The Campaign Platform of The Man Party- Dominance At Work, School, and The Bedroom
We are all familiar with the vision of a fifty-year-old father waiting at the door, shot gun in hand for his daughter’s date to pick her up. Why is this vision so pervasive, and why is the same Dad knocking back beers with his son before he goes on a “night out” with a woman. I hesitate to refer to this as a date because the conversation more than likely centers on rhetoric of “hooking up” and the dad’s own glory days, but this is in direct contrast to the words of warning given to a daughter. This is because the sexuality of both young men and young women is policed in two totally different ways. As C.J. Pascoe demonstrates in her book, Dude, You’re a Fag, there is no better place than a stereotypical American high school to watch these double standards hash out. It’s obvious to me that the creations of these contradictory standards are examples of the fragility of masculinity, and exemplified by men’s need to hold power over women.
For most people the urge for sexual affection is a natural biological need, not unlike the need for eating or sleeping. At the onset of puberty when these needs start to come out many parents and teachers want to shut down the discussions and do everything possible to dissuade these young people from acting on them. It’s hard to police every single teenager on the planet, so society has found it fitting to place the sexual responsibility on women as the gatekeepers of sexuality. This way we don’t have to directly police both men and women.
Teaching things like safe sex, self-worth, and respect is so much more time consuming for teachers and administrators, so they simply say no sex outside of marriage and feel they have fulfilled their responsibility by making it a black and white issue. It’s also difficult for young men to see woman as equals when the media and pornography they consume seemingly prove otherwise. Schools fail to teach young men how to treat women as equals, because the male coaches, teachers and parents likely never learned how to properly interact with women themselves.
Although it’s biologically obvious that both men and women enjoy the physical sensations that come with sex, in practice society acts much different. We adhere to the idea that men are sexual deviants or aficionados always ready to go with any women willing, and sometimes even not willing. While we have the idea that the only reason a women would seek sex is for love, validation, or daddy issues, anything other than the physical sensation. This leads us to think that it’s easier to prevent women from “letting” men have sex with them than it would be to prevent men from the natural need to sow their wild oats. This double standard was absolutely everywhere in both my own high school and Pascoe’s research experience.
A particular poignant example in Pascoe’s book came from the social science teacher Mrs. Mac. As an exercise in democracy Mrs. Mac had the students get into groups to create their own political parties. Two parties were eyebrow raisers to Pascoe, The Safer Sex Party and the Man Party. The Man Party operated under the platform of ending women’s suffrage, while the Safer Sex Party wanted to eliminate HIV and AIDS. Mac completely ignored the sexism in the Man Party and then chastised the Safer Sex Party for handing out condoms. When the condoms were passed around she quickly scrambled to get them all back, but only focusing her efforts on the boys. She said, “I’m going to have to collect these. All you guys that put them in your wallets, give them back”. (Pascoe, 75) It’s as if she couldn’t even imagine a world where a young women would even want to have a condom. This sentiment is very disturbing because it’s ignoring the potential agency that sexually active women should have over their own health and contraception. It’s almost suggesting that a woman dumb enough to have casual sex is a woman that deserves to get pregnant or an STI. Mrs. Mac can be seen as an example of a figure of authority policing young women and women policing other women.
It’s a common trope to hear, “If a key can open many locks, it’s a master key. But if a lock can open for many keys, it’s a shitty lock”. This seems to be the most basic thought process when it comes to young women who are conspicuous about the fact that they are sexual beings. Parents and teachers feel the need to corral and leash the sexuality of young women, while fathers and coaches egg on young men. They prep them for sexual experiences like pit bulls preparing for a dogfight. Older boys who have seemingly proved their manhood inundate their younger peers with sexually charged stories. These stories leave young men feeling like they must engage in this casual hypersexual behavior to be real men. (Pascoe, 160) This dichotomy is arguably just as constraining for boys as it is for girls. Men are taught that to not be sexually aggressive is to be a sissy. Boys in high school that do not seem interested in sex are ostracized and made fun of.
