Feminism | Posted by Julie Z on 02/16/2011

Masculinity: From A Feminine Perspective

Michael Kimmels Guyland

Michael Kimmel's Guyland

It pains me a little bit to say this, but I have to admit it. I’m kind of a hypocrite. I’ve spent over a year on this blog exploring most every facet of being a teen girl in this culture through a feminist lens. I’ve bitched (and rightfully so) about how there’s still a shit ton of sexism out there and how we still need to fight for equality, but I never really mentioned the guys.

While I’ve always supported men in the feminist movement, and believe they need to be a part of it, I’ve always viewed the way masculinity standards shape and effect men as something completely separate from women in this culture and a marginal part of feminism. It wasn’t until I read Michael Kimmel’s book Guyland that I began to realize that masculinity actually plays a huge role in feminism, and has completely shaped how we see equality.

Somewhere along the lines, feminism’s fight for “equality” became the fight to be “guys” without anybody really noticing. In many ways, what we consider “equality” in our country today is really just girls conforming to the standards guys have set for themselves, and guys allowing us into their world. For example, women in the workplace often note that in order to keep up with their male bosses, or to obtain and thrive in a position that was once solely a male  privilege, they have to act like “bitches” – an attitude that when enacted by men is only seen as taking control and is respected. In this situation, maybe it seems like we have achieved “equality” – and in a sense being able to have that job at all is a victory – but aren’t we just conforming to male behavior? Why don’t male CEOs try a more traditionally “feminine” approach, like conflict management?

A more age appropriate example is probably hooking up. Now, hooking up is a phenomenon of our generation that deserves its own post and even its own book (and there have been books). It’s complicated and it’s an individual experience (that is to say it works for some and doesn’t work for others). The argument can even be made that engaging in sexual behavior with various partners and without commitment is an empowering experience for girls. We get to choose who we hook up with, and it’s even indicative of the fact that we are so busy now and are doing so many other important things that our lives don’t revolve around relationships. And that’s a legitimate argument. But, on the other hand, hooking up is kind of a male-controlled practice. Most of the girls I know who do hook up (and I admit this is just my experience and who I know – this isn’t the rule) do it because they hope that eventually a relationship will emerge from it -that the guy will suddenly realize he really does care about them. For girls, hooking up is a means to an end while for guys…it’s just hooking up. They set the standard, and if girls want to be in the game at all, then they have to play by guy rules.

My point is this: the feminist movement has come a long way and has achieved amazing things, including many situations of legitimate equality. But at the same time, there is still this weird undercurrent of girls merely conforming to the standards men have set. Equality should go both ways: BOTH genders should be moving towards a happy median. Feminism really should effect everybody, and such a goal is actually in everybody’s best interest.

There may be unfair cultural pressures on girls – like unattainable body standards, for example – but men have to face some seriously shitty standards too. In our society, we barely let men realize their full humanity. If they cry or get scared, or even if they get too excited or happy, for god’s sake, we question their masculinity and therefore their validity in our culture. We force them to prove their masculinity at every available opportunity, which often leads to dumbass stuff like hazing. Essentially, we live in a culture that pushes guys to be aggressive and violent, then lament the fact that they are.

So there it is. I may not know a lot about masculinity, personally, but it seems that guys are having about as much fun trying to be Bear Grylls as girls are trying to be Gisele Bundchen. Can we please, for the love of God, just meet in the middle?

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  • allie @ at 11:12 am, February 16th, 2011

    i actually agree with you. i know girls who sleep with a guy then are like, why doesn’t he like me i don’t get it. now i’m not saying girls should save themselves for marriage, i didn’t so i can’t say that, but they must respect themselves and as i heard on the Opera show when she had a female therapist come on not “treat your body like a trash can for men” now i may get flack for saying that but i happen to agree with that. i randomly lost my v card to some guy i knew for like twenty mins it lasted five mins and when it was over he asked where the bathroom was and bolted, never saw him again. and though i’m glad for the experience because its something to learn from as are all life experiences i now know to wait for a guy who will at least respect me enough to hold me when we’re done and respect me enough to let us know where we stand. that and i’m also afraid to have sex because of herpes which you can get from skin to skin contact. but i totally agree with the article!

  • allie @ at 11:14 am, February 16th, 2011

    might i also add when i say respect me, i meant respect the fact that i may want more, with both of us being honest

  • Amy @ at 8:25 pm, February 16th, 2011

    I admire you for admitting that you haven’t mentioned the guys. In fact, most ‘feminists’ don’t.

    I put feminists in quotation marks because I believe that in order to be a true feminist you must also believe that patriarchal systems and attitudes are also negative to men’s lives, not only women’s. Is it any wonder why men scoff at feminism? In order to achieve equality we need the other half- and the only way we’re going to get their support is to stop focusing on ourselves and give some recognition to them every once and a while.

  • A @ at 8:27 pm, February 16th, 2011

    I’ve learned about this a bit before, and I too, as a female, have always found masculinity’s pressures to be just as awful. Think about how it relates to male homosexuals with behavior that by society is branded effeminate! (As in, Kurt from Glee with all the “macho” football players.) Also, Alec who posts on here sometimes had an awesome article about this posted here on the fbomb not too long ago…

  • Becky @ at 9:16 pm, February 16th, 2011

    Excellent points! The middle is a great place to meet and change the masculine norms that have constrained everyone for so long.

