I read an NY Times Op Ed entitled “The Boys Are Not Alright” addressing the male identity crisis with regard to violence in US society after the most recent mass shooting. While not debating the issues of US gun reform, or mental health care, it opens an important dialogue linking violence and gender behaviour with reference to a crisis in masculinity.
The article recognises this crisis is due to damaging male gender mores, feelings occasioned by the loss of traditional masculine traits, and lack of new models of masculinity, and from an essential male perspective. It states an eagerness to involve feminist dialogue, however, while I agree with many of these sentiments, in places I feel it risks alienating that very agenda, and at such a crucial time for the evolvement of both sexes.
The opinion offered seems to imply masculinity as being easily robbed. It suggests that women, in contrast to men, are increasingly well equipped to deal with obstacles. That women have the advantage of the past 50 years redefining their feminine traits, and are the beneficiaries of decades of feminist dialogues. That they outperform boys at all school levels, and are told they can be and do whatever they want.
It explicitly states that in this climate boys are being left behind and only have two options—withdrawal and rage—which leads to negative male behaviour patterns, such as domestic violence, and concludes that the boys need help.
To discuss male identity in reference to gender relations, while failing to acknowledge gender inequality—inequalities that are weighted against women, specifically, by the power traits of men, and that have a direct impact on male identities—needs addressing, and with respect to the benefit not just of women, but for men.
“The Boys Are Not Alright, So Neither Are The Girls”
If girls—facing an abundance of problems—are better equipped to go into the world, then surely they have had to equip themselves more urgently due to men placing more obstacles in front of them?
If men feel lost, it is not that women are advantaged, or suddenly able to emasculate men, but that men have reigned supreme for so long, that of course, now with some change and accountability, this must feel strange?
If considering women as the “beneficiaries of dialogue over decades” (and what happened to the centuries of women’s subordination) then surely this stands as testimony to the volume of gender disparity in itself, that despite all of this movement, current climate remains poignantly damaging for women?
The #MeTooMovement —a new open dialogue for both men and women on the current extent of industry dangers— now cites 94 per cent of women in the entertainment industry as sexually harassed or abused, and indicative across all industry. The extent of the movement supports that irrespective of any past groundswell in a female agenda, most women wishing to redefine themselves, in trying to be or do what they choose, face intimidation, threats, damages, complicity, and curtailment of their careers. In fact, the reluctance for feminist agenda to be successfully implicated in society, only highlights the persistent challenges, and thus, with respect the messages being absorbed to women, and so girls. And yet—to evolve female traits of shared responsibly, strength, and power, would directly minimise the pressures associated to traditional male identity.
That girls significantly out perform boys, with reference to high school and university data, is factual but it is not a new trend. And, again—this has not yet solved the continuing, and in some cases declining, lack of representation of women in STEM subjects , managerial positions , nor does it secure women equal pay for the same roles. This stands in stark contrast to the rise in position of power, status, and salary, for boys into men, in many more industries. Tellingly, it is estimated that with men in charge wage disparity will not close until 2085 .
How can we possibly say with respect to girls, that boys have been left behind, and when considering emerging and navigating gender issues?
Regards male inclusion (having re-addressed female exclusion), it is vital to note, most beneficiary work for gender equality, led by feminists, over the last 50 years,has necessarily included male dialogue— studies, resources, support, as well as discussions on the role of masculinity. Not only have feminists included men in dialogue, but they have successfully fought for the inclusion of men in law reform, and in abolishing laws that discriminates against men. To name just a few—the “Rape Is Rape” campaign launched by the Feminist Majority Foundation lobbied to include men in the legal definition for rape victims (significantly effecting how rape is reported) while the National Association for Women fought to include men in paid sick leave days. Similarly, as regards violence, in 1990s UNESCO and the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women met up to discuss male roles with the specific aim of building “a culture of peace.” This examined harmful consequences of rigid gender stereotypes, included strategies for reducing men’s violence, and raising boys for peace. Even regards sexual harassment, feminist scholar and Professor of Law Catherine Mackinnon wrote one of the most cited legal codes of behaviour for industry in 1979—had any man paid attention to it, the #metoomovement would not have been needed 38 years later, protecting us all.