In the article “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in The Construction of Gender Identity” Kimmel says that manhood is equated with power. In order to uphold this power, women must be thought of as having inherently less power. He’s quoted as saying, “Historically and developmentally, masculinity has been defined as the flight from women, the repudiation of femininity.”(p.66) Men can’t bear to be thought of as tender, nurturing, and loving. In contrast women can’t be thought of as sexual, powerful, or competitive, because how else will we define men if those traits are taken from them? This is why men vilify any women with traditionally male attributes. Their idea of manhood is tightly bound in power and control, that they don’t know how they could continue to operate as men if women gained more power.
It’s interesting that this fear of girls acting like boys does not hold true for children. In the article “No Way My Boys Are Going to Be Like That” by Kane, she talks about how many parents encouraged their girl children to have some more masculine characteristics. Parents wanted their daughters to be athletic, play with trucks, and not be fragile. She says that although girls appear to get more gender fluidity, all of that changes at the onset of adolescence. Boys on the other hand received frequent gender policing from a young age. Both fathers and mothers spoke of having to steer their sons away from dance lessons or telling them that girls wear nail polish and not boys. Many parents also spoke about how they tried to deter their sons from showing strong emotions. A striking exception found in the study was that mothers were ok with their sons engaging in more feminine activities if they thought they would be functional.(Kane,173) Examples of this was getting a plastic cooking set or rationalizing that playing with a baby doll might make their son a better dad in the future. I think the difference lies in the fact that the functional activities are domestic and traditionally done in home, while clothing and emotions can get a boy made fun of in school.
Fathers in the study admit to being afraid that involvement in feminine activities could lead to confusion about their son’s sexuality. This is an example of the fragility of masculinity in two ways. The first way is that fathers often see their young son’s manhood as being so delicate that they could lose their masculinity, or worse be thought of as gay if they participate in innocent feminine activities like dress up. This shows that men don’t see masculinity as inherent, but rather something that must be honed and shaped. Fathers see their sons as a reflection of their own masculinity.
The second example of the fragility of masculinity lies is the perception of the father. Fathers think that if their son is gay or attempts to “opt out” of masculinity, they themselves are no longer as masculine as they once were. It’s strange how even the most traditionally masculine men, who sired children, which in theory should exemplify their manhood, think their own sexuality may be called into question if their son does not subscribe to traditional masculinity. If their son turns out to be gay fathers mention they would see themselves as a failure for not equipping their sons with the skills to be a real man.
Kimmel says that being a man is the opposite of everything it means to be a woman. You must be hyper sexual, unemotional, intimidating, powerful, and in control. Kimmel refers to women as currency that males can use to prove their man hood to other men. (p.63) This often translates into being in control over women and their bodies; it’s talked about at length in Pascoe’s chapter “Females are the Puppets”. It’s the idea that women merely exist in a high school guy’s world as an object to prove adolescent masculinity. When teen boys talk about sex in the weight room they never talk about their feelings or even specifics about the young women they are engaging in sexual behavior with. Instead they talk about all of the things they can make these women’s bodies do. They don’t make sex sound sexy; rather they make it sound disgusting. They talk about bleeding, vaginal tears, anal sex, and poop. Pascoe emphasized that this was a group behavior and in one-on-one interviews the young men were quick to tell her they “weren’t like the rest of them” even if she had already witnessed them engaging in behaviors to suggest otherwise.
This information suggests that men often use sex as a way to keep women in a subordinate position, attempting to rob them of agency over their own bodies. MacKinnon who wrote “A New Feminist Theory of State maintains that “The male’s sexual role, this information and analysis taken together suggests, centers on aggressive intrusion on those with less power. Such acts of dominance are experienced as sexually arousing, as sex itself.” In McKinnon’s theory sex and dominance are often one in the same. (p.127) This is in line with the idea that acts of sexual violence, like rape is not done purely for sexual gratification, but to experience a power dynamic.
