Saturday, December 7, 2013

Project Feminist Masculinity

For my final project, I chose to create a short video: (the first I've ever made, so forgive the quality) to get a discussion started about masculinity, patriarchal manhood and what it is doing to our boys and men. Furthermore, I would like for this video to be a call for change from both men and women regarding this very rigidly and statically defined, patriarchal notion of manhood.

I am a victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a man. This man too was a victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of another man. And the cycle probably goes back and has been perpetuated for too long now. I am also a child who grew up in a physically violent household, one in which emotional terrorism was such a constant that when I finally became an adult and didn't experience it on a daily basis from my partner, I rejected him. He was not "man enough" for me. He was too emotional and sensitive for me and that is exactly what I told my patriarchal female friends who quickly understood my dilemma and agreed that it was for the best.
What were the qualities deemed "not man enough"? Too emotional? Empathy. A desire to talk problems out rather than subject the other person to emotional terrorism, physical abuse and worse.
Why did I think this way and why did so many of my educated friends think so too?

"Man Up" defines patriarchal masculinity
bell Hooks in The Will to Change: Men Masculinity and Love, claims that the crisis facing men is "the crisis of patriarchal masculinity"  and that it is both men and women who "participate in this tortured value system (31, 33). She goes on to argue that "patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation...yet, most men never think about patriarchy-what it means, how it is created and sustained...there is no mass concern for the plight of men" (hooks, 17, 30).
Meanwhile, everyday in the U.S., men are more and more violent (physically and sexually). They are the violent abusers of themselves and others. According to, 90% of violent physical assault is by men. 95% of domestic violence and 90% of child sexual abuse is committed by men. They are too often also the killers of themselves and others: Over 85% of people who commit murder are men. Patriarchy has not yet satisfied, has not left them feeling whole and they've taken to committing suicide in record numbers or otherwise perpetuating and inflicting the pain they cannot express on those deemed weaker. And still, given our society's patriarchal definition of manhood, violence is equated with a natural will specific to men on the basis that there is a "biological connection between having a penis and the will to do violence" (55).
Terrence Real calls violence "boyhood socialization" and argues that the way we turn boys into men is through injury, by pulling them "away from their own expressiveness" (60). He goes on to argue that it is disconnection which defines masculinity. bell hooks argues this point further, stating that the "first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence towards women. Instead, patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves" (66). For this reason it is essential that we STOP explaining away violence by insisting on a biological male instinct bent on abusing.
Tony Stark must always protect Pepper
In this sense, our current notion of patriarchal masculinity makes our men emotionless, violent dominators in a constant power struggle. Not adhering to these very static definitions of manhood would be shameful and embarrassing for men since other patriarchal men and women would quickly enact rituals of power that would make him get back in line. hooks tells us that "men simply do not get that love and abuse cannot go together" and then questions "why should they" since everywhere in our media and our popular culture, the message is the same, where there is intense passion, violence is almost inevitable (67).
In our top 20 movies of 2013, 14 had a singular male protagonist and most of those protagonists were men going on journeys that involved going to war, fighting a battle and appearing heroic by fighting alone and away from home.
Robin Thicke glorified for being a sexual predator
If men aren't angry and violent, then they are portrayed as men obsessed with sex and constantly on the prowl for the sexual object that is woman. See Robin Thicke's music video, Blurred Lines. OR any advertisement, billboard, tv show, etc. There is this perception prevalent in patriarchal culture that men NEED to have sex extremely frequently. If they don't, he will be led to sexual violence and misconduct. Because, in our media and our society, the notion that 'he's gotta have it' is so prevalent that we truly believe as hooks points out that "a man deprived of sexual access will ultimately be sexual with anybody" or he will "act out...go crazy" (78). In this way, we once again excuse away sexual violence. When in reality, sex is merely a way of reinforcing the patriarchal male dominator model and in doing so reaffirming male selfhood.
If we look at our movies, tv shows, ads, social media, etc. the messages are all the same. Man is expected to be a certain way and there is very little, if any, room for deviation of that patriarchal norm. When asked questions such as "what are the qualities of a real man," "how are men portrayed in the media," "when is it appropriate for a man to cry in public," and "have you ever told anyone to 'man up,'" the answers overwhelmingly align with the images we see in our mainstream media.
Meanwhile, our men are killing themselves, each other and women in alarming numbers. We can sit here and keep saying that 'real men' are supposed to be tough, strong, dependable, breadwinner, etc. We can keep telling them to 'man up' and negatively equate it to being the opposite of a woman. We can even tell them it is never appropriate for men to cry in public and that they shouldn't be victims. The fact of the matter is, they are. And we, as patriarchal men and women are helping to reinforce those notions when we should be embracing men. We should be helping them understand why 1 in 6 males are sexually abused before the age of 16. We should be telling them that over 70% of males don't report abuse at the time it occurs and that they should not be ashamed to. Instead of calling Ed (who told his story in Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse) gay for being forced to give his older brother blow jobs at the age of 10, we should be encouraging more men like Ed to come forward with their stories and do away with this notion that men aren't men if they are victimized. Instead of accepting Chris Brown's story that he lost his virginity at 8, we should be working towards a world in which Chris Brown doesn't need to make up stories about his sexual prowess and excessive manhood but instead would be talking about his rape openly with no negative ramifications.
I hope this will be a call for change. A call for Feminist Manhood over Patriarchal Masculinity. A call for a definition of man that does not abuse, hurt and kill men and the rest of us.
Works Cited:
  • hooks, Bell. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love.
         New York: Washington Square Press, 2004.


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