Patriarchy hurts everybody.

One of the big misperceptions about feminism is that it only worries about issues that affect girls and women. While it does often focus on those needs, the overarching aim of feminism is to work on dismantling the structures of inequality that exist in our world. These structures affect everyone involved in them.

Feminism believes that patriarchy hurts everybody. Men. Women. Non-binary folks. LGBT people. Kids. Everybody.

Often, the aspects of patriarchy that do hurt men and boys are the flip sides of the parts that hurt women and girls, particularly when it comes to gender roles.

Click the picture for a pretty decent summary of the issues I'm talking about here.

Click the picture for a pretty decent summary of the issues I’m talking about here.

For every girl who’s told she can’t be a firefighter or doctor, a boy is told he can’t be a kindergarten teacher or nurse. For every woman who’s made to feel like less of a woman for wanting to work instead of stay home with her children, a man is made to feel like less of a man for wanting to stay home with his children instead of being the “breadwinner”. For every girl who’s told to “be a lady,” a boy is told to “man up”.

Traditional gender roles are so ingrained in our culture that it’s considered newsworthy when a toy catalog does something as radical as feature girls playing with gun toys and boys playing with Barbies.  Even schools have taken it upon themselves to police gender roles in children, often with harmful results.  While telling a boy not to carry a pink purse may not seem like a huge injustice, it’s part of a greater trend.

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Even humorous t-shirts agree.

See, one of the problems with a patriarchal society is that it tends to devalue anything considered “girly”. Think about some traits that are associated with boys; they are strong, physical, aggressive. Then think about traits associated with girls, like weak, emotional, or passive. Many traits that we associated with girls are seen as less valuable in our society.

But what happens when a boy prefers these “girly” things? When he is emotional? Likes to take care of his stuffed animals like they’re babies? Would rather sit and read than play kickball? Boys are stuffed into boxes that are just as narrow as those that girls are. In fact, when they’re young, girls may even have a little more flexibility than boys do, as being a “tomboy” is generally acceptable (even though the word itself carries some pretty gendered assumptions), but being a “sissy” is not. Girls can wear blue, but boys can’t wear pink.

Parents can work to avoid imposing gender roles and stereotypes on their children.

Hovering over all of these rules and assumptions is, of course, the fear of homosexuality. It almost goes without saying, but these ideas of masculinity are very, VERY tied to ideas of male heterosexuality. Policing gender and policing sexuality are often intertwined.

As boys grow, they receive even more messed-up ideas about masculinity. They learn that expressing their emotions through talking with friends or writing journals or poetry isn’t acceptable, but that expressing them through violence is. They learn that wanting to be friends with girls is suspect, but wanting to “bang” them is totally cool, bro.

Disney movies and masculinity

These messages that boys receive influences their perceptions of themselves and how they’re supposed to act in order to be a “real man”.

A big buzzword in feminism in recent years has been “rape culture”. Feminist writers have talked at great length about how rape culture sees women as sexual objects, normalizes violence against women, and treats women as if they’re responsible for their own sexual assault.

While living in a rape culture results in more violent and harmful consequences for women than it is for men, I do think we need to address the ways in which rape culture affects men and boys as well.

Porn is not only harmful to women, but also perpetuates misperceptions about men and sex.

Boys are not given a choice; they are told that "U want it".

Boys are not given a choice; they are told that “U want it”.

Rape culture hurts men by treating them like walking, talking, uncontrollable penises. It acts as if the only acceptably masculine way to show attraction is through aggressive sexual advances. It makes it seem unmanly to accept no for an answer.

I’ve seen the complaint on anti-feminist sites that “feminism sees every man as a rapist”. Obviously this isn’t true. This misperception probably comes out of the discussion of rape culture. If rape culture treats every woman as a potential victim, then it treats every man as a possible perpetrator.

Luckily, in recent years, there has been more discussion about how to talk to boys about violence and rape.

In Canada, a boys-only sex education course aims to address these ideas of masculine sexuality in a way that promotes their own health and the health of their future relationships, both with their friends and their partners.

Furthermore, the term “healthy masculinity” is becoming more and more popular, and is arising in articles about how to speak to your sons about violence, and in community and church groups.

Finally, MissRepresentation.org, the organization that brought us the documentary of the same name, has changed its name to The Representation Project, aiming to address the ways in which representations of men and boys are also limiting and damaging. Their new documentary, The Mask You Live In, looks to explore these topics.

So what do you think? Does patriarchy hurt everybody? Have you seen examples of this in your own life?

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23 responses to “Patriarchy hurts everybody.

