Most people are aware that we live in a world where men are in charge, a patriarchy. But as with heterosexual white privilege, many are blind to patriarchy’s innumerable benefits for those in power, and its pitfalls.
In much of the world, patriarchy means women still have no rights at all. Here in the U.S., things are moving toward more equality, but slowly. Women couldn’t vote until 1920, after overcoming massive opposition. They couldn’t own a credit card or report sexual harassment in the workplace until 1977. There is yet to be equal pay for equal work. Obviously, then, patriarchy hurts women. But how does it also hurt men?
Let’s think about this. What are the assumed (and often unconscious) requirements of patriarchy?
- Men must be strong (for instance, excel in sports)
- They must dress like other “real” men
- They must be self-reliant, not relational
- They must be devoted to work and good providers
Men are only allowed to express their feelings in four ways: sex, violence, sports, and work.
Of course, any man who falls outside of these norms — gay, bisexual and trans men, the disabled, the non-sports-minded, men who easily show their emotions, etc. — has felt the sting of the patriarchy’s contempt — even from women. But these are not the only ones hurt by unconscious devotion to the norms of patriarchy.
When men suppress their natural inclinations and deny themselves access to important parts of their identity, these end up coming out sideways, such as unintentionally saying and doing damaging things to ourselves and others, especially our partners. Our concept of “masculinity,” handed down from archaic patriarchal times, anesthetizes feelings, leaving men numb and stunted both psychologically and emotionally, often relieving men from feeling accountable and responsible for the very actions that harm others and themselves. This is called toxic masculinity.
This kind of idealized masculinity, then, is toxic both to the man who practices it and to those around him. It manifests in homophobia, misogyny, violence, and “Playboy” behavior, which leads to psychological problems such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse.
As psychotherapist Terrence Real, writes in his insightful book, I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, “Boys and men are granted privilege and special status, but only on the condition that they turn their backs on vulnerability and connection to join in the fray. Those who resist, like unconventional men or gay men, are punished for it. Those who lose or cannot compete, like boys and men with disabilities, or of the wrong class or color, are marginalized and rendered all but invisible.”
One of the best representations I’ve ever seen of how we are “taught to be a man” was in the comedy, “In and Out.” Kevin Kline, playing the character Howard, a professor who discovers that others think he is gay, and to live down this image (and deny his own homosexuality) he buys an audio tape called “Be a Man: Exploring Your Masculinity.” In tape number one, “Getting a Grip,” he is told how to dress, stand a certain way, and how to speak, all of which he fails miserably at. Then, finally, the narrator explains, “Truly, manly men do not dance; under any circumstances! This will be your ultimate test. At all cost, avoid rhythm, grace, and pleasure.” It then launches into Diana Ross singing “I Will Survive” — a gay disco anthem.T
he song plays louder and louder, while the audio shouts “Men do not dance! They work, they drink, they have bad backs. They do not dance!” Ultimately, Howard can’t contain himself and begins dancing uncontrollably. The narrator begs him to stop, calling him a pantywaist and a “big ballerina.” It tells him to “bite someone, to kick someone, bite someone’s ear!” At the end, the tape asks, “So how did you do — pussyboy?” It was one of the most hilarious and telling scenes I’ve ever witnessed, and I laughed and cried — hardly acceptable behavior in a patriarchal society!
There are many, more ways in which patriarchic attitudes wound men. These fall under the title of “misandry,” the counter-term to misogyny, or hatred of women. One hears these things everywhere in conversations:
- “Men don’t understand women”
- “Men just want a hole to put it in”
- “Men can’t hear the word no” (when rejected sexually)
- “Men are obsessed with lesbian porn”
- “Really? You don’t like sports?”
- “He’s, you know, ‘artistic’”
- “Man up”
- “Men only think with their dicks.”
These are the often-overlooked microaggressions against any man who does understand women, isn’t just looking for a hole to put it in, who can hear the word “no,” who aren’t obsessed with lesbian porn, etc. As a society, we are slowly beginning to recognize how attitudes assumed from the past need to be brought to our conscious awareness, re-evaluated, and discarded if they do not serve our future.
Beginning to recognize the dark side of patriarchy is the first step on the path to healing.
I’ve been noticing more and more microaggressions toward men, but I’ve found a surprisingly little discussion of this trend. There is a word most people have never heard of: Misandry, meaning hatred of men. It corresponds to misogyny, hatred of women. By noticing microaggressions directed against men, we can uncover a lot of ‘hidden’ misandry.
To understand toxic masculinity further, watch my video on the topic, here:
Also by Dr. Joe Kort, here on GMP:
Photo credit: Getty Images