Whose Masculinity Is It Anyway?

Posted: November 26, 2011 in Feminism, Gender Violence, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,



When I search the Guardian website using the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ separately, invariably all that comes up for ‘men’ is stories about sport, violence, and crime.

The main message of the Guardian about men has been summed up by Suzanne Moore: ‘men do horrible, horrible things’.

So I was not surprised when today, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, two established feminist academics decided to tell us about the ‘cost of masculinity culture’.

Cynthia Cockburn and Ann Oakley wrote:

‘The fact that men are mainly responsible for violent and health-harming behaviours, not only against women and children but also against each other, is so taken for granted that it slips beneath the radar of commentators and policymakers.’

Take the riots of August this year. ..92% of the first 466 defendants were male. Something yet more significant went unremarked: of the 124 individuals charged with offences involving violence, all were male.’

As our trusty tweeter @How_Upsetting remarked, this kind of categorising of people who cause violence and crime can only really be tolerated by the liberal intelligentsia when the ‘culprits’ are seen to be men:

@HowUpsetting: @Notorious_QRG  I’d like to see them dare write a similar article about ‘black culture’ causing crime. They’d be crucified.

The two feminists went on to justify their men-bashing using quotes from feminist history:

‘In 1959 the social scientist and policy activist Barbara Wootton looked at the crime statistics and remarked that “if men behaved like women, the courts would be idle and the prisons empty”. Half a century later theBritish Crime Survey and police crime figures bear her out.’

And this is where I lost it really. Because the fact is, in 2011, 50 years after that statement was made, men do behave more like women.

As you should all know by now, Mark Simpson has been telling us how metrosexual masculinity has blurred the lines of the  ’gender divide’ to the point of almost dissolution.

In the introduction to his latest book, Metrosexy, he wrote:

‘Metrosexuality and whatever comes after it, when all is said and done, isn’t really about men becoming “gay” or “girly.” Nor is it about visiting spas and wearing flip flops or carrying manbags. Rather, metrosexuality is about men becoming everything. To themselves. In much the same way that women have been for some time…It’s the end of the sexual division of bathroom and bedroom labour.  It’s the end of sexuality as we’ve known it.’  (Simpson, 2011: 8).

So the whole premise of this article, that there is a ‘culture of masculinity’ that is distinctly different from the ‘culture of femininity’ is wrong.

The writers go on, despite their use of the word ‘culture’ to produce a very biological determinist view of men’s situations in society:

‘Some of the costs of masculinity are paid individually. Boys are “permanently excluded” from school at a rate four times higher than for girls and attain fewer GCSE and A-levels than girls. But what of the overall costs to society?

Testosterone, the male hormone, the “metaphor of manhood”, is portrayed as driving men inexorably towards aggressive behaviour. Yet studies show that testosterone is related to status-seeking but not directly to aggression. Many other factors are influential. Testosterone levels are increased or diminished in both males and females by diet, activity and circumstance. The opportunity to interact with guns, for instance, appears to increase testosterone, while men’s testosterone levels fall when they are involved with the care of children.’

These women are very experienced feminist academics. So they know what they are doing when they are combining in a rather obfuscating manner, the discourses of ‘gender essentialism’ with those of ‘social constructionism’. They tell us that we should not reduce men and women to that nursery rhyme about boys being made of ‘snips and snails’ and girls of ‘sugar and spice’ but that is exactly what they are doing.

As I, and Mark Simpson have written about before, this is yet another example of female columnists posing as ‘a defender of [their sex]. Dressed in cliches’.

And they get away with it because misandry is ‘the acceptable prejudice’ and because the erasure of men is institutionalised in feminist gender studies. This is ironic as the two authors here claim to be suggesting we should all study men and masculinities more closely, when they, the feminist academics have been deliberately not doing that for years.

On a day when the Graun’s editorial joined in with the man-bashing, I think the Guardian has reached a point of no-return in its misandry and its victim feminism stance.
  1. typhonblue says:

    “The opportunity to interact with guns, for instance, appears to increase testosterone, while men’s testosterone levels fall when they are involved with the care of children.”

    Well let them take care of children then.

    Oh wait. They’ll molest and abuse them.

    Ya know, this self-contradictory man-shaming seems to be an end in and of itself. What’s it’s real purpose I wonder?

    • Hi typhon

      yes I think it is an end in and of itself. The ‘contradictions’ are used deliberately to portray men in a certain light. Like I said in the piece the article is by two very experienced academics. It’s not like a mistake! 😀

  2. With mixed messages like these its really no wonder that men under the age of about 35 no longer care what anyone says about them. Every path you take in life is a trap with shame at the end. I figured out before I was in university that anyone with an opinion about the way I should or shouldn’t behave is trying to sell me something in their own interest. I know a couple of men that aren’t even aware of all the gender politics conciously that still checked out of traditional expectations because they were exhausted by ridiculous contradictory standards.

    Great Blog QRG, thanks for all the interesting reading!

    • Hi Shane
      Nice to see you. Thanks for your comment!

      Interesting insight to how young men react to this kind of crap. I think it does have an effect, like you say even if people aren’t aware consciously of the politics involved.