Is it not more veritable that the majority of men remained reluctant to listen—perhaps explicably, as such agendas compromise male power, and for which they felt little vulnerability regards most women? Recently, with the accountability of social media, thankfully, more men seem ready to listen, and more dialogue— such as this— is finally happening between us.
Men are essentially needed in solving gender inequality, and absolutely no-one is stopping men educating themselves on these matters, to follow in the extra work women have had no choice but to undertake, laboriously, dangerously, as a matter of female survival.
There is an abundance of research that supports by fixing gender inequality directly increases benefits for men, in terms of health, safety, work and family. For example, in breaking down male bravado, which leads to willingness to seek medical and mental health care. Even, in addressing that men need more awareness as victims of domestic violence— where crimes remain unreported, or where there is less framework for legal persecution of women—but, again, this requires breaking down the same social perception of male gender roles, as well as issues of stereotyping with law enforcement.
If we can agree that male identity and gender inequality are continually interlinked in cause and effect— then, to solve these issues does require changes in male behaviour—firstly, that men rethink what it is to be a man, and how to redefine self-respect and identity. Secondly, in order to realign the disparity in gender order, male privilege and power must be recognised, not denied, and open to compromise.
If there are men (and women’s demands on men) that feel resistant to these changes, and cause feeling of loss, it is understandable, but is that arguably not due to further inherent reliance on male supremacy? A reluctance to adapt new masculine patterns of behaviour which seem threatening to traditional identity? For men to then label themselves as the oppressed?
I agree it is a difficult time to find strong male role models to overcome such insecurities. Masculinity remains intrinsically related to war, sexism, violence and aggression— entrenched in media and movie culture, and now further by politics that purport a white male identity movement, with characteristics of bullying and misogyny that lends to the notion of “toxic masculinity.”
The environment is rife to perpetuate hate crimes to the most vulnerable, or diverse, as well as those that stand for gender neutrality and the departure from traditional gender stereotypes—the LGBT communities, the feminist movement—and instead, condones stereotypical male ideologies that link further to anger, depression, violence, suicide.
As regards the psychological profile of a male shooter, there has been work explaining why we can try to understand their reasons, but for the many men that feel a loss of identity in day to day society, we need to urgently uphold better male role models that tackle all of these issues together.
The impact of Mandela’s work, less known for championing women’s liberty, fiercely marching for women’s rights comes to mind. Or refer back to the pro-feminist men’s movement which formed out of the men’s liberation movement —influenced by second wave feminism and social movements of 1970s. This embraced a system for men and women based on egalitarianism. Strength, power and focus was not stolen, but re-directed to dismantling their own male gender roles, and breaking down rigid structures, to work against violence.
To conclude, the strength and qualities of men are needed and more than ever.
We need men to use their power to stand up when witnessing violence toward others more vulnerable, to not be complicit, to push the less powerful through to show their talent, teach our children these qualities, to be resourceful and communicative—and willing to get it wrong; that over the option to rage and withdraw, is the option to unite.
A Men’s Movement should not tend to thinking that we are endorsing women and privileging women over men, it must instead uphold that both men and women are harmed by sexism, and it can be possible, without conflict, to work in eliminating discrimination for the best of both sexes.
Gender equality refers to the goal of achieving equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and boys and girls. It cannot be just a woman’s issue; just as the ensuing male identity crisis cannot be just a male problem; it is an issue we must unite on for a safer, stable, and less violent society.
Feminism should not just be inspiring to men, it should be active, and necessary. In this matter, men have not and cannot be left behind—women are waiting for all men to decide to arrive.
Update – Since time of publishing The Michigan University shooting happened on March 3rd
Joanna Pickering is an actress, writer, producer and activist. She has a degree in pure mathematics. She writes on matters of gender inclusivity and diversity as well as speaking about female agenda for the entertainment industry.
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