By Christopher Ford
Beginning today and continuing into next year, I will be writing periodically as a part of a new series of blog posts here at that I would like to call The Myths of Manhood. It’s something a little bit different from our regular posts discussing violence against women, since the focus of this series is, as you can probably tell, men and masculinity.
But that does not mean it will be disconnected from the subject. Many folks often forget that violence and violence against women is by and large a men’s issue — according to , approximately 8 out of 10 cases completed in adult criminal courts in Canada (2012) involved a male accused, and approximately 97% and 91% of persons accused of sexual offences and weapons offences respectively were men.
Furthermore, the largest age group of criminal offenders in Canada is men between the ages of 18 and 24, with the second largest being men between 25 and 34.
And so I affirm: we need to stop talking about violence against women as if it is a women’s issue. We need to recognize the massive role that socialization has on the behaviour of men (and the way others view men) if we ever want to put a stop to violence against women (and violence in general).
This is where the idea for this new series came from. I thought that I could investigate some of the ideas about manhood that derive from the patriarchal society in which we live, and to try and refute them. I will start with one for today, and then pick up next time with three more.
Myth: ’Masculinity’ is natural/innate in men
This will be a good myth to start off with, since many other myths about manhood are contained within (and we will be able to talk more about them later on!). But, basically, one of the fundamental myths of manhood is that every man is endowed naturally with ‘masculine’ characteristics and behaviours — you may have heard this myth phrased in different ways, such as “boys will be boys” or “it’s in our nature to be XYZ (sexually aggressive, tough, etc).”
Let’s try to unpack this a little bit. First of all, what do we mean when we say ‘masculine?’ The term masculinity for us — and indeed for our society — means the equation of manhood with violence, dominance, lack of emotion, physical strength and toughness, an insatiable drive for sex (with women), and other similar characteristics.
Now, some folks are of the belief that these characteristics of manhood are genetically inherited by all men, or, to put it another way, that to be a man (read ‘to have a penis’) somehow means that you are predetermined to have character traits like those listed above. And at some level, yes, genes may play a role in the way we behave. However, behaviours that our society ascribes to ‘masculinity’ are very often the products of the socialization of men through culture — and very often the sheer power of socializing forces is altogether ignored.
I know — some of you may be shaking your head in disagreement. But consider the following study performed by Margaret Mead, one of the most influential anthropologists of our time.
In her book, entitled Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935), Mead studied three tribes in the region of modern-day Papua New Guinea. Although residing not too far away from one another, she found considerable differences in the ways men behaved, as well as the gender norms and roles for both men and women, between the tribes.
For the first tribe, the Arapesh people, she said that “both men and women were peaceful in temperament and neither men nor women made war” (although she does say that war did sometimes happen, but not very often). She also said that the Arapesh showed a considerable amount of egalitarianism, placing particular importance on egalitarian child-rearing.
Regarding the second, called the Mundugumor people, she said that “both men and women were warlike in temperament” — that is, violence was not something attributed to manhood or the nature of men, but it was a large part of the way their society functioned.
And, lastly, the third tribe, the Tchambuli, she said “were different from both. The men 'primped' and spent their time decorating themselves while the women worked and were the practical ones – the opposite of how it seemed in early 20th century America.” The Tchambuli men displayed many characteristics that we would associate with ‘femininity’ here in the West.
Yet, for all three of these tribes, men were not considered as any less masculine by the standards of any society but our own.
And so, in closing, I would like to say the following: we live in a culture that teaches men that they must be independent (i.e. like the protaganist in any American Western film, to not rely on anyone but themselves); that they have natural desires such as desires for sex and for violence that are insatiable (i.e. boys will be boys, or the myth that men think about sex every seven seconds); and that, in order to be a ‘real man,’ they have to be successful.
However, ‘to be successful’ as a man in our society often comes at the expense of others. According to our culture, the idea of success for a man living within it becomes conflated with the achievement of dominance over others, often either through physically overpowering another person or, as said by educator and entrepreneur at ’s this November, through “having things.”
I will continue to unravel and overturn this myth and many others in later posts.
Stay tuned for the next Myth of Manhood — coming soon!