Unlocking the Gender Straitjacket

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Peter Folan

Peter Folan works full time as an administrator in the First Year Experience Office at Boston College. He is currently pursuing his doctorate in Higher Education Management at the University of Pennsylvania. Peter earned his Bachelors in English and his Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from Boston College. He is a former high school English teacher, administrator, and coach. While in college, Peter was on the varsity wrestling team. Peter is married and the father of two young children.

Comments

  1. Why the dramatic decline “be attributed to the ways that men perform masculinities in our culture, specifically stereotypical ones” if these supposed stereotypes had existed for countless decades?

    The core issue is not masculinity but rather maleness that has been under attack. Years ago, fathers and men in general were respected. However, for years now, men have been demeaned and considered to be dumber and stupider than even their children. They were never the solid, stable leader, just the idiot butt of jokes.

    If you continue to tell someone that they are dumb, stupid, and an idiot, they will begin to act that way. People live up or down to their expectations. Then, when they do, they are further demeaned for reinforcing those expectations. It’s a vicious circle that started decades ago with the attack and maleness, and it continues apace today.

    • Eric, I am not saying that you are wrong that men have sometimes been the butt of jokes, but any alleged mistreatment of men still pales in comparison to the oppression of women throughout history. Recall that the good ol’ days when “fathers and men in general were respected” also came with a heavy price tag for many, including gay men and anyone who fell out of line with societal norms — not to mention the price women paid.

      As a higher education administrator I have spoken with many students who present a version of this same argument. Your response (and that of my students) is understandable, but it reinforces the point I am making: we (men) have benefited for so long from our privilege that to call us out at all immediately illicits a defensive response. It goes something like this: “You are telling me my macho behavior makes you uncomfortable? What’s your problem? What’s wrong with me being macho? Can’t a guy be a guy anymore?”

      The answer, as best I can figure one, is not either/or, but both/and. Yes, I can be a guy’s guy, and that should be ok, as long as my “guyness” doesn’t stifle others who express their gender differently. If we let our defensiveness rule the day, the dialogue ends and it reinforces an environment where our boys have only one option of who to try and be. If, on the other hand, we are willing to reflect on our privilege and commit to openly welcoming ALL “masculinities” regardless of how they are expressed, then we are working towards a community where ALL our boys are encouraged to be themselves and men feel less pressure to perform in dangerous ways in front of their peers. The outcome is really win-win, but to get there we men have to be willing to be vulnerable — a very “unmanly” thing indeed.

      In sum, it is not really “maleness” that has been challenged, as you assert, but rather the institutionalized system of privilege and oppression that historically puts manly men on pedestals and degrades women and others (this is at the core of the “Guyland” Kimmel speaks of). It is that system that is unhealthy, dangerous, and must change for our younger boys to be able to grow beyond the stereotypes that are really the butt of the jokes.

      • “any alleged mistreatment of men still pales in comparison to the oppression of women throughout history.”

        Compared to black men, white women have been and continue to be a highly privileged class, second only to white men. A very close second.

        “we (men) have benefited for so long from our privilege”

        If you are a white man, that may apply to you but it certainly doesn’t apply to black men. We black men have never had any such privilege. White women have far more privilege than we do. Why don’t feminists make that point clear?

        I don’t know what you mean stifle others who express their gender differently. If someone wants to cross dress, that’s their choice. They don’t need my approval. If they feel that’s the right thing for them to do, they shouldn’t need anyone else’s approval.

        I was taught by my parents and teach my children to be individuals, to do what they know and believe to be right for them, NO MATTER who disagrees or disapproves. Teach them if they are willing to be taught, or ignore them. You are simply not going to convince everyone to think the same. What needs to be done is to teach young people to think for themselves, and not live for the approval of others. That’s a dangerous way to live.

        I completely disagree on what has been challenged. All you have to do is read this and other feminist blogs and websites, and watch most any sitcom. The butt of jokes is simply being male, nothing to do with being “macho.”

        • Eric,

          I agree that the presumed all-encompassing view of male privilege is problematic. It renders men of color and men of other marginalized groups voiceless and unrepresented in many discourses; however, it would be completely inaccurate to discount the privileges of men across racial lines. Instead of comparing the oppression of black men to white women, I would encourage you to compare the differences in oppression between black men and black women. There are vast differences.

