Rigid Masculinity: A War We Do Not Speak Of
Patriarchy, a system in which men hold the social power, is deeply ingenious for letting us believe that its means for fighting a war on emotional expression is precisely by breeding individuals devoid of it. Should we look closer, we would see that men, the agents in question, are to be devoid of emotions by instead channeling power, anger, courage, strength, and confidence. In the process, they ought to reject affection, care, sensitivity, vulnerability, and empathy. And, to see that would be to know that this is not at all a fight against emotional expression as much as it is a fight against those emotions we traditionally associate with girls and women― against what we feminize.
In teaching masculinity, we have painted for boys a picture of a dominant hierarchy at the bottom of which their female counterparts reside and at the top of which they not only belong but can climb by emulating control and exerting power. This renders masculinity a competitive and never-ending fight in which virtually all boys are thrown into along their path to manhood. Somewhere along the way, we have underestimated the agency of our industries, educational systems, and teaching styles in birthing men to whom this system is both a source of deep power and excruciating pain. The confines of emotional constriction that we have imposed on masculinity coupled with pressure to outperform have left them very little room for authentic expression. In asking men that they devalue their relational parts, erase emotional language, and know only intimacy through sexuality in order to fit into the picture of a man that is man enough, we have effectively created a vicious cycle of loneliness and isolation out of which violence is the only resort. The boy who struggles to connect with his dad, should he be present, will fit into that picture. The teenager who uses drinking and drug use as an escape will fit into that picture. The man who is expelled from school for misconduct will fit into that picture. The partner who does not quite know how to reciprocate intimacy in relationships will fit into that picture too.
The World Health Organization (WHO) global statistics show us that this is a global crisis to which no man is an exception. In childhood and adolescence, boys experience higher rates of bullying than women. They also represent 95% of all homicide perpetrators globally while also taking their lives at rates 2 times higher than their female counterparts. Masculinity, as we know it today, is both painful to those who emulate it and the world into which they move with it.
That is exactly why ideas of idealized masculinity warrant questioning as to understand why they exist and for what purpose. And this is perhaps best illustrated by observing what happens when men deviate from those norms. Because masculinity rests on a hierarchy that places masculine men at the top and women at the bottom, men who exhibit female characteristics are often ostracized and othered for not conforming. Sexism, as an institutionalized system against women on the basis of sex, and homophobia, as a discriminatory system against the femininity exhibited by gay people, are much closer to each other than we realize. At their core, both are wars on what we deem feminine― from emotional expression to ways of presenting. The connection that is perhaps the most important to make here is that idealized masculinity is not just a siloed value for masculine men but is supported by a historical system that awards them leadership, social privilege, opportunity, and control of property. We call it the patriarchy. And when we look closer into the characteristics of what men need to emulate in order to be awarded a spot within the patriarchy, we also see that it is closely related to capitalist ways of operating. Dominance, physical strength, power, independence, self-confidence, efficiency, persistence, courage. Ideologies surrounding rigid masculinity effectively birth men that join the patriarchy to act as capitalist agents, an economic system that is itself not known for having a sustainable foundation.
The widely stigmatized experiences of women and gay men point to a deeply routed war, a war on a rejection of everything that is feminine. And while the memories of our long-lasting refusal to hear their cries will certainly be carried with us, let us at least hear the cracks in the cries of the boys and men who, them too, are asking that we march in a different direction.