About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (a bad wordplay on Orwell's "double plus good" and old machismo - I'm the realest after all) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear' or 'Unripe language'), the umbrella of several literary projects in Dutch.

This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Why is this in English why everything else in Dutch? Because I want to gun for a much wider audience here. Also, my literary English isn't good enough, otherwise I would always write in English.

Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Men at work (V)

What can we do?

No matter how many feminists will make similar analyses, they are all stillborn if we can’t get men to work against these stereotypes themselves. Many men already do, in one way or another, but lack knowledge of the deeper structures that underpin these notions. For example, reclaiming or rebranding things as ‘manly’ doesn’t work. It’s just shifting the problem. Neither does it work to talk about incorporating ‘feminine’ traits.

All of the items discussed above need not be typical of so many men. It’s important that some of us can take the first step, any step – whether it’s going against a stereotype among your friends that guys are always up for sex, or whether it’s encouraging friends to talk about how they feel. In many cases, you might be surprised to find that a lot of guys are also chafing under this cultural yoke, policed by pop culture in general and their true-believers (of either gender) in particular. But the power of these notions can fade if people stop subscribing to them and expose them for the bullshit they are.

It’s not just talk, it’s action as well. You can take a look at how you help raise your kids, or how you speak of or speak to women. In theory, it should be easier for us to help tear this structure down, because we are at the top. Men tend to listen more to other men. In practice, it won’t always be easy. It’s one thing to advise a friend not to believe that women who sleep around are sluts, it’s another to challenge a status quo among ourselves because in many ways, it’s so comfortable. But it hurts people every day, poisons relationships and friendships, and has a big part to play in how messed up society is. So – to work, men. We’ve got things to do.

Men at work (IV)

3. Men are the stronger sex

On average, men are physically larger and stronger than women. Part of this is genetic, of course - you can't will yourself to be taller - but it's also true that we put great stock in the strength or athletic ability of a man to determine his value. Boys are much more likely to be encouraged and incentivised to develop strength, build muscle and hone athletic skills. Again, this strength focus ties into the taboo on showing weakness or vulnerability, both on a physical and on an emotional level.

“Might makes right.”

Through movies, stories and pop culture, all too often we still teach boys that at least in some cases, aggression is a good way to resolve a conflict or reach a goal. While the days of street duels are behind us, this notion still has a lot of purchase, certainly under the guise of the man-as-protector. This is really not so innocent: perpetrators of lethal violence are almost always men.
  • Consequence for men: Greater chance of becoming aggressors and bullies as well as victims
  • Consequence for women: Greater likelihood of becoming victims of aggression

“Strength determines worth.”

While there are celebrated female sports icons, the field is still dominated by men (who also get paid the most). From steroid abuse in bodybuilding culture to the victim-blaming when men who are only famous for their strength or dexterity engage in questionable behaviour (hello Steubenville), it's all part of a toxic idea that men are worth more in society if they are physically strong.
  • Consequence for men: Absurd 'hiding in plain sight' hierarchy among men based on strength
  • Consequence for women: Professional female athletes often get their femininity questioned

“If it's for women, it's not worth it.”

This and the next point are a little more contentious. As is evident, the label 'feminine' is, in many cases, essentially a negative one, even if it is couched in benevolent terms, which is nothing more than a 'separate but equal' discourse that never challenges the status quo. However, as more women move into spheres previously strongly dominated by men, men start an exodus from those spheres and patriarchy lowers these spheres’ worth. Examples include teaching, the arts and many administrative tasks.
  • Consequences for men: Narrowing of 'acceptable' domains in life
  • Consequences for women: Moving into formerly male spheres doesn't increase their status, but decreases the status of the spheres they've moved into

“Learning is for weak men.”

There is certainly something like an intellectual macho. In fact, there are plenty of them to go round, with the age-old stereotype that men are supposedly more logical and good at science always at their fingertips. At the same time, this conflicts with another patriarchy-sanctioned view on masculinity that is vehemently anti-intellectual. This idea is on the rise again as in many Western countries, the majority of students in higher education are now women. The nuance and subtlety required to engage in complex thinking is interpreted wishy-washy, whereas supposedly ‘real men’ are expected to just know things and make black-and-white decisions.
  • Consequences for men: Ignorance is encouraged
  • Consequences for women: Denigration of the advances they've made in education parity

On to the closing remarks.

Men at work (III)

2. Men lack emotions

The convenient explanation for differences in emotional behaviour between men and women has always been one rooted in poorly understood research or outright pseudoscience. By denying that both genders are ruled by emotions just as much as they are ruled by rational thought, it gives way to the snippy little assaults from patriarchy-enabling but women-oriented media that sometimes portray men as emotional mutes, and adds to being male the status of being more 'rational', i.e. more competent and thus better at stuff.