          The simple fact that there are reportedly more women (cross-culturally) who identify as victims of rape than men (cross-culturally) is a privilege for men.

          As a man of color, I, too, struggle with the way in which male privilege is ascribed to all men because it varies depending on your intersecting identities (race, sexuality, class, etc.). I can speak to the many ways in which black men have been disenfranchised in this country–it’s no secret. Also, to pretend that there are no economic, social, and/or educational disparities between black and white men would be incredibly naive and ignorant. I’m just weary of saying that black men (by virtue of being men) are not privileged to some degree–even if to a very small degree.

          Additionally, it’s impossible to quantify oppression.

        • The simple fact that there are reportedly more women (cross-culturally) who identify as victims of rape than men (cross-culturally) is a privilege for men.
          Well even that is not so clear. In a lot of jurisdictions and studies and reports on rape, rape is often specifically defined to the point where “being forced to penetrate someone” is not counted as rape (usually its called “sexually assault”). And then when you talk about nonsexual but otherwise violent crimes most victims are men. Would that mean that that is a privilege for women?

          Additionally, it’s impossible to quantify oppression.
          I would like to agree with this but thats exactly what I see happen so often. On one hand supposedly its pointless to try to quantify oppressions to figure out who has it worse but on the other when who has it worse argument happens that is exactly what is done.

      • Eric, I am not saying that you are wrong that men have sometimes been the butt of jokes, but any alleged mistreatment of men still pales in comparison to the oppression of women throughout history. Recall that the good ol’ days when “fathers and men in general were respected” also came with a heavy price tag for many, including gay men and anyone who fell out of line with societal norms — not to mention the price women paid.
        You aren’t saying that Eric is wrong, you’re saying that “while thing have been a little inconvenient for men sometimes, women have it worse”.

        As a higher education administrator I have spoken with many students who present a version of this same argument. Your response (and that of my students) is understandable, but it reinforces the point I am making: we (men) have benefited for so long from our privilege that to call us out at all immediately illicits a defensive response. It goes something like this: “You are telling me my macho behavior makes you uncomfortable? What’s your problem? What’s wrong with me being macho? Can’t a guy be a guy anymore?”
        I don’t think that is what Eric is saying. But I think you are helping prove his point by saying his observations are just a knee jerk reaction to have some supposed male privilege called out. Its the classic defense. “You don’t think I’m correct? You’re just denying your male privilege.”

  2. Excellent perspectives from Mr. Folan. Very insightful and I have just shared with our Student Services Team. He brings a unique perspective; one that will likely grow as he continues to reflect his thought leadership in the area of men/masculinity in the coming years. Well done.

  3. Mary Thompson-Jones says:

    This is a finely written and very accessible article for those who are new to this issue. I was marginally aware of some of the concerns Peter Folan addresses, but reading his distillation of current thought on this topic, along with his own, very well-informed perspective, gave me needed background on a question that is important on every campus. A nice contribution to the field.

  4. I read this article and was like wow that is dead on. That totally described my college experience, then I saw that the author is from Boston College. I graduated BC in 2010 lol

  5. Just too bad the article claims repeatedly that the notion of masculinity it is build / perpetuated (only) by men, where as women have a well / much an impact on it.

  6. We need to have a system in place for boys and men to help them find mentors and conversation partners to engage in authentic dialogue about their lives as men and the concept of masculinity.
    I agree. Someone should set up groups and centers on college campuses in an effort to connect with these guys. Give them a place to come to for help and bonding, and unravel this wicked web.

    Well at least that sounds like a good idea but for some odd reason whenever someone tries to form one of these groups on a campus they tend to be protested on the premise (but with no direct evidence) that they are hives of anti-woman sentiment. And then you have the folks that say that if such efforts don’t reach out to women they are being irresponsible.

  7. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    I think the issue is that male jobs have been shipped to Asia, so men start to seem redundant even to themselves. Women are more malleable for the administration and service job markets that remain. Men are much more likely to be points of resistance and pushback. So, ironically, feminism supports the 1% by helping rationalize the labor force.

Trackbacks

  1. […] and “get laid” to keep up a competitive sex scoreboard, and are afraid to express emotions. The GoodMenProject explains, “Men are, in fact, being socialized into a hegemonic definition of masculinity, which […]

Speak Your Mind