    By the way, “hooking up” didn’t mean the same thing when I was growing up. I realized that yesterday when I used the term and got a funny look … because, yeah, that’s not what I was talking about. ;)

  • Liz @ at 10:43 pm, February 16th, 2011

    This is great! I’ve actually just been reading Kimmel in one of my classes and I think looking at masculinity through a feminist lens is a really interesting and necessary part of coming to gender equality. Kimmel actually has a really interesting article called “Masculinity as Homophobia” that relates to A is saying in the comment above me. It definitely isn’t comprehensive about homophobia (for one, it’s really pretty reliant on Freudian constructs of sexuality) but it’s a really interesting take on how masculinity is constructed and how perceptions of homosexuality take on the masculine construct. I wish more men knew that feminist theory is actually really applicable to their lives and how gender is constructed for men.
    This is actually something I’ve been writing about on my blog in reference to the ridiculous online reality TV show “Genuine Ken.” Masculinity is fascinating and definitely relevant when you’re talking about feminism and women and gender, so I’m glad it’s getting some play here.

  • Quinc @ at 12:10 am, February 17th, 2011

    Masculinity issues do get under-represented in feminist discussions. Though to be fair, men are much more often put in a position of power and privilege, so women more often need help.

    Both the masculine and feminine have both good and bad. I doubt you need to ask whether strength or compassion are masculine or feminine to decide if they are good or bad qualities. Personally I’ve feel that many of the things that make up traditional masculinity and femininity are there arbitrarily.

    As for the hook ups: women can’t expect much. There are too many men trying to get laid without effort, expense, or commitment. Of course it’s silly for women to expect to receive commitment in exchange for sex.

  • Jesse @ at 12:28 am, February 18th, 2011

    Boys are taught not to cry for a very good reason. Being a man is about learning to control his emotions and learning not to cry is the first step in his education. Do you REALLY want men to not control their emotions? Really? That means controlling aggression too. We aren’t out of touch with our emotions as women assume – quite the reverse, we are in touch with them so much that we are capable of controlling them. You can’t control something if you don’t understand it.
    You touched on the problem yourself but didn’t go far enough. You don’t just “may not know a lot about masculinity”, you know NOTHING about it. So why are you commenting on it???

  • Natalia @ at 2:59 am, February 18th, 2011

    I totally agree with this. That’s why it also bothers me when I hear feminists say “I hated barbies and anything that was pink when i was little, i hated girly girls.” By saying that, you’re devaluing the female gender and saying that having “male” attributes is better. To me, equality means being yourself and not being supressed by gender roles, and maybe even taking the good things from those roles.

  • Natalia @ at 3:04 am, February 18th, 2011

    I’d also like to add that one of the flaws in feminism is that this thrive for equality is just a criteria that is based on the standards that men have set. Our behaviour will always be compared to men’s and when we are like them, then we’re equal. It’s very distorted.

  • JJ @ at 8:02 am, February 20th, 2011

    I must say, Kimmel was trying to tell all of us, especially males, that repression, which may happen via controlling your emotions, isn’t a good thing.
    Either way, one must express at least a little emotion; it’s what we need as humans.

  • Simim @ at 3:14 am, March 23rd, 2011

    I never assumed aggression, assertiveness, ambition, or a drive for power were considered “masculine traits” until someone told me they were.

    I guess that makes me masculine. I always assumed that was how progression worked: you compete because it weeds out people who will not/cannot compete, and therefore people, places, ideas, constructs, anything that can stand up to repeat competition and critique is worthy of standing on its own.

    I don’t think that women are feminine any more than men are masculine. I think this is a learned behavior.

    Strength is something that can be measured in multiple ways. Weakness is the opposite of those.

    Strength is also subjective. Cultures treat strength in different manners: some cultures view being able to support the community as strong, others view being able to reach the top of the individual ladder as strong.

    Emotional strength is something that many men don’t understand.

    On the other hand, physical strength is still something many women are scared to embrace.

    Strength is directly connected with violence. Humans, male and female, are violent. We’re a violent species. All of our society is based on violence.

    Women have just been expected to portray it in a different way than men, but in the end, we’re all violent creatures, and harnessing that violent drive and turning it into a creative force is what makes you an equal.

    I’m a woman. I’m proud to be a woman. I’m also proud I can hold my own in a “man’s world.”

    I dream of the day women can beat men at their own game, so to speak. If you want to change the world, you have to gain control of it first. Equality is not passively earned, and just because we can be “feminine” doesn’t mean that should equate to “passive.”

  • Jared @ at 12:15 pm, August 15th, 2011

    This was a really well thought out piece. It’s important for women to truly establish their place in what has been a male dominated society. Equality, to me, does not mean symmetry. Men and women are by design unequal. Equality means that everyone’s needs are met.

    Young women face entering the workplace in a new way, but many young women still want a traditional relationship. It would be impossible to develop a uniform solution. I think feminism still has a few wrinkles to iron out, in terms of it’s expectations as a movement.

  • An Interview with Michael Kimmel | fbomb @ at 11:00 am, June 6th, 2012

    [...] hadn’t really thought much about the difficulties guys face in our culture before I read Guyland by Michael Kimmel. I had focused so much energy on figuring out the societal pressures placed on [...]

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