The Politics of Gender

We all know that its easier for women to talk about their problems than men. But why is this something we all know and accept? Is this the one tradition that has somehow escaped the full force of liberal gender thought of the past century?

Gender thought has progressed dramatically after many movements and challenges to its theories. And yet, when thinking of ‘gender’ as a concept, so often its meaning is limited to women. Why is it that women are more inclined to talk about their position in society, and to challenge the perception of themselves?

Political freedom has always been granted to men. Of course, this was originally limited to a certain class with a certain amount of property and money at their disposal. But, the so-called ‘condition’ of men was not the same as women and their formal exclusion. It was more subtle than that.

Although slightly outdated, the theory of separate spheres has massive relevance in today’s society. Despite being rejected by some gender commentators, the idea of separation of gender roles has always massively characterised society. Separate spheres was the idea that men were in the ‘public sphere’, meaning being the breadwinner. And women were in the ‘private sphere’, suggesting that they were domestic, taking the role of looking after the children and the keeping of the home.
The position of women developed with first wave feminism in the form of the Suffragists, who used ‘constitutional’ methods such as petitions, and the Suffragettes, who were more militant with more direct action, i.e. terrorism. Second wave feminism followed into the mid to late twentieth century, focusing more on social attitudes rather than formal laws.

So, what about the men?

Well, the political role of men has been solidified in history. Men make up 78% of Parliament, as well as taking many of the top jobs in business and banking among other professions. But, this doesn’t half pile a load of pressure onto the rest of mankind.

Typically having a job as an artist, a nurse, and even as a teacher is seen as a ‘female’ and ‘girly’ profession. But when women have fought to become bankers, politicians and businesswomen, we should be accepting the same idea for men.

Non-emotional, independent, aggressive, and self-confident are often used as stereotypical words to describe the male species. These images revolve around self-sufficiency. And yet, they forget one thing: men are still humans. They should not be treated as an unrealistically self-sustaining character.

As unrealistic and dumb as these ideas are, society somehow seems to play up to them. In adverts, magazines, TV shows etc. The ideal man must be handsome with perfectly formed muscles, a beautiful wife and the highest paid job. The world is full of the ridiculous male stereotype. The pigeon hole for the male gender.

Recently this debate has sparked up controversy. In the Summer, two MPs stood up in Parliament to talk about their experiences with mental health. This was apparently to break the ‘taboo’ of the subject as told to them by an MP from the Lib Dem Party. Charles Walker and Kevan Jones stepped out in the most traditionally male institution, and questioned this whole ethos.

Walker stated how he was a ‘practicing fruitcake’ as a way of describing his 30-year battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, whilst Jones spoke of Depression and his struggle with speaking out over the issue.

Jones stated that ‘like a lot of men, you try and deal with it yourself. You don’t talk to people. I just hope you realise, Mr Speaker, what I’m saying is very difficult right now.’

It is exactly this image that has become so conventional and stereotypical when thinking of men. The idea that men can deal with problems themselves.

But, why is this? Why do we not challenge this old fashioned idea?

A little more of the history behind the problem lies in the institution often described as central to society: the family. Traditional familial structures hold the man at the top of the institution. With the husband, wife, and average 2.5 kids, the man is meant to hold all of it together by providing the money. At least, that’s what tradition says. But, in today’s society where women can work just as much as men – why does this principle still exist?

Men should be able to be house-husbands, artists or bankers – with no prejudice against any of these. But perhaps this idea of men as the head of the home can explain some reasons why it is unusual to find a man who does not work to support his own family. However, this should not necessarily be the case. After all, why should there remain a stereotype against men when the one for women is so heavily challenged on all sides?

Whilst second wave feminists managed to organise into small groups, men do not have the same movement to provoke discussion. These groups did not have a political aim, but instead purely a social format in order to discuss ways of oppression and feelings among women. This fits with the typical female stereotype of chatting and gossiping. But as men are often seen to organise differently, perhaps something totally different and radical is necessary. Or perhaps that’s the point. Maybe men need to step way out of their comfort zone and challenge perceptions.