“Men are bad at empathy.”

Bunk pseudoscience claims that women are better at gauging feelings in others because they focus more on how others feel. It's not hard to see that as a result of being taught to be nice and more family-oriented. Men, on the other hand, are taught no such things. They are taught to focus on ambition, getting ahead, and being competitive, traits that don’t dovetail well with empathy. This stereotype is dangerous on another level as well, because it gives sexual harassers the excuse of misreading signals.
  • Consequence for men: Underdeveloped empathy skills lead to selfish decision-making
  • Consequence for women: Difficulties in getting men to empathise with their plight

“Male emotions don’t really matter.”

It's not that our culture refuses to see that men have emotions, but they are certainly not discussed at length. Media devoted to women tends to focus a lot on feelings – life stories, friendships, relationships and family (this is not without its own problematic consequences) – whereas media devoted to men doesn’t. At any rate, this may leave men with underdeveloped emotional personalities who outsource emotional labour to the women around them.
  • Consequence for men: Forced detachment
  • Consequence for women: Some women get the additional burden of having to make sense of men's emotions on top of their own because men have never been taught to do it

“Men are not allowed to show emotion.”

Previous section touched upon it already, but it deserves its own discussion: a man who displays emotion is displaying weakness, lowering his status as the stable cornerstone of a traditional patriarchal family. I sense that there has even been a hardening in this field in the past decades. Two centuries ago, male poets and artists spoke freely about sensorial experiences and emotions in ways that would make a lot of modern men feel uncomfortable. An exception is anger, and this creates its own set of problems.
  • Consequence for men: Repressed emotions
  • Consequence for women: Being emotional is seen as a net negative because it's 'female'

On to part IV.

Men at work (II)

1. Men always desire sex

One of the biggest and most persistent notions in patriarchal society is that men supposedly think about sex every seven seconds. Not only is that idea preposterous, it's a damaging attitude that results in a couple of other widely-held beliefs.

“Men can't control their desires.”

This one is often brought up as the reason why women should not be wearing any revealing clothing, whether it's a short skirt in the West or something that isn't a wholesale tent in a particularly dire corner of the Middle East. Men, overcome with lust, would supposedly drop all civilization and let their dick do the thinking (and acting). Even if it were true, civilisation is all about rationality prevailing over base urges and instincts. A similar excuse is that men want to “spread their seed” in a drive to create as much offspring as possible. Since no one has ever observed a paleothic human being, this can’t even be proven, but the same reasoning applies. We’re taught from an early age to exercise restraint in almost every aspect of life, so it’s not like desire for sex should be this huge exception.

  • Consequence for men: A convenient excuse for infidelity, sexual abuse and harassment
  • Consequence for women: Getting the blamed for sexual assault

“All men are secretly rapists.”

Contrary to what antifeminists believe, it is patriarchy and not feminism that believes that all men are at least capable of rape (see above). Rapists themselves certainly believe it. It stems from the false idea that rape results from uncontrollable lust or miscommunication, while the real issue is violent domination. Unfortunately, we talk far too little about telling men not to rape and seek consent, but prefer telling potential victims to take cautionary measures.

  • Consequence for men: Passive acceptance that rapists are part of the male population
  • Consequence for women: Burden is shifted on them to avoid rape

“Men can't really be raped (unless by other men).”

One reason why men find it hard to speak about being sex abuse victims is because the traditional view of male sexuality holds that they're always "up for it" anyway, so they cannot possibly be raped in the traditional sense. Unless by another man. Then they are the bitch, i.e. they figuratively become women, which is telling of the status women occupy in traditional masculinity. Female-to-male rape is likely understudied, but unfortunately frequently only brought up by antifeminists to discredit awareness campaigns centring on sexual violence.

  • Consequence for men: Huge barrier to speak about sexual assault experiences
  • Consequence for women: Reinforcement of passive sex role, invisibility of female offenders
On to part III.

Men at work (I)

While it is seductive, it is ultimately pointless to get sucked into debates about how we should (re)define masculinity. I wrote about this before. I've also already briefly discussed male privilege as well as patriarchy’s essentialisation of men as primitive savages and how it damages us and our relationships with others.

This time, I want to head into a little more detail on how the things men are told in patriarchy hinder their development as human beings, with some far-reaching social repercussions. Some of these things may be contradictory, but then women are also no strange to getting trapped into contradictory expectations.

For non-regulars: patriarchy is a shorthand for the type of society that dominates most of the world. It is a society that mostly favours a particular class of people: straight, heterosexual fathers or potential fathers, and limits others. But of course, even this class does not escape patriarchy undamaged. Men are groomed for a position of domination, and this is really not without danger. Read on.

Part II.