Lewis Kopman on being a man and a feminist
Feminism is not about female empowerment. At least not anymore. It is about liberating gender from sex. About allowing women, but also humanity as a whole, the freedom to determine their own narrative. To not be confined to a life in which their actions are pre-determined by society. Frankly, the problem with masculinism is not that it is a movement to empower men, but that it works within the confines of a dated and violent ideology. In order to be a man, I have to aim for some masculine utopia.
This, is the idea, at least in part, behind masculinism. Defined generally as the idea that men and women should work to seek equality among the sexes, while still retaining their respective masculinity and femininity. In other words: separate, but equal. The movement is a reaction to a perceived victimization of men, masculinity, and ‘male’ sexuality. This idea, the victimisation, I have no problem with. I think that it is all too true that men are often perceived as rapists, or joyously callous and promiscuous. But the answer is not to tell men that they should all fight for the masculine gender and become ‘real men’ again. The idea stinks of the homophobic idea that some men have been ‘feminised’ by society, and are thus less manly. This is not to say that a man must be feminine to be gay, but the idea that men should return to their ‘natural’ gender is inextricably linked to the act of sex between a man and a woman. Many masculinists would say that in striving for sexual equality, some of the ‘fundamental’ differences between men and women have been blurred. These differences, as described by Eliezer Sobel, writer for The Good Men Project, are what make “desire, lust, and hot sex.” This idea though leads to definitions of masculinism and feminism that are dependent on the other: in order to be masculine, you must desire what is feminine, and vice versa. Masculinism and feminism, then, immediately become heterosexual genders. This is not necessarily a problem in itself, although perhaps gender should not be confined to a binary system. The issue is that when the movement so closely associates masculinism with what a man ‘should be,’ gay men immediately become thought of as unmanly, rather than just un-masculine.
Now, I firmly believe that men have in some ways been victimised by the system (at least in most Western, Judeo-Christian ones). However, these victimisations are largely the result of our own doing, our desire to protect the ‘weak and naive women.’ This has resulted in male rape being extremely difficult to prosecute, men shouldering a much greater burden of the military, male human trafficking remaining a relatively ignored and unknown phenomena, etc.. Again, these problems arose from men’s expectations and assumptions about women, and by attempting to once again ensure that gender roles are encouraged and expected by society. The movement is actually undermining its own efforts for equality. In other words, Masculinism has failed to realise that the inequality among men and women throughout history has not only been based on sex, but gender as well.
I will repeat what I mentioned earlier regarding feminism: it empowers and protects everyone. Feminism is, at its heart, a movement of liberation; the liberation of people from the expectations of society. Masculinism, while it has good intentions, is wrong about what true empowerment looks like. I believe that all men should be allowed to be masculine, all women allowed to be feminine. I also believe that everyone should allowed to be both or neither, and that none of these qualities are truly what make you a good man, or a good woman. But, then again, I am a feminist.
Sophie Patterson-advocates free people and free speech
Women are no longer fighting for the vote or struggling to the same extent to climb the career ladder, but they are contesting representations of women in media and advertising and supporting our right to wear whatever we choose without fear of sexual assault.
But what about the men? Since the Britpop scene of the 90s, the rise of the ‘bloke’ and magazines like Zoo, with the parallel popular portrayal of men in media as blundering buffoons, something has changed. Popular movements like ‘Movember’ and a return to old-school tailoring are indicators of a resurgence of traditional male values, and a reclaiming of more rights for the gender.
Websites like The Good Men Project seem, mostly, to accept the feminist movement as necessary, but also question its effect on male identity. Many articles address the confusion that men feel about women’s need for a sensitive and thoughtful partner, who can also be a “bad boy” in the bedroom. Most of these groups gather multidimensional points of view on what is means to be a modern man: in their words, “we let guys be guys, but we do it while challenging confining cultural notions of what a ‘real man’ must be.”
My first reaction to masculinism was “HELL YES”. What could possibly be wrong with men trying to be “better husbands, brothers, fathers and sons”? I’m not going complain if the guys in the library start looking like Don Draper. Besides, self-reflexivity is always a good thing. Indeed, the limits of male identity are often circumscribed in different ways from female identity as men must negotiate their way between macho ideals and offensive gay stereotyping. Many will likely argue that masculinism is a superfluous and unnecessary distraction from the more urgent inequalities that feminism seeks to right. However, the “let’s-sort-this-out-first-it’s-more-important” argument is never valid because nothing will ever be sorted. We do what we can.
Despite this, I do have a few qualms. I find some other sites like The Art of Manliness a little problematic, despite their lightheartedness. It looks to the past to “uncover the lost art of manliness”, featuring articles such as How to Shave Like Your Grandpa, Stop Hanging Out with Women and Start Dating Them, and A History of the American Bachelor. The founder states that he wants to address the refusal of his peers to grow up, those who have “lost the confidence, focus, skills and virtues that men of the past embodied.”
Why does masculinity apparently reside only in the past? This suggests that something is fundamentally wrong with gender constructions and relations in the now, and prescribes a narrow definition of manliness as the perfect model, one that leaves no room for alternative sexual and transgender interpretations of, well, just being a human.
Another thing: I have no problem with masculinism on its own – in the words of Voltaire, ‘I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it’ – but it shouldn’t necessarily be equated with feminism. As one commentator suggested, feminism is an ‘ism’ because solidarity is crucial to making it happen: “movements are for power. Men still have that in our society.”
I also completely disagree with the common idea in masculinist forums that feminism has taken something innate away from men regarding their primal instincts or sexuality. Why is it not possible to respect a woman as a human being and want to have crazy good sex with her at the same time?
Finally, the idea that masculinism is necessary to balance out feminism gives the wrong impression of feminism’s aims.
I agree with Rebecca West in seeing it as “the radical notion that women are people.” Why should this weaken or deplete male identity and potential? Feminism is an exploration of the fluidity of sexuality and gender boundaries: if masculinists want to add to that exploration, I welcome them.