What can we do about masculinity in crisis?

Broadside: the online war of the sexes has developed into a weapons-grade conflict

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg drew scorn for wearing “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirts

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg drew scorn for wearing “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirts

 

They say that the devil’s greatest trick is convincing the world he didn’t exist. But I know of one better: the trick played by the patriarchy, which convinces some men that equality for men and women – feminism, essentially – isn’t possible. There is a small, vocal faction of men who appear to believe that if feminism advances, it will spell doom for men. How the central tenet – that feminism will in fact benefit everyone in society – got lost in translation is anyone’s guess. Yet here we are.

Depending on where you look, the cold war between the sexes has erupted into a weapons-grade conflict. Women voice their dissent at the patriarchal system on Twitter using hashtags such as #yesallwomen (created partly in response to #notallmen).

How has it come to pass? Is it that some men appear to take naysaying against the patriarchal system personally? Is it that they are genuinely fearful of losing their place of “supremacy” in society? Is that most masculine of traits – power – what’s driving all of this?

Either way, there’s no escaping the fact that masculinity is at crisis point. Men have genuinely been hurt by the traditional gender system and by highly delineated roles. They have felt pressure to be aggressive and competitive; they, too, have felt the vile pinprick of body insecurities. There are so few men, in truth, who truly benefit from “white male privilege”.

Yet for the first time in a while, numbers of feminists, both male and female, are swelling.

It is no longer possible to dismiss someone with gendered terms such as “bitch”, “slut” or “whore” without some kind of kickback. On the other hand, terms used to denigrate men – “mansplaining”, “manspreading”, “manbaby” – are gaining traction.

Admittedly, my sympathy for Team #notallmen is limited; I don’t tend to ration out reassurances to white straight men who get testy at talk of rape consent classes, female objectification and fat-shaming, and ponder how it reflects on, and affects, them. Still, some Facebook huffing is infinitely preferable to the other maladaptive reactions.

In the ongoing kerfuffle, some feminists aren’t entirely without sin, either: think of the collective guffaw heard when Ed Miliband wore a “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt (one headline: “Men wearing feminist T-shirts insult women”).

Certainly, some women believe that some men simply can’t be feminists, having been the “lucky” beneficiaries of male privilege for so long. Little wonder that men looking for a foothold in this new world order seem so at sea. Ostensibly, the Men’s Rights Association exists to work solely for men’s rights in the face of growing feminism (some consider this something of a laughable term, given the stranglehold of patriarchy), yet the term has become a byword for naked, toxic misogyny.

One popular Men’s Rights Association site, avoiceformen.com, is on a mission to “expose misandry in our culture” and “denounce the institution of marriage as unsafe and unsuitable for modern men” as well as “promote an end to chivalry in any form or fashion” and “educate men and boys about the threats they face in feminist governance”. They also want an “end to rape hysteria”, and promote “civil disobedience”. No wonder things have become problematic.

Is misandry a thing? The jury is out. In some pockets of the internet – safe spaces for women, mainly – misandry is rife, a bonding mechanism between members. Many of these women would doubtless defend this as a nonissue; that their use of “manbaby” isn’t as weighted with toxic malignancy as the misogyny they have had to shoulder. But surely two wrongs don’t make a right?

Thousands of years of history have led us all to define masculinity: dominance, power, authority. But this has hurt all of us and continues to hurt. The battle has become Byzantine: certainly, too complicated to flesh out fully in one column.

And given that we’re at a loss as to how to redefine what it means to be a real man, the end to this masculinity crisis can’t come quickly enough. Perhaps they, too, need allies. In the war between those looking for supremacy and those looking for societal equality, we need to kick the damaging stuff into touch. Any feminist – male or female – knows this all too well.

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