SHEDDING PATRIARCHAL MASCULINITY
There’s masculinity, and then there’s patriarchal masculinity. In my opinion, the former views femininity as complementary to it, while the latter views femininity as something that is degrading. In a patriarchal society like the United States, boys are raised to see femininity in themselves as something that must be shunned, despised, and loathed. The patriarchal masculinity taught to young boys finds no redeeming qualities in femininity when it is expressed boys or men, and thus boys are taught to avoid femininity at all costs, and also that they must stamp it out when it manifests itself in other boys and men.
I got the idea to write about “shedding patriarchy” last night while I was in my bathroom thinking about the Chris Brown and Raz B situation that took place on twitter. The situation got me thinking about growing up as a young boy who was being shaped and molded for patriarchal masculinity and what that meant for me as well as other boys around me. I was being groomed by the boys and men around me to view the feminine, not as a complement, but as something capable of degrading my masculinity entirely. Insults like “faggot,” “sissy,” and “punk” were routinely used by the boys and men around me, either as a way of insulting a man for doing something considered feminine, or for policing the mannerisms of other boys and men. I can remember an older cousin who seemed obsessed with my masculinity, it was as if his goal in life was to remind me that my femininity was a grave wrong, and that it was his job to remind me of this by taunting and teasing me. I’d have hoped that my experience is unique, but it is the reality for thousands, if not millions, of young boys in this nation who are taught through patriarchy that femininity is not a complement, but a threat.
As an adult man I have been able to immerse myself in feminist theory, and the writings of feminists like bell hooks and Eve Ensler. It is through hooks that I found the strength within me to shed patriarchal masculinity, and to embrace a masculinity that does not view femininity as a threat to masculinity, but rather a complement. In the past I had always straddled the line between embracing and rejecting the feminine within me, but through the feminist theory of hooks, Ensler, and others I learned to embrace the masculine and feminine in me, seeing them as complements to my being. I see myself as a snake who has finally shed the old skin, revealing a beautiful new layer of skin below. The patriarchal masculinity I was groomed to exhibit has been replaced with a new masculinity that does not view femininity as something to be despised in myself or other men, something that men must distance themselves from. If someone says I talk like a girl or walk like a girl this does not phase me. If someone says I am feminine this does not phase me. If someone says that I am soft or “pussy” this does not phase me. While the patriarchal masculinity may have been upset or hurt by those statements, the new masculinity is not and sees those as complements rather than something that degrades. Just as it may take days for a snake to shed it’s skin, it is not an easy task for a man to shed patriarchal masculinity. There are many forces in society working to keep men imprisoned inside of patriarchal masculinity. The media, church, family, sports, and many others keep men wedded to patriarchal masculinity, but feminist theory, and especially the work of bell hooks is one way for men to envision an alternative masculinity.
I truly feel, that my life is better now that I have shed patriarchal masculinity, and it is my hope that many other men undertake this process of shedding patriarchal masculinity in favor of a masculinity that does not view the feminine as degrading.
Recommended Reading: The Will to Change by bell hooks