Archive for March 31st, 2012

Mars And Venus

by lizard

There has been a swirling of thoughts surrounding gender roles storming in my head the past week that I’m finally going to try and put into words. The analogy of strolling through a minefield seems applicable.

For the purpose of this post, there are two significant factors at play here.

First, the ongoing scandal surrounding the “rape-tolerant” culture at the University of Montana, and the correlation between sexual assault and the role of men in positions of institutional power (read: football players).

Second, the ongoing project of feminism, which I’ve been re-familiarizing myself with since Adrienne Rich passed a few days ago.

Before we continue, it might be helpful to define the oppressive social system that feminism was engaged with a half century ago: Patriarchy.

Patriarchy is a social system in which the male gender role acts as the primary authority figure central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination. Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.

This system of privilege is what feminists like Adrienne Rich took on. The following quote is from a collection of selected prose titled On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ((1966-1978). The title of the essay is “Husband-Right and Father-Right”:

Much male fear of feminism is the fear that, in becoming whole human beings, women will cease to mother men, to provide the breast, the lullaby, the continuous attention associated by the infant with the mother. Much male fear of feminism is infantilism—the longing to remain the mother’s son, to possess a woman who exists purely for him. These infantile needs of adult men for women have been sentimentalized and romanticized long enough as “love”; it is time to recognize them as arrested development, and to reexamine the ideal of preservation of “the family” within which those needs are allowed free rein even to the point of violence. Because the law and the economic and social order are heavily weighted in favor of men, the infantile needs of adult males are affirmed by a machinery of power which does not affirm or validate the needs of adult women. Institutionalized marriage and mother hood perpetuate the will of male infants as law in the adult world.

The role of power for men is something feminists saw as institutionally engrained, which I agree with. But, by ascribing the role of privilege to men as a preferable social position, the imprisonment of male identity took a backseat to the need for the role of women to become more assertive.

What I mean by the imprisonment of male identity is the societal expectation that men act as the “bread-winners” of the family unit. That’s like so 1950’s, right?

The erosion of this conventional male role is not something feminism has seemed very concerned with, but it should be. As the role of women becomes more equitable and competitive, the shifting role of men in our society hasn’t garnered the same degree of attention as the changing role of women.

When it comes to sexual assault and domestic violence, for example, women are predominately seen as the victims, and men, the aggressors.

I read a post today that challenges this dynamic of women=victim/man=aggressor, which you can read here.

The author of the post (sometimes 4&20 commenter Moorcat) describes a very personal sexual experience where he was drugged and restrained against his will by someone who he had a personal relationship with.

It’s a courageous piece that complicates the expected male role of being the presumed sexual instigator of sexual assault.


Men need help. We’re not suppose to cry, because that kind of emotional expression is seen as weakness. There is a whole set of socially conditioned expectations that make it very difficult for men to become the self-actualized “whole” human beings that feminists like Rich sought for women to realize.

If the role of women is still being reconstituted, then there needs to be open channels for men as well as their roles get redefined in this post-industrial landscape.

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