By E. A.
We have all heard of the classic match-up, the proverbial battle that is waged between feminism and masculinity.
Those who have familiarized themselves with feminist philosophy understand this illusion for what it is: a narrative that figures feminism as the antagonist and doomsayer for men and masculine identity. So, why then do even educated men identify with a strong anti-feminist perspective? It stems from a variety of well integrated facets of masculine identity. The foundational traits of “manliness” emphasize dominance, competitiveness, strength, and tenacity. These qualities themselves create an atmosphere of hostility and aggression. The simple fact of being a man in contemporary society breeds an aggressive approach to any activity we may partake in, be it sports, academia, or the like. There is a certain type of personality imposed upon and ingrained in most men that they carry with them throughout their lives, and even when sublimated, becomes an almost defining characteristic of their actions.
When faced with criticism or resistance, there is also a natural inclination to defend ourselves. As people we are told that our culture and identity is what defines us, and quite sensitively, if this is questioned we must reassure not only the critic of our aptitude, but also ourselves.
There is an existential quality to our actions as well. Most are motivated by various concerns, but there is typically a commonly shared notion that sees progression as a means to an end. This sees our impact on culture as paramount to our existence; we wish to leave our mark upon society whether it is a lasting ideology, or some other contribution to the future. Herein lies the strength of tradition. To question it has been treated historically as blasphemy, heresy, even seen as a psychological abnormality. It is only recently that in western society has there been a larger consensus to accept criticism and learn from the revision and questioning of larger institutions.
Indeed, some see our “new” critical lens as something radical, left-wing, or anti-authoritative. Although sometimes true, it stems from a very necessary and iconoclastic approach to the failures of time past. We (especially here at York) admire Karl Marx; U.S history and identity is based on revolutionary fighters such as George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant; and Canadian culture is based on the cohesive diversity of cultures, something radically different than any other nation. The ability to challenge tradition has created prosperity and equality, the cornerstones of our strengths as a society. So, then, returning to our initial question, why is there such a real resistance to the ostensible threat that is feminism?
For many people who experience white privilege, the revelation of knowledge about structural racism and colonial violence can revolutionize the way they see the world. This is a profound challenge to notions of comfort and tradition they may have previously embraced, for it undermines their own sense of identity, history, and entitlement. The phenomenon is much the same when it comes to the question of masculinity. Men are terrified not only that women might achieve structural equity that will result in the loss of their privileges, but also that the very foundations of their identity might be called into question as illegitimate. Men who have typically risen to social prestige are now openly challenged. Within the ranks of feminism there are thinkers who reshape the role of women, who see them as existential players within our culture, rather than servants of outdated ideology. There are even some thinkers who challenge the very foundations of sexual relationships within the old-fashioned paradigms. If we take away dominance, undermine aggression, and challenge the norms known to men, then we can see why some are quick to see a mere criticism as a full blown attack to their existence.
Maybe this is why there is a very disturbing trend of men creating and joining “men’s rights activist” groups – organizations that aim to undermine the worth of women, while thinly veiling themselves behind the rhetoric of masculine victimhood. These groups are quick to defend insidious practices like cat-calling which they perceive to be all in good fun – willfully ignoring the fear and anxiety that they provoke in women, nor the connection such practices share to more extreme forms of sexual violence They fail to understand that feminism exists to curtail the exploitation of women and to create an atmosphere that celebrates the worth of women in a society that has historically sought to diminish them. Men who see feminism as antagonistic are frustrated and confused, scared and lost within a society moving towards equality and diversity. But, so too have women been scared in the face of patriarchal oppression. Thanks to their efforts, it is time to move beyond fear. Feminism is the ally of equality, while hegemonic masculinity is the antithesis of progress.