I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot since even before the comments on my last post concerning power, women, and the Oxford Dictionary exploded with lengthy, well thought out comments. I don’t have a lot of answers, but here come some questions to get a discussion started (I hope!)
At this year’s CLLP Conference I attended a very illuminating panel on the construct of masculinity, as seen through the eyes of four men from very different generations, orientations, races, and cultures. One speaker at this panel briefly mentioned the idea of masculinity without power – what would it look like? Could it exist? How intertwined are the ideas of masculinity and power? He said he was going to pose far more questions than answers, and he did.
Today, two months later, I don’t have many answers – but I continue to ask the questions, and wonder. Just as I did the last time my ambition surpassed my experience* – I turned to Travis. In this case his expert opinion was needed on masculinity, seeing as he is a man I felt he had the necessary experience to answer.
So I asked: how has the concept of power, as it relates to masculinity, had an effect on the way you’ve felt and acted through-out your life? Do you feel that within the social construct of masculinity there is an expectation of power? