Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Why Feminism Came First

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Feminism is a well-established movement around the world, and particularly strong in the most developed parts. In many European and North American countries, feminism is present in the media, in politics, in schools and in legislation. So not only did feminism manage to arise back in the 18th century, but it’s also been hugely successful at spreading its message and implementing change.

However, the masculist movement is conspicuously absent, as is a gender liberation movement that cares about both sexes. Why is this? Why did feminism come first?

The mainstream explanation is of course that women were oppressed while men were not, and therefore the need for feminism was pressing and the need for masculism was non-existent. I believe that explanation to be both simplistic and incorrect, since it is obvious that men too had a constricted gender role and very little real freedom.

I can see five important reasons as to why feminism arose first, and why men’s voices have been more or less completely absent from the gender debate:

1. The Female Value Sphere

Due to the very different gender roles of men and women throughout history, men’s and women’s value spheres have evolved very differently. I won’t describe the male and female value sphere in any detail, but what’s interesting for our purposes is that the female value sphere includes focusing on rights, care, nurturing – and dare I say it: complaining. Women have always been responsible for making sure that enough resources are available to raise a baby, and to do that you need to focus on your rights and complain when your needs are not being met.

This means that while women may not have had any official positions in the public sphere at the time that feminism arose, they were used to complaining when they weren’t happy about their situation. And to start a movement that protests against a perceived injustice, you need to be ready to complain.

2. Having Time To Analyze

In the 18th century, when feminism arose, upper and middle class women were the only group in society that had time to analyze their own situation, especially the ones with grown-up children or or no children at all. So the wealth created by men in the public sphere allowed women to start thinking beyond survival, while men were still preoccupied with performing and bringing in resources.

Similarly, in the 1960s, when feminism exploded into mainstream consciousness, the driving force was a large group of middle class women who had been well educated and also had a lot of free time to think about their own situation.

Having the time to think about one’s own situation, is obviously a prerequisite for becoming dissatisfied and wanting to implement change.

3. The Male Value Sphere

The male value sphere arose from men’s roles and responsibilities in the public sphere, and is thus very different from the female value sphere. The male value sphere focuses on getting things done and not complaining, preferably while being silent. These characteristics were essential to be efficient in the public sphere, especially when many men had to work together.

However, this means that men simply don’t have the instinct to complain, or to speak up about a perceived injustice. Men tend to know their place in the male hierarchy, and if they’re not happy about their personal circumstances, the solution has always been to work harder or work smarter, while complaining is generally seen as “unmanly” and as something that will expose one’s weakness.

4. In-Depth Analysis

The limitations of the male gender role are more subtle and covert than the limitations of the female gender role – and are thus harder to spot, unless our analysis is both wide and deep. Men have traditionally had access to money, which is something very tangible, as opposed to the more intangible social connections and social capital that women have access to. Men’s power in the public sphere has been visible, while women’s power in the private sphere has been invisible.

The feminist way of framing things has also made it harder to spot the constrictions of the male gender role, by turning the spotlight away from the plight of men. We all know about men’s dominance of the public sphere, but not men’s expendability in the public and private sphere. Men working long days away from home is considered a privilege, and not a sad story that prevents you from spending time with your children and getting to know them.

Not only did feminism come first, but once the feminist rhetoric was it place, it became very hard to even think the thought that men may be struggling within an impossible gender role.

5. Male Change Is Scary

We are so used to men building civilization and building wealth, that the very thought of changing the male gender role scares a lot of people, or perhaps it scares culture as a whole. I believe this is why the male gender role is even more narrow than the female gender role (which research indicates), and why we have so many ways of keeping men “manly” and keeping men in their performing role.

Who will take care of us if men aren’t there to risk their lives to save us from a fire, or if men aren’t ready to devote their lives to their careers for the benefit of society? We all depend on men to feel safe, and to have the wheels of civilization keep on turning.

In popular culture women are often portrayed as being dissappointed that men take them for granted. However, as a culture we probably take male sacrifice and male expendability more for granted than anything else.

What Now?

The image that emerges is one of men that are focused on performing and working, while not being used to complaining or thinking about the role they have. Women however, have no trouble complaining, and once history gave them the time to think about their own situation there were obvious examples available of how they were being shortchanged.

