The Blame Game: The Apology We Owe to Masculinity and to Each Other

Design Shack and Joshua Johnson (2012). “Leveraging Stereotypes in Design: Masculine vs. Feminine Typography”

Dowler, Cuomo, & Laliberte (2014) wrote an article entitled Challenging ‘The Penn State Way’: a feminist response to institutional violence in higher education, about responding to institutional violence in higher education. The article really opened my eyes to how we apply sex and gender[1] to EVERYTHING, including something as important as ending [sexual] assault on college campuses.

The very title having the word “feminist” associated with ending [sexual] rubbed me the wrong way. Ethics of care and responsibility in regards to something so serious as [sexual] assault is so limited when it has gender-based theology and/or terminology associated. We see it in the article with the phrase “Penn State’s administrative failures related to the crimes of Sandusky are characteristic of fraternal approaches to leadership (388).”The word “fraternal” literally means: “being a society of men.” Speaking as man, I have a huge issue with that. Because, to me, a system that excuses institutional violence is not “manly;” or “just what men do.”

“Masculinity” is a way of being that has become quite synonymous with brute and chauvinistic attitudes and behaviors.

I would argue that it all goes back to the need to the remove negative associations that have been historically conflated with manhood; the question presents itself as to whether or not such association is merited. I am very well aware that such is hard to do when the very inarguable fact is that men are often the perpetrators of violence remains true.

To assert that “Toxic Masculinity,” a term started by men, (see the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement) is merely a propaganda technique attempting to falsely associate men with negativity ignores the history of men doing horrible things. That is not the aim. The aim, however, is to move forward from this narrative that asserts that masculinity in itself is inherently bad. We must ask the question are we talking about masculinity? Or are we talking about horrible people who have taken masculinity hostage for their own evil gains?

Of course, someone could pose the argument that women can be perpetrators of violence as well. The issue with this, however, is three-fold. One, the scale in which women commit violent acts is arguably far outnumbered by acts of violence committed by men. Two, such argument ignores the historical narrative when sex, gender, and violence are tied together, namely the very notion of faux-power dynamics associated with violence, sex, and gender. Women who are violent, more often than not, are seen as deviant, and/or aren’t taken seriously, whereas men who are violent are falsely seen as “strong,” and “tough.” Three, and I invite someone to correct me, but my recollection cannot bring up a single notable instance of violence outside of the means of self-defense in the name of “feminism.”

Nevertheless, it is the gender-associated terminologies dealing with violence that explains the very reason why more men don’t see (or at least pretend to not see) a problem with perpetrating violence. This plays a major part in this discussion of how to remove gender from concepts of caring. That removal is going to be very hard to do since it is often considered “feminine” to advocate against these behaviors, with “feminine” often made synonymous with “weakness.” There is definitely work to do all around.

I hypothesize it’s because of this very narrative that if a man cares or speaks out about this kind of thing or takes a “feminist” standpoint on it that they are made to believe that they are somehow not a man. I could be reading way too much into it (which is very possible considered we do automatically associate feminism with women); but to me it just seems like when we say words like “feminist” and “fraternal” it takes away from the fact that it is wrong for ANYBODY (male, female, masculine, feminine, maternal, fraternal, androgynous, whatever) to either be the perpetrators of violence or excusing of said violence. To me, it’s not about being “man” or “woman;” it’s about being right or wrong.

My quest is very ambitious: to finally call violence is exactly what it is: violence. The need to associate a sex or a gender with violence should be contingent upon whom is committing a singular and particular violent act; no more, no less.

How do we define terms and how can those definitions be limiting or hindering, or even problematic. For example, and I have this conversation interpersonally on a consistent basis, defining terms such “masculinity” and “femininity” is so limited in that it seems like we are forced to do so by 1. First defining what they “aren’t” and/or 2. Combating the two terms against each other, making it so that one really has identify as one or the other (as if androgyny doesn’t exist).

To me, as somebody who identifies as masculine, I have to be honest that when people ask me what it is that I mean by that, I really don’t know, because I constantly wonder why is it that some of the things that are “masculine” cannot be seen as “feminine,” and vice-versa.

For instance, basing it off questions that were posed by American Psychologist Sandra Bem in here development of the Open Sex Role Inventory, such as “I use lotion on my hands.” I would argue that such, to many people, would seen as something that is considered feminine. Who decided such; how did they come to such conclusion; and why? Are men not allowed to have lotioned hands? Or is it because lotion makes hands soft that such is somehow feminine? Again, how, and why? It’s a revolving door.

Of course these questions are never really answered and so many children fall through the cracks because they are incorrectly how to be themselves. It seems as if male children aren’t involved in sports, that they are some sort of anomaly or they are trying to be “girly” or “sissy.” The same thing occurs with female children who cannot escape being called “tomboyish” if they show even a remote interest in sports.

All of these expectations are very limiting and cause avoidable problems for and between kids, and, subsequently (and simultaneously), adults.

There is a changing political and social landscape that is aiming to become more inclusive and “fluid”. Yet, despite social and political gains across sex and gender lines, society remains a zone of conventional beliefs.

Let’s look at schools, for example. It is not at all surprising that schools, like so many other institutions, are mirrors of cities. Therefore, the problems and social structures that exist in schools are not phenomena that occurred out of nowhere. This means that if social exclusion exists in a city, more often than not, exclusion is going to exist in said cities’ schools. To fix the sexual, gender, and social inequalities that exists in our schools means fixing the problems in cities. If issues of segregation and exclusion based on sex and gender expression are going to be fixed in schools, these same practices are going have to cease in cities themselves.

This supports an assertion that perhaps school climate is a greater determinant of social and educational success rather than sex demographics. The gender value of a school does not fall solely on the premise that schools admit women to attend, although such is very important. Still, if a particular schools’ climate, same-sex or not, seems to show favoritism towards a particular group (through access to particular courses, teacher interaction, access to social growth, protection from misconduct, etc.), of course others are going to suffer if they lack favored characteristics. Therefore, it is important to eradicate all discriminatory practices and to make educational and social growth readily available for all.

The issue that undergirds this is an entire discussion of who is allowed to be considered “masculine” or “feminine,” and the influence of beliefs leading to unneeded panic. For instance, as so fascinatingly chronicled by Jackie M. Blount in her book Fit to Teach: Same-Sex Desire, Gender, and School Work in the Twentieth Century (2005), sex-segregated schooling was created because it was believed students in single-sex environments would more effectively learn “gender-appropriate” behavior. As suspicions of homosocial and homosexual relations in sex-segregated schools rose, however, it was argued that “coeducation would help children become properly heterosexual” and that “coeducational schools offered girls and boys opportunities to be comfortable around each other — especially when they began experiencing sexual desire (42).” Either way, there is a continued perceived “war on morality,” based upon continued presumption that anything outside of the dangerous gender binary is abnormal.

It is this lasting hysteria that makes some truly believe that in order to prove one’s manhood or masculinity, one has to commit violent acts. When will it become understood that masculinity does not entail being averse to positive human interaction? Some would argue that it begins with more masculine-identified individuals to call out violence. Although important such is secondary. We must begin with changing our language and also with admitting that we as humans owe masculinity an apology for its too- long establishment as a synonym with cowardly barbaric behaviors. And we owe each other apologies for our continued rigidness and historically induced unwillingness to disassociate masculinity with who can hit the hardest, and who can be the most violent. Masculinity has indeed become fragile in that it cannot exist without being synonymized with violence. And we are all to blame for such.

[1]The terms ‘Sex’ and ‘Gender’ are separated purposefully noting them as two non-conflated identities.

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