Masculinity, men and patriarchy

Monuments are for Pigeons has an interesting post on masculinity and contextualizes it within an economy. (With some visual vignettes from The Simpsons.)

Masculinity as independence, ‘being your own man’, is a lie. It’s used most often when men are the most dependent. The sergeant, foreman or manager is happy to employ tough guys, with no internal guide of feelings or compassion for the outside world. That gives the boss a free hand to impose whatever order he likes….

Luckily, whoever designed masculinity realized it wouldn’t work without a safety valve. Men are allowed to be angry, which is conveniently siphoned off into sports, barfights and woman abuse, or is put to good use in war.

That anger is terrifying for its targets: women, children, other men. But it can’t be understood as simply wrong or false. It has real roots. Think about the cliche of the angry old man in the cafe. He’s everywhere: the guy with battered white sneakers, a cold coffee and half a sandwich, glaring at everyone.

The myth of masculinity of course is very well exploited by socialism as well. There is this deep and dangerous association made between effeminate and elite. Like the elite in Russia spoke French. The elite was seen as too being too sissy in a sense. Women were seen as being potential production units – extra hands in factories. But I suppose it brought them out of the houses at least.

Some people will tell you that the masculine qualities are better than the feminine, and women will be equals only if they play the games “men play”. (I mean emotionally, economically and everything else.) Others will tell you that the masculine and feminine are not opposing or complementary – that there is not distinction between them at all. Some will tell you that female managers are better than male managers, because women possess softer qualities like better people management and a more decentralized power sharing system. Some like me have an issue with assuming that men cannot have these qualities, or that women must take one path – be as good as a man, or be good in something totally different. Or that people management is a soft”er” skill as compared to operations management.

Is the fundamental problem with “slotting” then? This world of black and white, where each skill must be fitted into this giant yin and yang? Each label neatly defined. Because I am guessing men are limited by patriarchal institutions too. (As I am not a man – I can only claim so much.) However, perhaps the limitations imposed on men and women can play out differently in terms of opportunities and glass ceilings. Women are expected to break down, and men aren’t allowed to.

I enjoyed reading Victor’s post because it’s rare that men discuss masculinity. So much of the discourse is dominated by dissing “feminity” or “masculinity” without examining the institutions that support gender roles. Gender is just many of the manifestations of patriarchal structures. The fundamental element is perhaps of power and how resources are distributed. In the long run, men – while they are limitations on them – are offered a better deal in terms of access to resources. But I keep coming back to the incredible bell hooks, who so beautifully articulated and structured the argument that contextualized the experiences of black women. Does a black woman’s experience of being oppressed and stereotyped have more in common with a black man, or with a white woman? Patriarchy did to women, what it would do later to people of a particular race, country or ethnicity. A nice, neat model of oppression.

Disclaimer: I do believe I am ranting a lot today. But that’s what a few good links and posts do to you. I don’t think I am right or wrong. But I like thinking aloud – and this is afterall a good place to do it.

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0 Responses to Masculinity, men and patriarchy

  1. nevermind says:

    What d’you mean, men aren’t allowed to break down? You break down if you want to. It’s a lot healthier than suppressing the negative emotion or projecting it onto something else. There’s a theory that men who are secure about their identities (whatever that is) find it a lot easier to cry than those who aren’t. Besides, it’s a free country:-)

    As for the yin/yang bit, the reason why that approach is so attractive is because it’s NOT black and white. It’s a dimensional and dynamic approach to gender, which implies that gender exists on a continuum. There’s yin in yang and vice versa. Besides, they can transform into each other. And that, it seems to me, celebrates the masculinity in a woman and the feminity in a man.


  2. megha says:

    As times change and social structures change, the traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity change as well. I personally think that accepted norms of masculinity cannot speak for ther diversity of men’s behaviour.
    Its the same for feminist stereotypes as well.But you already knew that.:)
    I like your ‘ranting’ today.:)


  3. angelo says:

    “Some like me have an issue with assuming that men cannot have these qualities, or that women must take one path – be as good as a man, or be good in something totally different.”

    WTF!!!! 😦

    Too much caffeine…. both sexes can possess equal qualities — IMHO. what are you on?

    so US-centric that “men can not have these qualities..,..


