Jessica Bahr unpacks some of the assumptions behind femmephobia, and how devaluing women devalues men on a fundamental level.
(Inspired by the article called, The Opposite of ‘Man’ is ‘Boy,’ Not ‘Woman,’ by Hugo Schwayer, published in Jezebel and The Good Men Project)
I like this article for what it illuminates. However, the deeper issue, which Hugo alludes to, but doesn’t really address, is that men find it so insulting to be associated with anything feminine, and will avoid this association at all costs (this starts in boyhood). There in lies the major problem, one that hurts both genders, and also rips them apart. This fear of the feminine not only disrespects and marginalizes women and anything female (which shows up in a litany of ways – from the subtle to the brutal), it also cuts men off from their full spectrum of humanity, which includes the “feminine” qualities, and in fact demonizes these qualities (leaving men behind developmentally, spiritually, emotionally, sexually, and psychologically), and leaves relationships asunder in the wake.
How unfair to everyone and what a war of separateness this mentality wages on humanity. And the fight to bridge that great divide seems futile to anyone who tries, given the deeply entrenched conditioning around it – making sure everyone knows their place…and if it’s feminine – it’s not a good one. That is the underlying message. And as the article notes, over-compensating hyper masculinity isn’t working out well (!).
In general, women don’t have a problem with being told they have masculine qualities, or performing what has traditionally been deemed masculine or manly, in fact it’s something we’ve strived for to gain equal footing, believing we would finally be valued for being able to offer what the culture values. We also had to do it out of necessity to survive in a patriarchal world that wasn’t showing any signs of accommodating or accepting feminine ways of being anytime soon.
It starts simply enough - as a kid, I remember playing video games with my male friends and them refusing to be a female character in the game (not that there were many to choose from back then – and the ones today are pornified caricatures), and often I had no choice but to play the male character, and I didn’t think twice about it…there was no shame in it for one, and two, well, I guess I was desensitized to the idea of simply not having my gender represented in that and many other ways (especially empowering ones). It was like we didn’t matter…and if you wanted to play, you became a boy in whatever way you needed to, to feel safe and/or comfortable…more accepted. But it was never the reverse.
Also in my youth (and I’m sure it hasn’t changed), I remember it was the worst insult for boys to call each other a girl. I remember feeling so much hurt and pain when I heard this – from a very early age…almost as if a foreigner in a strange land. At times it was shocking, numbing. I felt like I was seen as less than and as something/someone they did not want to be like in anyway shape or form, and also that to be a girl was an embarrassment overall to the very society that bore her. And the fact that this behavior was normalized made it worse.
That is a lot of shame to internalize just for having been born with a vagina. A projected shame, not our own. So I constantly was undoing in myself what was being projected onto me by the culture, and even by the people I loved. As a tomboy, I was always proving that I could be both; both protecting my girl-ness and doing what it took to fit in and be taken seriously, which ironically meant having to subdue my femaleness at times and act like a boy. But I knew early on that I could not and would not accept that blatant disparity and discrimination for the part of me that was feminine; that was my birthright – and that I would find ways to live in a female bashing society, while not selling myself out. It’s an ongoing feat.
As I got older I learned that there was a “feminine” aspect that was accepted and “valued” in our culture after all – and it had to do with prettiness and sexualization. That version of feminine was acceptable; this is where we knew our place, or rather were put in our place. The irony there is that even that idea was projected onto me. It was an over-exaggerated distortion of femininity (a perversion) as defined by someone else (not women, though they would buy into it). It wasn’t MY own sexuality or my natural appearance that would be valued, it was the gluttonously egoic patriarchal one, which included dictatorial control of everything from how a woman should look, to the noises she should make when she cums.
Pornography and objectification replaced authenticity – in one of the most organic, natural and intimate parts of our lives – and another perpetual battle would render many casualties in the war between the genders, ironically in an area where once a natural and pleasurable union (literally) was formed. Now people – adults, scramble to play in the game; where they have become the dehumanized pawns, the interchangeable game pieces, having lost any sense of what it means to be a man or a woman, lest a human being who values all the healthy aspects of both.
And this aspect of femininity – the sexual/beauty aspect, would also be the primary thing used against woman (even CEOs and senators, authors and activists) wherever all other progress was made – where the so-called reward is a backlash punishment of objectification, ridicule, diminishment, and lack of intimacy in personal relationships from male counterparts who are conditioned to be caught up in the image of a woman (to the point of addiction), more than the heart and mind of her.
Going back to the original article that spawned this writing, I agree that the opposite of manhood isn’t womanhood, it is boyhood – and that manhood and womanhood both require a maturity, a conscious growing up and showing up in our fullness….all those things Hugo mentions or implies – integrity, commitment, responsibility, etc. It’s not about doing it better or even different than the other gender, but doing it better than we previously did, or than those who came before us. Evolution is not about further distinguishing ourselves from one another because of some negative and harmful association we have with the other gender, it’s about outgrowing the conditioning that caused the association- the unnatural divide, and celebrating and embracing the healthy versions of both – in ourselves and one another.
Photo—Couple arguing from Shutterstock