Posts Tagged ‘male guilt’

Challenges for Men

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

What are the main challenges for men in modern and postmodern societies? In this post I’d like to outline what I believe to be important issues for men, at this point in time.

I believe that it’s crucial for us men to start defining our own issues and to find our own voice. Currently, the only political movement that discusses men’s issues is feminism, and that is very unsatisfactory in my opinion. Feminism is primarily a women’s liberation movement, and as such it does not authentically focus on men’s issues.

On a personal and political level alike, it is high time to put the spotlight on the challenges facing men, and it is our own responsibility as men to make that happen – we cannot expect anybody else to do it for us.

So let’s have a look at some important issues that need our attention:

  • The male gender role. As men, we are generally only valued when we perform. There’s nothing that society despises more than a man who doesn’t provide for his family, or a homeless man. The male gender role is also very constricted when it comes to everyday life. Men have a stricter dresscode than women, and men are also expected to adhere to a more narrow range of behaviors than women (for example: being more stiff, not touching other men, etc).
  • Fatherhood. The traditional father was a provider, and family courts still treat fathers in that way. How can we upgrade the role of the father to mean more than providing? I’m thinking that the father can be an important male role model, as well as give the children a sense of direction in life. And if we dare to think really big (sarcasm), then we may go as far as starting to care about the father’s emotional life. Just like we care about a mother’s right to be close to her children, we can start caring about a father’s right to be involved in his children’s lives, even after a divorce.
  • Male friendships. Men have smaller social networks and fewer friends than women. In my opinion an important reason for this is that men are culturally and biologically programmed to compete against each other in the workplace (and we are programmed to spend most of our time at work). If we can start valuing our lives outside of work, as well as let go of some of the competition at work, then it will probably be easier for men to start bonding.
  • Male political issues. As men we desperately need to find a language to describe our own experience. A major reason that feminism could emerge so early, is that women were able to find a language to articulate their own experience. Even though it may go against what’s expected of us, it’s important that we dare admit that the male gender role has real issues, and that we’re not happy with the status quo.
  • Emotional literacy. How can this be developed in men? Biologically speaking we may have a somewhat harder time to become emotionally literate, and culturally speaking we are certainly not encouraged to pursue emotional development. Nevertheless, we will never be masters of our own lives unless we become emotionally literate and able to hold our own in a relationship with a woman (or a man, if that’s our preference).
  • Romantic relationships. Many men still feel that they have to prove themselves to women, and that they should somehow feel lucky if a woman wants them. In my opinion, such a stance can only lead to bitterness and resentment in a man, since you are basically putting a low value on yourself and handing over all power to the woman. As men, we need to let go of the cultural programming that tells us that women are more pure and therefore better than us.

Any other issues that I’m forgetting about?

The Truth About Intimate Partner Violence – Part 2

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

In the previous blog post I wrote about how partner violence is falsely presented as a problem where men hit women. The myth of the male perpetrator and the battered woman is so pervasive that even most mental health professionals and social workers ascribe to it, though it flies in the face of substantial amounts of academic research.

In reality, gender is a very poor predictor of violence in the home, even though conventional feminist wisdom portrays men and presumed male privilege as the leading reasons for domestic violence.

So what are the consequences of misrepresenting the causes of domestic violence? What are the effects of perpetuating the myth of the male perpetrator?

  1. You move further away from solving the issue. Partner violence is caused by psychosocial problems such as mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse, raising young children, unemployment and poverty. If you don’t deal with these issues directly, and instead try to solve the problem by telling all men that manhood is the cause of violence, then your chances for success will be slim indeed.
  2. You perpetuate current myths about the sexes. By incorrectly stating that nearly all partner abuse is caused by men hitting women, you cement the notion that women are weak victims that are easy to exploit, while men are strong individuals who are likely to abuse the power awarded to them from society. In reality, women are far from weak, and men inhabit the whole spectrum from being empowered to being disempowered.
  3. You blame and shame men for an issue that is actually a human issue and not a male issue. The traditional male gender role presents men as stoic creatures that can handle anything life throws at them. While it may be true that many men have the ability to persevere under difficult circumstances, men are far from immune from being shamed, and having this affect them on a deep level. Blaming ordinary men for the societal issue of domestic violence, when women in fact instigate just as much violence (and most perpetrators have psychosocial problems), is in itself a subtle form of psychological abuse.
  4. You scare women and children by putting out the message that it’s ordinary men who hit their spouse. In reality, men who hit their spouse are much more likely to have psychological issues or drug abuse than ordinary men. Criminality is also vastly over-represented in men who physically abuse women.
  5. Children stay stuck in violent environments. Since female violence in the home has been made invisible by the current myths around partner violence, these women can carry on their abusive activities without any interference. This leads to children of all ages having to grow up in a violent environment, and potentially being physically abused themselves.
  6. Male victims cannot get the help they need. In the dominant worldview broadcasted by the media and politicians, male victims of partner violence hardly exist, and therefore there is no need to offer much help – if any – to men who have been abused. Men are thus doubly traumatized: first of all by the violence itself, and second of all by being made invisible by society and not getting any help to heal psychologically. 

