ‘idea of men’.
Let me occupy this space on the world wide web with a rant elaborating on the second.
We have grown accustomed to blaming men as a gender for the violence and injustice that women have to face on a daily basis. Frankly, I don’t blame women for being conditioned to see it this way. But my hypothesis is that, women are not a victim of men, but rather a victim of the idea of what constitutes a man. By extension, I suggest that both men and women are victims of this societal perception of what constitutes a man.
Sociologist Raewyn Connell coins the term ‘hegemonic masculinity” to capture society’s idea of what a man is. He identifies hegemonic masculinity as the culturally dominant form of masculinity that exists in a given time. This idea of what a man should be or hegemonic/ hyper masculinity not only results in the subordination of women but also stigmatise other ‘subordinate variants’ of the male gender for being ‘less male’. Indulging this ideals of what a man should be and encouraging this hegamon is damaging not only to females but also the males.
Loosely translated in to the statuesque, an ideal man is a heterosexual, financial stable (in some cases ‘white’) man with a built physique and and a professional qualification. Anything that does not fit this description is sub par and less manly than the other.
Male identity formation is something that cultures like ours put in a lot of effort to.
Picture a five year old boy in a typical Sri Lankan household. Casual sentences like, “boys don’t cry” are thrown in every now and then without realising how damaging it could be. At an early age boys learn to internalise emotions and expressions. Flash-forward to age fifteen, you now have an angry teenager who is experimenting with drugs as a form of expression to compensate to the fact that he is not accustomed to crying, just to get through his first heartache.
Picture a boy at the age of thirteen, “stop hitting like a girl”, he is told. He then learns to throw a punch to prove to his peers that he is in fact a boy. Now flash-forward to age thirty, an amalgamation of unexpressed emotions and the voice that screams “stop hitting like a girl” echoing in his head while he lands his hand across his wife’s face, no regrets, not a tear shed.
Picture a boy at the age fifteen, “you’re the son of the family, when times comes you will get these”, he is told. Flooded by entitlement that he has been privy to growing he starts projecting the same idea of entitlement to everything he sees – including women that walk by. Flash-forward to a twenty year old. He doesn’t hesitate to take his genitals out with one hand while keeping the other on the steering wheel, slowing down just enough to remind the by-passer that
Picture a boy at the age of eighteen, facing his first failure in life or confused with his sexuality. The voices from his past echoing, “boys don’t that” and “boys don’t this”. He suffers through his first bout of depression, alone in silence. Continued bottling up of emotions the lead the a blade running across his wrist until one day, there is no more blood to be shed.
However, signs of hegemonic masculinity being damaging is not only endemic to Sri Lanka. In my opinion, the recent Orlando Massacre can be largely attributed to the hegemonic masculinity that plagued the victim. We find a man with a rapport of violence against women, and a confusing history with regards to his sexual orientation. Essentially, we find a man resorting to violent means of expression to prove his masculinity.
(note: I’m in no way justifying his actions. I also understand that their may or may not be more than one reasoning behind his action)
This is all to say that it is time we start a conversation about the damaging repercussions of hegemonic / hyper masculinity. The repeatedly reinforced idea of what a man should be is damaging in a multitude of levels. It is damaging to individuals, men as a gender and women as a human beings. As a society, we need to move away passing the notion of hegemonic masculinity as a heirloom to our sons and daughters. We need to teach our sons to love themselves regardless of who they are. We need to stop casually ‘throwing shade at boys in pink shirts’. We need to stop internalising the idea of a ‘what a man should be’. We need to have the conversation that we have been putting off for decades; its not men, its the ‘idea of men’.