The primary concept presented here highlights the disjunctive dichotomy between being the Subject of one’s story or the Object of someone else’s; which connects to a multifaceted conception of masculinity while examining the idea that gender writing has sometimes silenced men’s voice, creating a faux marionette of masculinity.
Every story has a subject around which the narrative centralizes. Beyond the subject lie people and objects, which the subject encounters and defines through a particular lens. Paulo Freire, an educational philosopher, explains that the distinction between Subject and Object is a system which disempowers the Object and furthers their domination.
To be the Subject requires the ability to define one’s self in context with an active participation in the construction of an identity. In opposition to the Subject is the Object, which is defined by something outside of it and which has no control of its selfhood. To be the Subject is both a condition of determining one’s own identity, and requisite for empowerment.
“If men and women are searchers and their vocation is humanization [becoming Subjects,] sooner or later they may perceive the contradiction” of being Objects and will “then engage themselves in the struggle for their liberation” . In this regard, feminism has taken up the banner for female liberation. This struggle for liberation, and the desire to be a Subject, has led to a redefinition of femininity and in the same breath has opened up the idea that masculinity can likewise be reassessed.
The implications of this change is that a person, by defining their own identity, alters the manner in which identities are defined and thought of, producing a movable construction of gender. A critical idea that has been central to Feminism is the belief that one “must take care not to (mis)represent the diverse positions of different women, nor collapse the complex multiple social identities of women into a simplistic notion of gender identity” .
This recognition of the multiplicity of gender identities is a starting ground for Subjects. Diane Elson says women are not “a homogeneous group with the same interests and viewpoint everywhere.” Feminism has tried to create a space for women to determine their own identity, allowing women to be the authors of their own stories.
While the idea of a singularity of femininity has been dispelled, masculinity is still seen as such. As female ‘icons’ such as Barbie have been dethroned, the unattainable bastions of masculinity (John Wayne and Clint Eastwood) have remained. This unrealistic version of masculinity is problematic and often takes the form of a universal masculinity, posed as the oppressive force towards women.
Judith Butler says: “The political assumption that there must be a universal basis for feminism, one which must be found in an identity assumed to exist cross-culturally, often accompanies the notion that the oppression of women has some singular form discernible in the universal or hegemonic structure of patriarchy or masculine domination.”
She continues the idea of a singularity of gender and masculinity, stating: “The urgency of feminism to establish a universal status for patriarchy in order to strengthen the appearance of feminism’s own claims to be representative has occasionally motivated a shortcut to a categorial or fictive universality of the structure of domination, held to produce women’s common subjugated experience.”
Not only does it allow for a singular masculinity, Butler states that it also puts women into the same shared experience, in effect creating a singularity of femininity as well. By presenting men as the common enemy, it seeks unity under domination, and puts universality upon both masculinity as adversary and femininity as victim.
Masculinity in many cases has been made an Object whilst feminism has claimed femininity as Subject. Holding that men are important in the gender conversation and that masculinity, and its redefinition, is necessary for the success of an evolution in gender roles and relationships, men must become instruments for change and advocates towards Subjects.
Dissociating men from the feminist movement is detrimental to the movement, the women involved in it, and the men who are excluded. The fight for true gender equality must stretch beyond gender camps.
Regardless of gender, one should be the Subject of their own identity. Men must seek a more significant voice in a gender discourse that accepts a varied understanding of masculinity. Each of us should have the ability to define for ourselves how we choose to express our masculinity or femininity and be the Subjects of our own story.
1. Butler, J. (2008) Gender Trouble, London: Routledge.
2. Elson, D. (1991) ‘Male bias in the development process: an overview’, in Elson, D. (ed.) Male Bias in the Development Process, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
3. Freire, P. (1996) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, London: Penguin Books.
4. Jackson, C. & Pearson, R. (1998) ‘Introduction: Interrogating Development: Feminism, gender and policy’, in Jackson, C. & Pearson, R. (ed.) Feminist Visions of Development, London: Routledge.
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