It’s great that women have access to women’s shelters nowadays, and that social workers and the police alike are vigilant about battered women and male perpetrators.

But when will we see similar support systems geared towards battered men, and have the police be as vigilant about female perpetrators who hit their husband? When will men be able to bring themselves and their children to a safe-house in order to escape a violent wife?

Men’s Reactions Towards Feminism

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Regardless of what many feminists might claim, feminism is one of the largest and most influential movements of our time. There are very few ideas that have gained as much influence and universal adoption as the idea that women are the oppressed gender and men are the privileged gender. The core of the feminist message is no longer considered to be ideology, it is considered to be the truth.

There are a couple of defining characteristics that shape feminism, and therefore also shape the public’s opinion of gender issues:

  • Feminism will not see or acknowledge that gender roles developed organically, as a functional fit to external circumstances.
  • Feminism will only deal with male privilege and female suffering, not female privilege and male suffering. A splendid example is talking about male privilege in the workplace, while forgetting female privilege in the home and male suffering in dangerous workplaces.

When the same message is repeated time and again without any serious rebuttals, which is how the feminist message is treated by the media and policy makers, you create new stereotypes or even caricatures of the sexes.

Women are portrayed as helpless victims with high morals who are desperately trying to fight for their rights, while men are portrayed as insensitive brutes with questionable morals who actively oppress women and who want to keep their privileges at all costs. Since these distorted images of men (and women) are broadcast to us all, whether we want to or not, there is a direct impact on men’s self-esteem and emotional health.

Men and Feminism

So how do men react to being told that they are oppressors and potential rapists? There are a number of possible scenarios, and it’s possible to go through several of these phases, one at a time:

  1. Experiencing guilt and shame. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when we are told that men are bad, men oppress women, men cause wars, men are violent and all men are potential rapists. Who wants to be an alleged oppressor? As a result many men experience conscious or unconscious guilt and shame whenever feminism or gender issues are talked about. Feminist shaming is especially toxic for boys growing up with feminism.
  2. Silence. This is a very common response. Men bow their heads, want to make amends and apply the standard male formula of working harder to achieve a certain goal. Men have been largely silent as more and more feminist institutions have been created and as feminism has increasingly influenced public policy.
  3. Surrender. Some men become feminists themselves, which allows them to despise other men and how they continue to “oppress women”. Feminist men usually give off an aura of being smug and ungrounded at the same time. They are smug since they think they know better than other men, and they are ungrounded because they are basically supporting the view that men are inferior to women. A huge payoff for male feminists is that you get to talk about women as victims, so as a male feminist you are actually still being the quintessential protector of women, in accordance with the gender roles and gender dynamics that have been around since the dawn of humanity!
  4. Cracking the code. Once you can see past feminism and understand how the male gender role truly works, then you’re on your way to reclaiming your power as a man. When you get a more accurate picture of the traditional male gender role you also begin to see how one-sided and limited feminism is, and that feminism has shamed several generations of men, especially those who grew up with it.
  5. Anger and contempt. These feelings are very understandable, once you’ve seen past the intellectual constructions of feminism. How can you not be angry at and feel contempt for a movement that more or less tells you that you are intrinsically bad, simply for being born a man? While these emotions can be needed for a while, they are not constructive in the long run, and we need to avoid becoming stuck in this place!
  6. Taking action. You don’t have to come a political activist, simply because you’ve realized that feminism only talks about half of the gender issues. If all you do is change your own outlook and stand up for your views when talking to others, then you’ve done something very important towards changing the future of the gender discourse.

As men, we run a serious risk of losing our personal power, unless we find a healthy way to deal with feminism. We do not want to collapse, and become feminists ourselves. Neither do we want to stay overly tense and rigid, by staying perpetually angry at feminism. The healthy way forward is one of standing up for our own views, without adding more bitterness and polarization to the ongoing gender dialogue.