Then there is the question of some men actually liking the way they are perceived in society – enjoying the butch, macho feel of how they are ‘meant’ to be. In the feminist movement, women also opposed the challenging thoughts to start with, back in the late nineteenth century, and early twentieth century. But this was not the true representation of society in the end. Who now would say that a woman must stay in the home and not vote?

Feminists such as Caitlin Moran, Germaine Greer and other such people have become practically celebrities in their field. And yet, the same does not exist for men who talk about their position in society. In fact, I dare you to name one male activist campaigning for male rights and perceptions.

The Wikipedia page on so-called ‘male bonding’ states that ‘friendships among men are often primarily based on shared activities and ambitions, instead of emotional sharing.’ But you know what? Screw this. Let’s make a stand and talk about our feelings. Go on. I dare you. They won’t know what’s hit them.

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4 Responses to

The Politics of Gender

  1. Oh dear. Where to start. Let’s start at the end, eh? “I dare you to name one male activist campaigning for male rights and perceptions.” – The default position for pretty much everything (except fashion) is masculine and male. There is no need to campaign for the status quo. Next up – enough of the self-help rhetoric about “comfort zones” and “stepping up” and “challenging perceptions”. These phrases are hollow and meaningless and say nothing of any significance or note. And what’s this about the art world? The art world is utterly dominated by men – in terms of artists, dealers, curators, you name it. There is nothing “feminine” about it. And finally – there is a difference between direct action and terrorism. The suffragettes were involved in the former, not the latter.

    In summary, this is the most misguided, wrong-headed and, in places, ignorant, blog post I’ve read in a long while. Please think again.

    LaBoheme 26th October 2012 at 2:44 pm
  2. Don’t you see that the same set of stereotypes that oppress women are just as damaging to men? Standing up for men doesn’t mean you’re not a feminist. We’re arguing for the same things! Being pro man doesn’t mean you’re anti-woman!

    guest 26th October 2012 at 2:50 pm
  3. I feel there is some merit to what was said about male identities, the idea of this indepenant, indestructable man and unfeeling man is very prevalent and needs to be addressed.

    I think for the most part men don’t really care about this image that’s being portrayed, I think that on a whole we’re quite comfortable with it, but I’m aware that it’s a mindset that can be quite self-destructive and damaging to people around you, especially in a family/relationsip context.

    I think it does need to be spoken about but without noticing I could tell this was written by a woman, Its nice to see you have a heart for guys, but I wonder how much input you had from guys before writing an articel on guys?

    TallBigMouth 26th October 2012 at 7:20 pm
  4. As a man, I think you’ve got a real point, the stereotype of men as being stiff upper lipped and able to “take on the chin” whatever comes their way because that’s what is expected is incredibly dangerous. To believe that if you, as a man, admit to having a weakness or a problem you have somehow failed to live up to an unstated and unquestioned cultural standard of strength is a serious issue in our society. Take for example the comments of a former head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, concerning post-traumatic stress disorder amongst soldiers returning from operations – “Cultural change needs to be encouraged… so servicemen realise it’s not un-macho to put their hands up and say ‘I need help’.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18902195). The point that needs to be made is that it is selfish and potentially destructive not to ask for help or to open up about feelings when bottling them up can have such a negative effect. However, you can’t expect men to do that if society still peddles this idea that a man’s strength comes from his ability to take whatever comes his way and carry on. True strength comes in recognising one’s weakness and admitting one’s need for help from others in whatever situation (mental or physical health or otherwise), as well as being prepared to offer help to those who need it. It shows that you are considering the effects of your actions on those around you and wider society. Thankfully I believe that not only returning servicemen, but also other groups and organisations are waking up to this new idea of “strength” and a man’s responsibility and hopefully with more discussion and deconstruction of unhelpful stereotypes men will feel more comfortable with seeking help over issues that previously made them “unmanly” and, when untreated, harmed others and society in general.

    It takes greater courage to admit weakness than to run from it. Let’s help men and society come to terms with that.

    guest 2 26th October 2012 at 10:02 pm

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