This week’s post will be a bit of a departure from the previous weeks’. When I set out to write for this blog, it was to address not only issues regarding American race relations, but to also examine issues in other areas of modern society. This time around I’ll be taking a look at the huge disservice done to the world’s male population by the perpetuation of an antiquated social norm: patriarchal masculinity.
I’ve always been curious about masculinity, about the ideal of what it means to be manly. My understanding now is that it’s just a social construct deriving from ancient civilizations, ya know where someone a long time ago said “In order for a man to be considered manly he must do ‘this, this and this'”. Being that it was a more simple time this idea is probably suitable, but like any successful social norm it has woven itself into the very fiber of society for years and years and very little has been done to challenge or reevaluate the idea as more and more people with their own uniqueness began to populate the world. For me, while growing up, there always seemed to be a discrepancy between the gospel of masculinity and the idea of each person’s unique humanity. I used to wonder who came up with these rules that a man should do this and not do that to distinguish himself as a man, as if biology hadn’t already done that for the most part.
The impetus for this particular post came along back in November upon my reading this article regarding the seemingly canonization of Miami Dolphins Guard Richie Incognito at the expense of former team mate Jonathan Martin in a dispute essentially stemming from Incognito’s tactlessness in the two teammates’ friendship. There are two particular parts of the article that grabbed my attention (aside from the racist undertones) and are revealing of some of the possible origins of the rift between the two:
“Late Tuesday night, the Sun Sentinel‘s Omar Kelly added gasoline to the fire with a report that head coach Joe Philbin had asked Incognito to ‘toughen up’ Martin.”
“Another former Dolphins employee told me Martin is considered ‘soft’ by his teammates and that’s a reason he’s not readily accepted by some of the players, particularly the black players,” Salguero wrote. “His background — Stanford educated and the son of highly educated people — was not necessarily seen as a strength or a positive by some players and it perpetuated in the way Martin carried himself.”
When I arrived at this part of the article, it reminded me of my childhood queries and reinforced that, despite my thoughts, the rule of thumb has always been that a man should aspire to be dominant in as many ways afforded him should he want to succeed in life. For some this dominance translates as competition. Now competition in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad, but men (and women) often miss the point. Sure, winning in the end is nice, but the true victory is the growth found in the journey to the finish line, the growth that a lot of people overlook on their quest to dominate. Another nasty manifestation of this dominance is the exploitation of others. Nobody likes to be under the thumb of someone who thinks they have themselves and any given situation under control, but dominant-thinking doesn’t tell you that.
All of this ideology and variant forms of the like make up the patriarchal masculinity mentality. It rears its ugly head in the Incognito/Martin case when Martin, while admittedly not completely innocent, is persecuted by a collective of social norms that do not allow him, as a man, to feel or express those would-be feelings without experiencing alienation from the rest of his team mates and public shaming. It’s toxic and it’s disabling both to men and women. Similar events occur all the time all over the world with varying ages of males, but we’ve all grown accustomed to accepting the negative outcomes disguised as being a man or coming into manhood.
I’m in no way an authority on the topic, although I am a man and can attest to my own personal, unpleasant run-ins with patriarchal masculinity (I was told by a family member once that I should have my brother teach me how to walk…like a man…awkwaaard). Seeking to understand the situation better without my own prejudices clouding my judgment I decided to go to someone whose opinion I trusted to be well informed in thought and research. This person was the amazing bell hooks and her book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love. Having read her thoughts on the matter of love in another one of her books, All About Love, I felt her insight on the modern male condition would both validate my concerns and propose ways to go about addressing the matter. I was not disappointed. In my reading I took 12 pages of notes (omg, ikr?). Here’s the gist of what hooks has to say on the matter.
“Patriarchal mores teach a form of emotional stoicism to men that says they are manly if they do not feel, but if by chance they should feel and the feelings hurt, the manly response is to stuff them down, to forget about them, to hope they go away.” (p. 5-6)
“The reality is that mean are hurting and that the whole culture responds to them by saying, ‘Please do not tell us what you feel.'” (p. 6)
“In patriarchal culture males are not allowed simply to be who they are and to glory in their unique identity. Their value is always determined by what they do.” (p. 11)
“Patriarchal boys, like their adult counterparts, know the rules: they know they must not express feelings, with the exception of anger; that they must not do anything considered feminine or womanly…Researchers found that boys agreed that to be truly manly, they must command respect, be tough, not talk about problems, and dominate females.” (p. 42)
“Men cannot speak their pain in patriarchal culture. Boys learn this in early childhood. As a girl, I was awed by a man in my church, a deacon, who would stand before the congregation and speak his love for the divine spirit. Often in the midst of his testimony he would begin to weep, sobbing tears into a big white handkerchief. The girls and boys who witnessed his tears were embarrassed for him, for in their eyes he was showing himself to be weak. When he wept, the men who stood beside him turned their eyes away. They were ashamed to see a man express intense feeling.” (p. 133)
“Sexist roles restrict the identity formation of male and female children, but the process is far more damaging to boys because not only are the roles required for them more rigid and confining, but they are much more likely to receive severe punishment when they deviate from these roles.'” (p. 153)
“When males are required to wear the mask of a false self, their capacity to live fully and freely is severely diminished. They cannot experience joy and they can never truly love.” (p. 154)
“As victims of child abuse via socialization in the direction of the patriarchal ideal, boys learn that they are unlovable. According to Bradshaw they learn that ‘relationships are based on power, control, secrecy, fear, shame, isolation, and distance.’ These are the traits often admired in the patriarchal adult man.” (p. 154-5)
“‘We live in an antirelational, vulnerability-despising culture, one that not only fails to nurture the skills of connection but actively fears them.’ Teaching boys to despise their vulnerability is one way to socialize them to engage in self-inflicted soul murder. This wound in the male spirit, caused by learned acts of splitting, of disassociation and disconnection, can only be healed by the practice of integrity.” (Quoted from Terrence Reel) (p. 155)
If you’re interested in reading all of the notes/quotes that I took from the book, find them here.
Patriarchal masculinity is what tells young men to objectify Beyoncé as a sex object instead of respecting her sexuality and appreciating her as the musical phenomenon she undoubtedly is. Patriarchal masculinity is what instructs parents to steer their sons away from favoring the color pink because “it’s a girl color”, even if the man child is naturally led to like the color because it appeals to him. Patriarchal masculinity is what tells young men to want sports cars or trucks over Volkswagen Beetles (personal experience). Patriarchal masculinity is what informs young men that they are to aspire to be soldiers, doctors, carpenters or police officers and not dancers, artists, nurses or beauticians.
Patriarchal masculinity is a cancer on society.
All of this is being said to submit the idea that we cultivate a society that allows boys and men to evolve into the people that they were truly meant to be and not at the hands of warped social concepts or ideas of what a man is specifically supposed to be. There is nothing wrong with wanting special things for the males in our lives, but one should always remember that a man’s life is to also to a great extent his own. No outside factor should determine who or what a man is in his own life. It should be his own voice to whom he listens to on the path to becoming his peculiar self.
Thoughts? I love them. Can’t wait to hear from you.