Feminism Shames Young Boys

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Feminism is no longer considered to be just a theory. Most politicians in democratic countries around the world take feminist ideas to be facts, and have these ideas influence public policy in a very real way. In the US, UK and Sweden, feminist thinkers are advisors to the government and directly influence legislation and other decisions.

Feminism has even spread to schools, where boys now are shamed simply for being boys. Nobel prize winner and feminist Doris Lessing, described this phenomenon as early as 2001 in The Guardian:

“I was in a class of nine- and 10-year-olds, girls and boys, and this young woman was telling these kids that the reason for wars was the innately violent nature of men.

You could see the little girls, fat with complacency and conceit while the little boys sat there crumpled, apologising for their existence, thinking this was going to be the pattern of their lives.”

Feminist Christina Hoff Sommers has also written about the same tendency; in her book The War Against Boys she exposes how feminist ideas and sloppy research have attacked boys in US schools and turned boyhood into a disease.

Development Matters

So why is this such a big issue? Can’t boys see the wider picture here, and understand that the teacher is trying to correct past wrongs? No, this is exactly what children of a certain age are unable to do.

Children aren’t born with the cognitive capacities of your average adult, and before the age of 11, most children are simply unable to perform abstract reasoning or understand nuances when having a discussion. Instead, children below this age generally see things in either-or scenarios, and divide the world into dichotomies of “good or bad”, “wanted or unwanted”, etc.

The cognitive development of children was described by famous Swiss scientist Jean Piaget, and the fact that children and human beings develop in stages has later been verified by Harvard researchers such as Susanne Cook-Greuter and Robert Kegan, and Theo Dawson who did her research at Berkeley.

The effect of teachers bringing feminism into the classroom, whether they are feminists themselves or simply instructed to do so, is that young boys hear the message: “Girls are good, boys are bad.” Due to their cognitive development, this is the natural interpretation of feminism for young boys (and girls). This creates a sense of shame at a very deep level, and could quite conceivably affect the self-esteem and healthy development of these young boys.

I personally consider it an outrage that young boys are shamed in the name of feminism. First of all I consider feminist ideas to be a very unbalanced take on gender issues, and therefore I don’t even recommend them for adults. However, imposing these ideas on young boys who cognitively cannot help but be shamed and deflated is dangerously close to child abuse.

Let’s have a passionate gender debate amongst adults, but leave children alone, and stop telling them that there’s something wrong with them simply because they were born male.

Generation X, Y and Z

Those of us who are men and around 45 years old or younger, quite probably grew up (or are currently growing up) with feminism around us in one way or other, at least in The West. Being raised with feminist ideas floating around in society,  in our schools and possibly in our own families, means that we have all experienced the shaming I describe above.

As long as we are children who are cognitively immature, we simply don’t have the capacity to argue against feminism or put up any effective psychological defenses, and hence the shaming takes place.

As sad as these dynamics are, I also believe that Generation X and Y will be the generations that change the gender discourse forever. We’ve seen first-hand how destructive and imbalanced feminism can be, and aided by men from previous generations and by women who are sick and tired of feminism, the time has come to speak up and have our voices be heard.

Who Produces the Food? – Part Two

Friday, February 13th, 2009

This is the second and final installment of my overview of how gender roles and food production are intertwined throughout history. If you haven’t already, please read Part One to get an introduction to the subject.

Obtaining enough food to survive has been the main occupation of humanity for thousands of years. The close relationship between food production and survival, means that the manner of producing food is one of the key factors that has driven the evolution of gender roles.

The Stone Age (Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras)

During the Stone Age, there were two primary strategies available for finding food: you could go hunting for meat, or you could gather roots, nuts, herbs and fruits. These hunter-gatherer societies had still not discovered farming, so that wasn’t an option.

Hunter-gatherer societies appear to have had a fairly strict division of labor, with men performing all of the hunting, and women doing most of the gathering. The reasons for this kind of division of labor are pretty straightforward. Men simply have superior upper body strength compared to women, and men can also run faster, both of which are advantageous in order to be a successful hunter. Furthermore, women become pregnant while men don’t, and being pregnant would slow down a hunter tremendously while also risking a miscarriage (which would be a disaster in terms of human survival). Babies also needed to be nursed for up to three years, which all in all made it very difficult for women to participate in the hunting.

