People often assume that all men are priviliged and not affected by patriarchy because most men are priviliged and not affected by patriarchy. By essentializing all men into one group, the men who are oppressed are silenced. Patriarchy is oppressive to not only women but also men. By taking a closer look, we can see how a lot of men are oppressed by a system that society believes is in their favor.
bell hooks wrote this quote in her chapter called Comrades in Struggle: “…Yet the poor or working class man who has been socialized via sexist ideology to believe that there are privileges and powers he should possess solely because he is male often finds that few if any of these benefits are automatically bestowed him in life.” One of the “powers” that men are socialized to believe that they have to embody is masculinity. Masculinity seems to be the running force of patriarchy, but this term has a very specific definition under patriarchy that is not inclusive of all forms of masculinity. This phenomenon is called toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity “refers to the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.”
Toxic masculinity can police men’s masculinity in multiple ways, but these are a few important ones:
- The expectation that Real Men are strong, and that showing emotion is incompatible with being strong. Anger is either framed as the exception to the rule, or as not an emotion.
- Emasculation: the idea that there is a range of feminine interests and activities a Real Man would not hold, and that disprove a man’s masculinity regardless of his other actions.
In relation to toxic masculinity, many people tagged their experiences of #failingmasculinity on twitter. A lot of these stories talked about how their parents or others policed their masculinity so much and didn’t allow any sort of femininity to be included. This is where most people believe that their masculinity failed. These stories would be considered examples of toxic masculinity that the parents forced onto their children due to patriarchal influence. Masculinity should include femininity and vice versa. This binary created by society made a space in which masculinity and femininity can not exist simultaneously, but only as opposites. Toxic masculinity is a result of patriarchy, which is assumed to be beneficial and equal for all men, but in reality it is not. The oppression of some men comes from other men who are more privileged than them because they embody the “correct” kind of masculinity.
So…how does this have anything to do with feminism?
Contemporary feminism is usually a movement by white women who are angry at men. White feminists operate their movement on the exact same oppressive structures they aim to abolish by essentializing men into one category. This category assumes that all men benefit from patriarchal sexism and that men are always the oppressor. This feminism is not the feminism we should support. We should support the feminism that is inclusive of everyone and one that does not continue to oppress others. Women of color, poor women and men should all be included in this movement. Because patriarchy is also very detrimental to many men, it is important that they are a part of a movement that will support their goal of equality and abolishment of oppression in their society. So, women and other feminists should invite men to understand that they may be oppressed and that feminism is a safe place for men to fight against this oppression.
The impact that patriarchy has on gender norms in our society are oppressive to every gender — not only female, but male, non-binary, agender, trans and so on. Because males are seen to be the most powerful in our society, no one really thinks that they could ever be oppressed. But by identifying how constraining gender norms are on women, it is easy to see how they can be equally as constraining to men. This is why feminism is not just for women, but should be available as a community effort to abolish gender norms that restrict everyone.