  3. Yay! I always love your posts on metrosexuality. Though, I’m unsure about the correlation between metrosexual men and how that means sexuality will no longer exist. Or maybe I do? If I may talk out my thoughts? : Perhaps it’s this idea that sexuality is really based on performance, versus actual sex organs. This might be why straight women – more so than other orientations of women – are desperate to put other men in boxes and define them. How men represent themselves is often seen as an extension of sexual orientation itself.

    I’ve see this (via other people’s experiences) in the lesbian community too. How two studs/masculine women is perceived as being “gay”. Some feminist lesbians ID this as a form of patriarchal culture and lesbians trying to emulate it, or some for of self-hate. But, I really think that at its core, we see gender representation as something akin to sexuality. I dunno. Am I making any sense? This is a new concept to me so I’m trying to tease out what it all means to me and what my thoughts are. :3

    But – great post! So insightful and interesting.

  4. Paul says:

    As a fellow under-35 male, I gotta agree with Shane. male-female relations for guys of my generation (unless you’re the sort of guy who’s hyper-attractive enough to get away with it) are full of a dizzying array of double standards that you can’t really win.

    We’re told women do more work around the house, because the sort of work men do isn’t counted

    Men and women are equal until the check comes, then I have to pay

    It’s her choice whether to stay home with the kids or not, but I’d better get a damn job.

    If she does stay home with the kids, then I’d better damn well help with them when I get back from my job, after all, she’s been with them all day and they’re my kids too. But…

    If I’m home with them (because I’m a lazy bum who can’t seem to get a job, of course) then if I expect any help from her when she gets home I get accused of forcing her into a “second shift”

    It just amazes me how all these women who write these “where are all the good men” articles are so completely unself-aware, it never occurs to them to look in the mirror and go “gee, maybe it’s me?”

    • yep very true Paul. They certainly aren’t self-aware.

    • Henry says:

      I’ve got this slightly Daily Mail-style opinion that many young women these days have been encouraged (largely by each other, but also by older feminists) to be selfish, and so it’s just become a matter of what they can get away with in relationships. Not what’s right and wrong..for anything they do there’s a justification – even for double standards there’s a justification: men had the better deal (so many women tell themselves) for ages so it’s ok to have all the power now. I could go on and on about this..

      It’s a kind of tough negotiation wrt the world of relationships – turning the whole thing into war instead of the joy it should be. We are “entitled” to the best possible partner, an expect superb behaviour, and meanwhile we’ll do precisely what we feel like doing..

      I kind of blame the Spice girls and their generation for this – it was loudly proclaimed that women should have it all in a rather spoilt way in the mid to late 90s. Ridiculous, but I think later generations think this to some degree as well. A side benefit of being in the single scene then was that casual sex was seen as empowering by quite a few at that time

      Looking at the provocative way teenage girls dress now, though, I still feel as though I missed out – maybe just a midlife crisis 🙂

      • Henry says:

        Hm that’s interesting – I think I should stress I’m thinking of 19 yr-olds in that last sentence, lest any misunderstanding cloud my excellent dissection of feminist rhetoric!

  5. john smith says:

    In manufacturing a “testosterone” social crisis, these two feminist academics also suggest that a solution is possible. But they don’t elaborate. I wonder if the the solution they have in mind is form of hormone therapy for all men, or some sort behavioural treatment (clockwork orange)?

    • Ha yes john it does get quite eerie that article. There is always an element of eugenics lurking behind the more extreme feminist stances.

      some of the comments showed it up on that graun piece by saying sarcastically ‘ok then if men cause all the problems lets exterminate them’

      • john smith says:

        Yes, I have noticed the same trend. But I was trying to allude to, where do they place the source of the “problem of masculinity”. In the biology of male body or in the male mind?

  6. Jonathan says:

    “If men committed as little crime as women it would pay for the deficit.” … “The fact that men are mainly responsible for violent and health-harming behaviours” … “men are responsible for 97% of dangerous driving offences and 94% of motoring offences causing death or bodily harm.”

    What is this group “men”? Is it all men? Or just some men? If the latter, then which men? Does “men” include me? Define what you mean by “men” please.

    I wouldn’t normally bother to post on this, but I’ve just been reading Dworkin again, and she’s full of stuff about “men”, so I’m in a bad mood.

    “The case we are making is that certain widespread masculine traits and behaviours are dangerous and costly both to individuals and society. They are amenable to purposeful change. The culture of masculinity can be, and should be, addressed as a policy issue.”

    Widespread to who? To “men”? And “the culture of masculinity”? Whose culture? Which culture? Specifically. Define what you mean by “masculinity” please.

    Well, we can all get worked up about unwarranted aggression and violence, in whatever form it takes, wherever it comes from, and wherever it’s directed. And it might indeed be nice to change things so it didn’t happen so often. But on this Cockburn and Oakley have nothing useful to say. All they offer is useless statistics and lazy, sexist rhetoric.

    Or to put it another way: Drivel.