Social conditioning has taught women that not only should this possessive behavior be tolerated, but also it should be expected. From a young age women are told not to make a scene and not to reprimand others who make them feel violated for fear of acting like a frigid bitch. Women must constantly deal with men invading their personal space, whether it’s a random guy spreading his legs too far on the bus, a boy slapping her ass at school, or a creepy uncle she is forced to let kiss her on the cheek at holidays. If she brings it up, her mom might tell her to deal with it, or “it’s just a part of being a women.” Girls are told not to call people out because it could make the perpetrator feel uncomfortable, never mind the fact that girls live in a constant state of unrest because they feel like their body is not their own.
Almost every woman has felt the wrath of a man after they reject their advances. Girls will give you their number even if they have no intention of talking to you because they don’t want to risk being insulted. Men are able to use these ideas to their advantage when they want to prove their masculinity. It’s very rare a girl will push a man away after he gets a little too handsy, and she’ll probably even giggle at a sexist joke if it means the man will walk away quickly. In the girl’s mind she was doing anything she could to get him to leave, but the man saw the response as a success. He will likely try this method of flirtation again because it seems to work for him. This is how the cycle of sexism and submission is perpetuated.
Women can attempt to navigate this terrain of sexism by looking toward scholars like Armstrong, Hamilton, and England. In their article “Is Hooking up Bad For Young Women?” they provide relief by detailing how woman can exercise agency and refuse to be scapegoats for the fragility of masculinity. Many young women exercise this autonomy through what Armstrong calls liability hedonism. (p.23) Young women want the opportunity to invest in careers before they settle down and have a family. This causes them to prioritize friends over romance in college, thus making hookups a prime sexual outlet. Hookups, especially giving oral sex allow women to engage in sexual behavior without risking responsibility before they have their lives together. Getting married too young or getting pregnant are what young women are told will ruin their futures.
Unfortunately the authors also mention that women are often forced into relationships to finally experience sexual satisfaction. The authors make the assertion that sex in relationships is far better for women, “England’s survey revealed that women orgasm more often and report higher levels of sexual satisfaction in relationship sex than in hookup sex. This is in part because sex in relationships is more likely to include sexual activities conducive to women’s orgasm. In hookups, men are much more likely to receive fellatio than women are to receive cunnilingus. In relationships, oral sex is more likely to be reciprocal.” (p.25) This reminds me of how Pascoe says that men use women as puppets. Men are using woman as means to their own sexual pleasure, with little thought for their partner’s sexual satisfaction.
Outsiders to sex and gender research might wonder why the observation of teen boy behaviors is so imperative to the field. I can imagine people saying, “Even if teen masculinity is toxic, won’t they grow out of it?” People also make excuses for teens; “Their brain’s aren’t fully formed yet.” or “What about all those temporarily raging hormones.” However those reasons are exactly why we should care.
The way we allow men to act in their formative years will effect how they act as adults. If we allow their mentors to paint their budding masculinity as fragile, they will become fearful. They will grow up with the ceaseless need to prove themselves, perpetuating the homosocial environment as described by Kimmel. (p.60) These young men will grow up constantly engaged in competition with other men, and they will use women, wealth, and even physical strength as their weapons. It would be easy to make the assumption that adult men hold all the power, therefore they should be the ones researched. However the reality of the situation is that all men, young and old, hold immense amounts of privilege. If we let boys be boys, those boys will turn into men, and locker room talk will turn into water cooler talk at the office.
Armstrong, E. A., Hamilton, L., & England, P. (2010, Summer). Is hooking up bad for young women? Contexts, 9, 22–27. doi:http://0-dx.doi.org.libus.csd.mu.edu/10.1525/ctx.2010.9.3.22
Kane, E.W. (2006). “No Way My Boys are Going to be Like That!” Parents’ Responses to Children’s Gender Nonconformity. Gender and Society, 20(2): 149–176
Masculinity as homophobia: Fear, shame and silence in the construction of gender identity. Kimmel, Michael S.
MacKinnon, C. A. (1989). Toward a feminist theory of the state. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Pascoe, C. J. (2012). Dude, you’re a fag: Masculinity and sexuality in high school. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press.