Opinion: “Man-up” – The need for feminists to tackle the crisis in masculinity

The new wave of feminism in the UK needs to pay attention to the increasing crisis in masculinity, argues Siobhan Bligh.

Siobhan Bligh is interested in social equality, and volunteers with LGBT rights groups in Sheffield. She is a feminist and civil-rights campaigner.

The new wave of feminism in the UK needs to pay attention to the increasing crisis in masculinity. It should not only pay attention to this crisis, but make efforts to combat problems men face with masculinity in society and culture. This is because feminism, and the egalitarian goals it seeks, will benefit from a healthier cultural attitude towards men and masculinity.

This is not to say that feminists focusing on the institutional and structural oppression of women should simply shift their gaze from female to male oppression. But, feminists should offer support for groups and organisations that aim to construct a psychologically and socially healthy masculinity for men to work within. A healthy masculinity is one which is not based upon the belittlement of femininity and women.

Whilst femininity is a construct that many women do not relate to, it bears an intimate relationship with attitudes towards women, and thus affects attitudes towards women. It is true to say that when femininity is respected by both men and women then feminism will be closer to its goal of gender equality.

Whilst “men’s rights” groups perpetuate misogyny and male power, feminists can help both genders, by shifting a small amount of focus to men. This crisis in masculinity manifests itself in several ways. Initially one can look at the cold hard statistics surrounding men’s lives in modern Britain. According to a 2012 report from the Office For National Statistics, men in Britain are more likely to be involved in substance abuse, be homeless, commit suicide, or have broken and shallow relationships.

Some men’s rights groups have linked this to an increase in women’s rights and the feminist movement, but this is an argument which is as poor as it is absurd. Men are not suffering because women are facing less oppression. Rather, men are suffering from a rigid, gendered world, in which an unachievable masculine identity is constantly reinforced to men from a young age. This ideal is one on which physical strength, emotional stoicism, wealth and power are idolised. Importantly for feminist, this masculine ideal also ridicules feminity, and thus contributes to women’s oppression. The MP Diane Abbott is right to say that in Britain there is a:

“culture of hyper-masculinity – a culture that exaggerates masculinity in the face of a perceived threat to it. At its worst, it’s a celebration of heartlessness; a lack of respect for women’s autonomy; and the normalisation of homophobia.”

To understand the importance of combating the crisis in masculinity, we must look at the role of cultural prescriptions of gender, and how it tailors men to act in our society. This affects the way that men act, the way they think about themselves, their identities, and it affects the way they relate to women. The more we look at societal expectations and demands of men, the more we realise that these ideals must be relaxed, and that cultural representations and expectations of men must change.

Men are constantly told from a young age to “man-up”. This means to remain strong, emotionless, cruel and often self-serving. As the American psychologist Judy Chu argues, young men will often be confused and alienated from both themselves and their loved ones, by an ideal that ridicules any form of feminity and emotions. What we must aim for is a healthy masculinity, in much the same way feminists would want women to have a healthy femininity. Whilst these ideals may be social constructions, they still guide people in the way they see themselves and others, and therefore it is imperative to promote a healthy gender culture for both men and women.

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55 Responses to “Opinion: “Man-up” – The need for feminists to tackle the crisis in masculinity”

  1. bensix

    Men are constantly told from a young age to “man-up”.

    We are? By whom? It seems to me that this diagnosis of young men elides the fact that male British youths include a great many who grow long fringes, listen to Fall Out Boy and write Tumblr blogs and a great many who wear hooded tops, listen to Lil’ Wayne and smoke marijuana. (As well as innumerable other combinations.) That young men tend to be more emotionally reticent is undeniable, but claiming that this is (a) monolithic, (b) necessarily problematic and (c) caused by such blatant socialisation doesn’t seem to accord with the known facts.

  2. Timbo

    There is a healthy gender culture out there that we can all be a part of. It’s called Queer Culture and it let’s a thousand flowers bloom in the gender meadow. I’ve occasionally heard dullards use a misogynistic term that is a contemporary equivalent to hen-pecked: ‘pussy-whipped’. But the problem we really have is not that young men are pussy-whippped, but that they are cock-whipped. I remember it from my own school days, and even as something that very occasionally happens in my adult life. Some boy, or man, intimidates, bullies and harasses another boy or man into behaving like an absolute cock, a complete and utter bell-end, on the basis that they think this is what men are supposed to be like. The majority part of cock-whipping takes place in schools. We dismiss it as playground behaviour and say ‘boys will be boys’. Bullshit. We should intervene far more to put a stop to it.

  3. franwhi

    And some women pussy whip other women. Men don’t have a monopoly on bullying or behaving badly towards others. Diane Abbott puts me right off as she’s too strident and gendered if that makes sense and I think a bit overbearing herself IMO. But having 2 boys and 2 girls who are all young adults I fear more for my sons when they are out and about than for my girls. And it’s not just when they are out clubbing on a Friday or Saturday night. Young working class men are constrained by territorialism in a way that infringes on their right to move freely around their own towns, cities and communities. Many institutions and agents of the state are institutionally biased against young men so they don’t get the same protection from the state as others members of the community. Diane Abbott should put herself in someone else’s shoes before she generalises on their lived experiences and judges accordingly.

  4. Ugly A

    You are not a man, not male, and your perspective is bound in assumption and outside observation of what it is to be male in this period of history. Men have been stripped of their dignity, of their worth, cast as a disruptive cur from primary school. It is men who have to preen and sanitize themselves to the point of becoming a Ken doll in order to be acceptable, marketable, and of any value whatsoever. Men have been operably reduced, by rhetoric and a reduced need for their inherent physical service due to technological advances. Until one stops to try to understand the nature of what it is to be a man stripped of dignity, continually criticized, accused, targeted, lampooned, all the while expected to meet an insurmountable checklist of expectations the ideal man (all while remaining silent), then this trend will continue. The lack of love, compassion, and admiration for males in general only serves to enflame misunderstanding and distrust in the discourse between the sexes.

  5. dlzero

    Thanks but no thanks. I’ve had about all the “help” I can stand from feminism. The MHRM can handle our own problems from now on.

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