    • Henry says:

      Yes, you’ve picked up on one of the standard tactics of feminist polemicists. Germaine Greer used this with a remark in the Female Eunuch along the lines of “Women don’t realise how much men hate them” (then elaborating language men use when on the pull as “proof” of this)

      Isn’t that a classic? Never mind the customary illogical inference of misogyny from no evidence at all, we’ve no idea whether she means some men, some women, all men, all women. I think she was asked to clarify at one stage, because she also came up with the similarly opaque “All men hate some women some of the time and some men hate all women all of the time”

      It’s typical politics. If you are a politician never say or promise anything precise, or people can use your words against you. And yet feminists flatter themselves that they are doing serious academic work – calling it women’s/gender studies – whilst simply using the age-old tactic of slippery politicians: being vague, and letting gullible people draw their own conclusions from what you say.

      Feminism is politics, everything they say needs to be seen in this light, not as factual statements.

  7. Eagle33 says:

    The reason these feminists can say whatever they want about men and get away with it is because nobody challenges them. Not a single protest. Well, here there is. But where they work as academics? All you’ll hear is kind agreement from their colleagues.

    As far as this statement is concerned from one of them:

    “‘In 1959 the social scientist and policy activist Barbara Wootton looked at the crime statistics and remarked that “if men behaved like women, the courts would be idle and the prisons empty”.

    I’ll bet if men behaved like women, they’d also be telling them to man up and get things done instead of whining.

    Masculanity is poison to them unless it benefits their ideology.

      • Jonathan says:

        Whereas I don’t really agree – because “masculinity” is never sufficiently defined in this context to be regarded as anything, poison or otherwise. It’s just some vague word that refers vaguely to “men” and is bandied about in a lazy and sexist way.

        To discuss (and define) masculinity seriously would also require discussing female masculinity – and somehow that never features in this sort of article.

        • Eagle33 says:

          I should clarify. They only look at the negative side of masculanity or try to paint it as negative when it gets in the way of women’s rights

          • I think you’re both right. I can see how Eagle33 used ‘masculinity’ to refer to -that pertaining to men, and how Jonathan used it to refer to any ‘masculine’ characteristics/behaviours of anyone.

  8. Lawrence says:


    This whole debate remided me of this from about a year and a half ago. About how all young males are lazy, essentially.

    So men, espeially young men, are Lazy AND violent (according to the various statistics dredged up by the authors of these two articles) and would be much better if they acted like women (or there fathers) – quite a lovely stereotype forming I think.

    Would love to be able to write something witty or profound about this, but tbh, I’d quite like it if all these people writing would just fuck off and allow young men to speak for themselves.

    (plus what is the deal with people just writing about ‘men’? Wouldn’t have got higher than a C in A level sociology if you didn’t link your analysis to age, race or class as well)

    • yes it’s incredibly blunt an instrument the article. and like I said they knew what they were doing because they are very experienced academics.

      • Jonathan says:

        Except that they’re both now getting on in years — and, as we know, “older people” are statistically rather more slow and stupid than “younger people”. I think this culture of senility should be addressed as a policy issue.

  9. […] QRGirl’s post, Whose Masculinity Is It Anyway, a thought […]

  10. leta says:

    I hate being on premoderation in the guardian. Trying to explain why there are men complaining about kate Bolick’s article. Like pointing out that it appears she doesn’t date any man who is beneath her in status like a teacher.
    Someone replied “Maybe she wants to have a nice intellectual chat sometimes. Maybe intellectual chats do it for her… surely that’s no crime. ”
    Which just shits me because i want to tell that person that assuming someone who is working class or a teacher can’t carry an intelligent conversation isn’t exactly progressive and i can’t reply….

    All in premoderation…

  11. redpesto says:

    @Jonathan: CiF had a long period of people BTL insisting on the usage of ‘some‘ men (or women) in articles on gender – except that the article doesn’t bother with any of that, so it has no idea why other men manage to behave themselves….not least because their reasons for doing so might not have anything to do with feminism.

  12. Jonathan says:

    Ah, right.

    “because their reasons for doing so might not have anything to do with feminism”

    Indeed – lol. I can’t say I think about feminism all that much when I decide not to go out and smash something up or run somebody over.

  13. redpesto says:

    For info: a couple of readers point out the flaws in the article in the Letters page. I like this bit:

    Testosterone is the main problem, they say (obviously related, though, to Man the Hunter, Meat Eater, Life-Taker and Lentil-Burger Rejecter), in an article that never mentions social class or economic background once – amazing.

    I bet the writer hasn’t read The Sexual Politics of Meat (executive summary: ‘Pork is violence against women’), otherwise he’d realise that ‘Man the Meat-Eater’ isn’t comic exaggeration, but an entire strand of feminist thought).

  14. leta says:

    This article here seems to stand out in the guardian. Not necessarily because of what it says but rather what it doesn’t say. There is no hate involved, no positioning of women being “THE REAL VICTIMS” and a (naive?) belief that feminism is supposed to be about equality.


  15. […] look at this total erasure of men’s voices and men’s perspectives as a conspiracy by feminist academics and female columnists against men. The author of this article is called ‘Maysa’ […]

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