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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Although slightly outdated, the theory of separate spheres has massive relevance in today’s society.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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