Taking stock of the trends in news and media coverage, everyday conversation, and public discourse, lately I've noticed a current towards looking at males and how the messages they get about their identity and character can have a particularly destructive effect on them and subsequently on the people and things some of them in turn choose to destroy. Amidst increased male-onjustabouteveryone-violence, more and more men dropping out of school, struggling through unemployment and unhealthy relationships, we are forced to confront how many severely maladjusted young men are out there, falling apart and taking others with them.
A lot of folks are taking notice and talking about how to change things and quick, realizing that we’ve got a crisis on our hands and collective consciousness. Much work has already been done to examine and address the issue of violence and development among our young men. President Obama has launched My Brother’s Keeper (not without thoughtful criticism), educators and speakers are highlighting the damage done to boys when we cripple them with emotional toolboxes lacking anything but the 'get angry and ‘hit-it to fix-it' instrument, journalists are highlighting the link between lack of empathy and aggression to better understand and address male pattern violence. PARC is an organization that addresses violence that is overwhelmingly perpetrated by males and I'm glad that more and more talk is devoted to not simply the 'end of men' (because a lot of that talk could not be more perfectly oppositional to how and why I and PARC feel and believe about the nature of the crisis boys and men face), but to the why's and how's of destructive male forces. And that's a talk we need to be having, because male pattern violence is the root of a whole lot of destruction, and the people who have to live on this earth either as or with males will all benefit from less violence and instability.
This is also not a brand new talk, or a particularly revolutionary one. People have been talking about how patriarchal constructions of heterosexual masculinity are just as damaging to males, the very ones set up to benefit from this system. That's because the system has identified a terrifically narrow and unsupportive version of what qualifies as ‘manly’ or masculine, which does not nearly encompass or validate the experiences of all those who fall under this categorical umbrella. Failing to properly adhere to your designated gender roles comes with consequences, such as being called a ‘fag’ for behaving in any way construed as ‘feminine’, or teased for not being sexually aggressive or experienced. Thus, avoiding these consequences by clinging to a broken system that harms you while perpetuating that harmful system on yourself and others begins to make sense. It's scary and hurtful being told you're wrong, you're different, you're unvalued. And when you have little other models for how to act and how to be, it's no wonder the easier path is the familiar one that at least maps out how you can attain and claim your value and identity as a male, and how to avoid ridicule and violence from your peers. Seems simple enough, right?
And yet, there is Elliot Rodger and Christopher Plaskon, there are MRA groups holding conventions to talk about how they are oppressed at the hands of women, and there are the countless men who respond to their perceived rejection with threats and acts of violence against women. Prompting me to think that there needs to be MUCH more talk, more pointing out of the connections between the dominant social construction of masculinity and the very real upset and anger that so many men are feeling and, most importantly, blaming women for.
For all the guys out there blaming women for sleeping with them, for not sleeping with them, for choosing to dress in a certain way or relate to people in a certain way, women aren't the ones at fault. The tenets of masculinity that say ‘you must display (hetero)sexual prowess by dominating as many women as possible’ - THIS is what is making you mad when you can't get laid, when your girlfriend gets mad at you for cheating, when you catcall women on the street and they ignore you. **Not. Women.**
This dominant and unhealthy construction of masculinity also requires that males be able to wield financial power (especially relative to women), but as more and more boys are taught to repress emotions that have been labeled as 'weak' or 'feminine' and so turn to the acceptable male expressions of violence and physical power, more and more of them are growing up into men who don't have the emotional intelligence and maturity needed to hold down jobs, let alone maintain passing grades and social standing in school. The crisis of boys and men then seems pretty clearly to be a crisis brought on by this social construction of masculinity that while on the face looks like it benefits all males, in fact only benefits a select few while deeply hurting the rest, as evidenced by the broad decline of male health, wealth and success in multiple areas. Another way of saying this is, the crisis faced by males is brought on by the same dominant social structure that constrains and hurts females, and pro-tip? This is exactly what feminism is about. Not radical feminism that says women hate men, not feminism that marginalizes and disappears broad groups of women and gender-queer, but feminism that says that all people are equal and should be treated as such. Funny how that works, huh?
So to the boys and men who are angry, who feel denied and prevented from their ability to attain their masculinity as it’s been dictated to them through social and cultural messages, you should feel angry, because this system is messed up and it’s messing with your right to live a life loved for who you are. That’s kinda what us women and feminists are trying to say, and trying to fight for. I just want you to be clear on where your oppression is coming from, and what to blame. Women are not to blame. Feminists are not to blame. The girls who don’t accept your advances are not to blame. The women who understand that our cultural messages about how to be valuable mean being sexy and provocative, but who have to negotiate slut shaming and victim blaming and exist in what you might think of as a hypocritical limbo are not to blame. The system that stunts male emotional development leading to poorer performance in school and work is to blame. The system that makes women the gatekeepers to sex by promising harsh social sanctions for being ‘slutty’ or ‘prudish’ with only praise for (cis-hetero) male sexual expression and makes masculinity contingent upon heterosexual prowess and conquest is to blame. So instead of blaming women who not only are also victims in this unfair system but in many ways the much bigger losers in the dominant male set-up, why not recognize your disproportionately powerful ability to challenge and change these constructions? Why not realize that by enacting and therefore validating alternative ways to be masculine, say by sharing your feelings or articulating anxiety about sex or telling other males who are perpetrating gender inequality and violence that you as a male are not OK with it, that you stand to have a powerful effect in changing this unfair set-up?
And so I ask, why you mad bro? As a discursive practice aimed at revealing the connection between the unfair expectations put upon males through social constructions of masculinity and the resulting understandable frustration and anger, as an outlet for those on the receiving end of this anger to respond, to clear up this massive misunderstanding. Basically, and in the indubitable words of Snoop Lion, hate the game, not the player. And then stop blaming groups arguably more oppressed than you and do something to change that game.