The majority of discourse on gender oppression is made up of the female experience; understandably so given the subjugated past of women. However, to encompass the entirety of the topic we must also widen our attention to those less associated with gender issues: men.
The difficulty with male gender oppression is the immediate wall you come up against upon its mention. How can men be oppressed when its men who are oppressive? The answer is that it is men who are oppressing themselves. Contrary to popular belief men are just as victimised by the darker side of gender as women; their battle is less well known because it is waged internally, behind closed doors.
Hypermasculinity is the belief that in order to be a man you must in no way resemble a woman; being even remotely feminine strips you entirely of your masculinity. This then means that conventionally feminine traits such as tenderness, compassion and empathy are strictly off limits. In order to be a man you cannot display evidence of harbouring any of these aspects. Instead, the man determined to be perceived as a man by society must alienate themselves from all emotion that is considered feminine. In place of these feminine emotions men are permitted characteristics such as lust to present sexual prowess, rage to show off strength, and bravado to display courage. By limiting the expressiveness of man within the parameters of this concept of hypermasculinity men are corralled into a specific mould. From a young age, rather than celebrating individuality and encouraging uniqueness in whatever form it may present itself the boy who veers from the path of machismo is the target of contempt, isolated from his peers for insufficient levels of testosterone.
What I constantly hear is that it is a biological matter of hormones, that men and women are undeniably different because they have different sets of hormones inside them, and this is why men behave in such a way. But this argument doesn't account for the fact that hormone levels are different in every person, within both genders. Not every man is bursting with testosterone, in the same way that not every woman is brimming with oestrogen. Many men feel forced to accentuate their masculine traits in order to blend in with their male peers, contrary to the popularised notion that men naturally behave in a hypermasculine way.
Boys are told not to cry, advertising for sport is aimed heavily at males, and subjects like science and maths are sparsely populated by girls. This is all evidence of a societal expectation, an assumption about what the masculine identity entails. But I would argue that this assumption is wrong.
76% of suicide cases are men, and suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 50. These figures have been consistently increasing, and are the worst they have ever been. In many cases it can be this societal expectation that is to blame. Men feel they must fulfil this masculine role in order to be a man, and when some men inevitably cannot, the message from society that they are not real men is understandably too much for them to bear. But more than this, many men are unable to deal with the disassociation from emotion that the hypermasculine persona requires. In this highly pressurised world they would rather not live at all than live being emotionally stunted; they would rather take their life than life a half-life.
In order to break free from this vicious circle men must realise that they are their own goalers. Unlike the 20th century's waves of femininity in which women rose up against the oppression of men by refusing to conform to the male's idea of female perfection (perfectly analogised in Virginia Woolf's Angel in the House), contemporary men have the more complicated matter of standing up to themselves. Only by refusing to comply with this man made concept of male perfection can men start discovering who they really are behind this artificial mask.
To me, hypermasculinity is about rooting your identity in your gender. There is so much more to everyone that their reproductive organs and the societal expectations that surround them!
We are told to be ourselves, while simultaneously being expected to remain within a strict framework that directly affects the our nature of our lives. I say life is too short and too beautiful to waste it feeling constricted in any way! Wear the colours you feel beautiful in, sing the songs that let you shed your worries, behave the way you would if judgement didn't exist. Because when you do, you'll be taking the first steps towards a world where judgement doesn't exist.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around men to highlight the pressures they face around identity and to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, the difficulty in expressing emotion, the challenges of speaking out, as well as kick starting conversations around male body image, LGBT identity, male friendship and mental health.
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