  1. This is such a good article. Everything you’ve said is spot on! Especially the bit about rape culture, which I’d definitely say contributes to this idea that men don’t get raped, cos hey they’re always up for it right?
    I read a really interesting opinion piece written by a man on the BBC the other day, about how he thinks traditional ideas of ‘masculinity’ are contributing to higher rates of male suicides. I’ll find the link and come back 🙂

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  2. It’s such an important point to emphasize how feminism supports everyone. A lot of men have a knee jerk reaction to feminism and don’t think about how it ultimately helps them by working to undo oppressive ideas about masculinity (not to mention that they also benefit from contraceptive and abortion access, etc., etc.).

    I remember when I was a kid we listened to “Free to Be You and Me” (on vinyl!), and there was a song about parents coming to terms with their son’s wanting a doll. Unfortunately, a few decades later those lessons haven’t sunk in.

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    • Hi, don’t think it’s really your place to femsplain what’s “oppressive” to men. If I started to tell you what you find oppressive you’d tell me off saying i’m mansplaining to you, not too mention bring in my race, sexuality, age, gender. (you’d refer me to a white, cisgendered dude-bro, or more amusing your sisters may call me a fedora wearing, neck beard living in mom’s basement madz cause he can’t get laid). Feminisn deserves a knee-jerk reaction and much more. Lastly, NAFALT is a weak ass cop-out.

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  3. It seems like talking about how patriarchy hurts men seems to be accepted by feminists, but only in a context where it is mainly talked about how patriarchy hurts women. There are plenty of examples where men complained about the male role that they have to fulfil, and as a reaction there was a massive outrage within the feminist community about how this shifts the focus away from the actual victims of patriarchy, women.

    I think this creates a very confusing message to men: On the one hand, a lot of feminists argue that partriarchy hurts men too, but on the other hand, whenever (heterosexual) men try to express how they feel hurt by being pushed into fulfilling a masculine role, they are faced with massive protests from feminists. This seems to have created a discourse where it is mostly women who talk about how men feel within their gender role.

    What probably leads to this confusing message is that while a lot of feminists acknowledge that partriarchy hurts men too, they don’t see feminism as a movement to end people getting “hurt”, but to end people being oppressed. And while a man might feel sad about being forced to go to work instead of spending time with his children, this still puts him into a position of more power than his female partner.

    I think a lot of men have to realise that gender roles are interlinked, and ending partriarchy and the oppression of women will automatically end men being forced to fulfil a masculine role, so feminism is not their enemy. But it would also be nice if people started acknowledging that even people in privileged positions can feel unhappy about being in those positions, and that them discussing the mechanisms that force them into this box and how to escape it can actually be benificial for the objectives of the movement.

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    • Thank you so much for your insights! You raised some really interesting points. I’m especially interested in your idea of hurt vs. oppression, and how the original framing of the feeling can influence the response. For instance, if a man is pointing out how it’s pretty crappy that cultural expectations mean he’s supposed to earn a paycheck but not necessarily help his kids with their art projects, that’s important, and something that should really be discussed (have you checked out the Good Men Project? They raise a lot of issues about sexism, gender roles, and parenting from a man’s perspective).
      From what I’ve seen in online discussions, the negative responses from feminists that you refer to tend to arise when the complaint about male gender roles is phrased in language about “female privilege” or if it’s brought up during a discussion of the ways that traditional gender roles are limiting to women, as a way to derail the discussion. But like you said, acknowledging that many aspects of our society that oppress women can also result in un-ideal situations for men is really important to furthering the conversation. It’s a fine line to walk when you’re a member of a privileged group speaking up about how you’re sometimes negatively affected by the systems of oppression.
      Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

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  5. The feminist capacity for lies is so intrinsic they have managed to deceive themselves. You are a horrible excuse for a person.

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  9. I’m still at a loss as to what any of this has to do with “patriarchy”. Gender roles, certainly, but discussions of gender roles are not limited to feminists and don’t need to be examined through the lens of “patriarchy”.

    If I’m understanding patriarchy theory correctly, it’s the idea that we live in a society that explicitly favors men and boys over women and girls, the masculine over the feminine. How is it, then, that we can live in such a society and still see men and boys suffer not because they’re acting like women or girls but because they’re acting like men and boys? Rough-and-tumble play is discouraged on the playground, inter-student competition is discouraged in the classroom, and boys apparently “need to be taught not to rape” as if their sexuality was threatening by its very nature. We’re treating masculinity as if its dangerous, and yet somehow you want to claim that we live in a society that values masculine traits over feminine ones? Please.

    Instead, lets ditch the “patriarchy” altogether, and recognize that gender issues are complicated and can’t all be lumped under one tidy, neat little umbrella.

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