  4. nevermind: I don’t think men are allowed to break down. If they do – their masculinity is suspect. Of course identities have a lot to do with it. But institutions hijack both identity and identity formation no? Look at the Army for instance – if you show signs of not being able to bear some sort of pain – they will repeatedly ask you – “Are you wearing bangles? Are you a woman?” It works on two levels – it alienates you from your emotions, and alienates you from women by assuming there is a difference between the two. My problem with yin-yang comes from assuming that some qualities are inherently feminine and inherently masculine. Like “listening skills” are feminine, and “managing skills” are masculine. And they maybe in men or women. Balance yada yada. But why are some skills more feminine than others in the first place? (I understand that it might not mean that feminine is worse or better than masculine – but why anyway!)

    Megha: Thanks for seeing the point. 🙂

    Angelo: My experience is Indo-centric. I am saying precisely the same thing – that men CAN have any quality – regardless of their sex. Because human beings have these qualities. I am saying I have an issue with it!!


  5. nikita says:

    hey, i think it is wonderful that the blogosphere encourages engagement with important themes that run through all our lives. themes like masculinity and patriarchy and gender being central in this case.
    i’d call it an ideological engagement.
    it keeps getting called a rant though 😦 like inanities about who said what about who wore what is a comment. and questioning stereotypes and assumptions and dominant discourses is a ‘rant’?
    this isn’t aimed at you/your post. just a thought.


  6. nikita: Well yes. Thanks for noticing that I am giving out Rant disclaimers. Mostly because I am no mood to be defensive and deal with trolls and flamers. I’ve had posts which run into too many comments and are very “attacking” in nature. I am still thinking aloud. I don’t know the answers. I must try and shape my questions first.

    Rant – to me is merely a sign that says “This is the NOT the final word. – I am thinking aloud. – I am not trying to convert anyone here.” It doesn’t take anything away from its importance in my wider engagement with the discourse no?

    I have only such time in the day. And I cannot spend more than what I do on flames – hence the disclaimer. Convenient – but necessary.


  7. Nilu says:

    Disclaimer: I do because I can. I may not but I would because I could and maybe because I should. Which means I won’t. And, therefore don’t.


  8. Nilu: Good for you.


  9. nikita says:

    yes, of course i see your point, Neha. and just like blogs allow us the space to put our ideas out…they also give others the space to comment…favourably or what we have to say. and it is much easier to keep everyhting happy clappy..and not ruffle anything. for everyone around (the end of ideology argument). and when we do take a step into the not so happy clappy for everyone…we have to cover our tracks!
    but all in all…happy to see posts like yours…or the ones on women in the army, libertarianism etc floating around recently..and happy to see that they hit the spot enough to generate lots of comments. so here’s hoping we see an interesting discussion on this series!


  10. Nilu says:

    Ethavathu sonna, anubavii – aarayatdha.

    gooda, baada nnu kettena?


  11. Nilu says:

    what’s with this – ‘this is my blog, i will have to have the last word and therefore will reply to every comment regardless of how stupid it is’ syndrome?


  12. angelo says:

    lol! i just saw this cat fight on your comments here (Nilu & Neha), hilarious! thanks for making me smile. 🙂


  13. Victor says:

    Hey Neha,

    Thanks for the link. I think your comments are very insightful (and generated more discussion than mine did!) I think it’s so important to see patriarchy (or sexism, not sure which I prefer) as a system. It’s not just that men have sexist attitudes, though I think we all do; it’s that gender oppresses everyone who has a gender i.e. men as well. I was just having a talk with a female friend today, who said it must be hard for guys when they’re socialized to suppress their feelings. It’s so true. We’re not consciously afraid of appearing ‘womanly’; by the time we’re adolescents, the message is so ingrained in us that it’s not conscious at all. It’s repressed, and gets sublimated into all sorts of self-destructive activities – though useful for capitalist discipline, I’d argue.

    I wasn’t aware of French being an effeminate language for the Bolsheviks; certainly the leadership were well-versed in many languages. I have no doubt a lot of sexism went on in the Revolution, but I’d just add that, by challenging the material structures of capitalism, the Russian Revolution made possible a real challenge to the roots of sexism. They set up collective kitchens, daycares and co-ops so women didn’t have to labour unpaid in the home; abortion was free on demand; homosexuality was legalized decades before anywhere else, showing a real understanding of linked oppression. All that ended under Stalinism, when the Party brought back specifically macho role models: the Stakhanovites, the ‘model workers’ who were invariably male and always did what the State told them. Which presumably meant not expressing their feelings 🙂

    For further reading, Alexandra Kollontai, a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee, wrote “Love of Worker Bees”, a semi-fictional novel about her attempts to set up a collective household and negotiate new gender and work relationships.