Toward the end of last year, I read an article in the UK newspaper, The Guardian, entitled ‘The Culture of Masculinity Costs All Too Much To Ignore’. But the url left clues as to a draft title which was even more damning: ‘Dangerous Masculinity Everyone Risk’. In the piece, two senior feminist academics basically blamed men and boys for all the trouble in the world. They wrote:
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 the British Crime Survey and police crime figures bear her out. In 2009-10, men were perpetrators in 91% of all violent incidents in England and Wales. The figures vary by type of incident: 81% for domestic violence, 86% for assault, 94% for wounding, 96% for mugging, 98% for robbery. MoJ figures for 2009 show men to be responsible for 98%, 92% and 89% of sexual offences, drug offences and criminal damage respectively. Of child sex offenders, 99% are male. The highest percentages of female offences concern fraud and forgery (30%), and theft and handling stolen goods (21% female).
I was horrified by this misandry, being presented as ‘sensible’ social analysis in a national paper. But I was not exactly surprised. As I have written about here at GMP before, feminist-dominated gender studies demonises men, when it is not completely ignoring them:
Feminism has done three things, particularly in relation to masculinity, which relate to how gender studies has come to ignore and belittle men’s experiences and perspectives:any academic treatment of gender has been focused on the disadvantages faced by women and how women have been “omitted” from research, arts, literature, history, etc. Heterosexual masculinity, in particular, has been “pathologized” by some feminist gender academics, and taking an active interest in men and masculinity has been presented as “gay” in itself.
However, I prefer to look on the positive side of gender, and of men. This site is called the ‘good men’ project after all. What, in spite of the bad rep men get across the board, is good about masculinity?
The first word that jumps to my mind to describe what’s good, no great, about masculinity, is ‘change’. Men—and what is expected of them—are changing so quickly that possibilities keep opening up all the time.
One of the key areas of change for men in contemporary culture is style and self-expression. Gone are the days where men were limited to wearing grey suits or boring jeans. Men’s fashions have expanded and diversified so that boys can develop their sense of personal style and feel good about the way they look, just as women do. This is illustrated by things like the fact that in June 2012, London will host the first evermen’s week in the fashion show calendar. And by the fact that metrosexual sports stars such as David Bekcham and Rafael Nadal are known just as much for their menswear modelling as their sporting achievements. Also, it is now possible to buy male beauty products and cosmetics, including make up, false eyelashes and fake tan. Vanity, whether you think it is ‘good’ or not, is here to stay, and it is accepted now as a preserve of men as well as women.
Another way that men, and gender roles are changing is in terms of what is considered ‘man’s work’ and ‘women’s work’. These days it is much more acceptable for men to do jobs previously thought of as ‘feminine’ (or gay), such as nursing, childcare and performing arts. And in the home, men are more likely to look after the children and do the shopping and cooking. This marks the approaching end of the division of labour between men and women that was traditionally a key aspect of gendered inequalities.
Perhaps one of the most important changes for men has been in the realm of physicality. Recent research has shown that far from being cold, unfeeling, and restrained, men are becoming more affectionate with everyone, and in particular, with each other. Kisses on the cheek have replaced handshakes in greetings, and young men even ‘snog’ their male friends as they might a girl friend. Nowadays, text messages and emails between men often end in an “x” (a kiss), and the phrase ‘I love you man’ is becoming more and more common. I think these shifts are great in and of themselves, but they also relate to social justice issues such as homophobia and LGBT rights. Gay marriage is becoming legal in many places, and likely to spread, and rights of recognition for trans identities are coming into being. This is all happening in a context where men are increasing their flexibility and opening up to new ways of being men.
Something that is sometimes overlooked by everyone, is that ‘masculinity’ does not just relate to men. One of the changes I have noticed lately that I celebrate, is how masculinity is being explored by a range of people of various gender identities, and is becoming more fluid as an aspect of gender. Drag kings have had a resurgence, as documented by writers such as Rachel White, and women in general are free to dress and act in ‘masculine ways’ in contemporary culture. Many of us women don’t think twice about wearing jeans or drinking pints of beer, but this has not always been acceptable behavior for ‘a lady’. Trans people are leading the way in blurring the divide between ‘man’ and woman’, ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. Some trans people make a point of expressing themselves in a ‘non-conforming’ way, and some actually call themselves ‘gender queer’ instead of trans. So if you have a stereotype image in your mind of an uber-femme trans woman in high heels and a tight dress, it is probably wrong. Beyond trans identities, men such as Andrej Pejic and DJ Spanglish are rejecting the traditional expectations of masculinity altogether, and just being themselves.
I sometimes get accused of being a man myself, largely due to my anti-feminist stance in gender politics. But, far from the insult it is intended to be, I take it as a huge compliment. Partly because I love men and masculinity, but also because it shows how gender expression is transforming and, especially online, it is not always possible to tell who is a man and who is a woman. I’d like to live in a world where that distinction is meaningless, and from what I can see, we are on the way to that world being a reality.