Furthermore, changing the male gender role is plain scary, because male expendability and male sacrifice make people feel safe. All in all this made feminism come first, before any masculism or neutral gender liberation movement.

Most men still have to pause and reflect upon their own situation, in part due to the male value sphere, but especially as feminism and the media tell them that they have all the advantages. I dearly hope that this is changing now, and that men are waking up and starting to find their authentic voices. Not only will this be good for men, but I suspect women are longing to connect to men who have this kind of self-awareness, and who can stand up for their own rights.

Culture Wars: The Need for a Culture to Be Competitive

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Roy F. Baumeister is a social psychologist who in 2007 gave an excellent speech on the topic “Is There Anything Good About Men?”, that I resonate deeply with. Unfortunately I wasn’t there to hear him speak, but a transcript is freely available.

The gist of Baumeister’s talk is that the feminist assumption that men and women constantly compete for power within a culture, may not be as true as many people think. In fact, feminism has created a false worldview of the sexes always being against each other and competing for power. The reality is that throughout history men and women have usually been forced to cooperate in order to obtain adequate amounts of food and to ensure that their offspring survives and thrives.

We approach a much more profound truth when we realize that every culture has always competed with other cultures for power and influence. The largest determinant of how cultures have been organized through history is not a power struggle between men and women, but instead a competition between different cultures. Cultures have had to be organized efficiently enough to be able to maintain or even increase their power and influence, or else face the possibility of being dominated or subsumed by another, more efficient culture.

So why has there been this constant competition, whether fierce or subtle, between different cultures? Why haven’t cultures been able to get along peacefully, trusting each other to only want what best for everyone? Nowadays, we see that lots of countries do try to stay out of wars as much as possible, and two democracies have still never gone to war with each other. However, historically speaking, cultures and people simply weren’t as evolved as we are now, so the primitive threat of being overrun or dominated by your neighbouring culture was always a very real threat.

Cultures therefore needed to be as efficient as possible, in order to stay competitive and also to simply be able to gather enough food to survive. As it turns out, what all successful cultures have discovered is that it is very efficient and beneficial to use men for most or all of the high risk tasks, while keeping women as safe as possible. As you are probably aware of yourself, this pattern of using men for high risk activities while keeping women safe remains with us until this day.

But why did women need to be kept safe? Why couldn’t women participate alongside men in the dangerous activities? The safety of women has always been crucial, because it’s only women who have wombs – and wombs are the limiting factor for maintaining or increasing the population of a certain culture. Men’s biological contribution to reproduction is simply a batch of sperms, and sperms are abundant. Each man could potentially father hundreds of children with hundreds of different women, which means that men have never been a limiting factor in the reproduction process.

Each woman, on the other hand, can only be pregnant with one baby at a time (on average), and each pregnancy lasts for nine months. Losing the life of a woman is thereby equivalent to losing a womb, and from the perspective of a culture competing with other cultures, this represents the loss of a “baby factory”. Lots of children being born increased the chances for a culture to expand its influence and power. When population grows, you have more people available to produce wealth by working, trading or fighting. And in this context wealth creation is pretty the same thing as becoming more powerful and influential.

We can now see that the competition that has been going on between different cultures or societies around the world has been a major catalyst for the evolution of human culture and human societies. Constantly striving for wealth creation and better organization, in order to be able to compete better, has fueled the process of increased civilization and has given us more sophisticated ways of being human. We’ve simply become less primitive and more evolved.

The downside to all this is that even to this day, we view men as expendable and male lives as less worth than female lives. Men are still the ones who go to war, and who do the dangerous jobs such as being a police officer, fireman, coal miner, oil platform worker and pretty much any dangerous job you can think of. This is an issue that is currently not addressed properly in the gender debate, and feminism does not have this issue on its agenda.

Feminism has very much realized that the whole business of keeping women safe, helped contribute to women being shut out of the public sphere, which isn’t desirable in a modern society. However, if we are intellectually honest, we need to look at the flip side of the coin, and the fact that because of cultures competing in the past (and to some extent still competing) – men now have a gender role where they are considered expendable or disposable.

Stay tuned for the upcoming post where I’ll address this universal male expendability in a lot more detail.


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