The best choice available to maximize chances of survival was therefore to let men do the hunting while letting women do most of the gathering and taking care of the children. So even at the very dawn of humanity, we see a tendency for men to work away from home, and for women to stay close to their children and work near the home. These roles were established without any discrimination occurring, they simply represent what worked best at this point in time.

Horticulture(Neolithic era)

Horticultural farming was the first kind of farming that human beings developed, and it simply means farming using a digging stick or a hoe. What’s interesting about horticultural farming is that it does not require the upper body strength of men, nor does it increase the risk of a pregnant woman miscarrying. Consequently, women are perfectly capable of sowing crops using a digging stick or a hoe, and this is exactly what they ended up doing.

During the horticultural era, the men continued to go hunting, while the women did most of the farming as well as the gathering of roots, herbs and nuts. Hunting was still a very bad choice for women, for the reasons listed above, so this division of labor was likely quite straightforward. However, the addition of farming led to women producing around 80 percent of the foodstuff!

This overwhelming female dominance in producing food led to women gaining more importance in the public sphere, and it was also reflected in the religious practice. The horticultural period corresponds to the era of the “Great Mother”, the “Earth Goddess” and other female deities. In fact, the majority of deities became female, simply because these societies – consciously or unconsciously – recognized the important role that women played in obtaining food.

In spite of this increased female influence in the public sphere, horticulture did not lead to a matriarchy, though some societies were matrilineal and traced ancestry through the mother. Research indicates that a matriarchy has never existed (all described cases of matriarchy have been debunked), so clearly there are other factor besides food production that influence governance in a society (this is likely related to neurohormonal factors, something that I will address in future blog posts).

Agrarian Farming

While horticultural farming was carried out using a hoe or a simple digging stick, agrarian farming involved heavy plows drawn by oxen or horses. The sheer weight of these plows meant that they had to be operated by men, since women did not have the strength to do so. Additionally, the risk of miscarriage increased if women tried to operate these heavy plows.

Since agrarian farming and the keeping of livestock meant that no hunting, gathering or horticultural farming was needed, men all of a sudden produced virtually all of the food! This was a radical change from previous eras in human history, and the impact this had on cultures around the world was huge.

Men now had to work in the fields (away from home), and women had to do most of the lighter chores and raise the children (within the home). Agrarian farming created a sharper separation between the male and female gender roles than ever before, with the public sphere becoming a male only sphere, and the private sphere becoming a female only sphere.

The agrarian phase thus marks the start of what is often referred to as patriarchy. Instead of having female goddesses the deities now became men, or rather a single man, simply referred to as God. Please note though that I’m not talking about patriarchy as “a system where women’s interests are subordinated to the interests of men” but instead “a system where men are responsible for the public sphere, and women are responsible for the private sphere”. There was no oppression involved in setting up patriarchy, it simply crystallized into being since it was the best choice available at the time for both genders.

Industrialization and the Information Age

What’s interesting to note is that once industrialization freed humankind from depending on raw strength to perform heavy work, rapid change started happening more or less instantly. In a couple of hundred years, a snap of the fingers historically speaking, gender roles have evolved significantly. Women have been given the right to vote, the right to work and the right to have a voice in the public sphere. Once the factors that kept women in the home were removed, women were given the possibility to have a life outside the home.

My prediction is that men are now next in line to be given more choice and more freedom, and to have their gender role be less constricted. Then and only then, will men and women be able to work side by side to co-create the future.

Conclusion

These simple historical facts about food production demonstrate that oppression isn’t needed as an explanation for how gender roles came about. We can see a very clear trend of simple biological facts affecting or even determining what gender roles arose. Women’s ability to become pregnant, and women’s lesser upper body strength, have been instrumental in deciding the roles of women and men from early Stone Age right up to the era of traditional farming.

Gender roles haven’t developed as the result of human introspection or conscious choices, instead men and women have simply taken on the roles that would allow their tribe or community to be as effective as possible at obtaining food. This rhymes well with my own mantra that gender roles have always been a functional fit to the circumstances at hand, and not some kind of secret conspiracy to oppress women.

By getting our facts straight, a lot of misattributed male guilt and male shaming can be released, something that is long overdue in the current discourse on gender roles. The feminist attribution of guilt to men as a collective, is something I want to play a part in terminating.

I hope that the facts outlined in this post can contribute to a deeper understanding of gender roles that does not shame or put down either men or women.


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