Masculinity and Feminism – Feb 2014 ONSP Discussion Summary and Personal Reflection

By Kai-Hsin Hung

We explored the connections between Masculinity and Feminism during our February ONSP Discussion. What does feminism mean to you? During the discussion, responses such as gender equality, fluidity of gender norms, anti-patriarchy, men being able to express feelings and women shown respect, and a movement to end oppressive gender roles were brought up. The most memorable one for me was the claim that “feminism empowers me because I can choose.”

What are oppressive gender roles and norms? Not having choices. Mainstream cultural norms and pressures often prescribe an essentialist version of who we are. Gender is both a performance and social construction. Often our gender is broken down into the binaries of manhood and womanhood and male and female, making us not ourselves but an idealized imaginary of what being men or women should act, think, feel, and look.  This binary is powerful as it creates a patriarchal hierarchy that privileges one group to the detriment of another and overlooks the fluidity of our sexual expressions and identities. Limiting choice.

The patriarchal hierarchy the domination of men over women greatly influences how we define our identity and organize our family and economic lives. Even till today, the traditional female gender role of cooking, cleaning, child raising and any other “domestic work” done by women are still considered as economically “unproductive care work” and therefore not enumerated. This is in contrast to the “paid” work outside the home traditionally performed by men. There is also a clear connection between patriarchy and capitalism where the male dominant occupations in STEM or sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields are viewed as the “economic drivers” of growth and wealth creation but not female ones. Why do we “value” the worth of men and women differently?

During the discussion, it was mentioned that there is a tendency that we de-valorized anything that is feminine. For example, male nurses are often seen as an oddity, as this goes against the stereotypical female role of the “caretaker”.  In addition to this, we assess risk (as well as pay) in different jobs to gender roles as well. Firefighters, a dominant male profession are viewed to be at a higher risk compared to the caring role of nursing.

What does healthy masculinity look like? Bell Hook states in contrasts to patriarchal masculinity, “feminist masculinity would replace domination with the partnership as the definitive paradigm.”

However, the exclusion of boys and men in the struggle for gender equality and feminism, one would run the risk of reinforcing existing gender inequalities and stereotypes. Much work on gender issues had been focally fenced towards girl and women issues. As a direct result, gender issues are often by de facto women issues and men are removed from the gender equation. Without engaging men in the gender equation, one fails to acknowledge men’s role as gatekeepers of current gender orders and as potential actors of change.

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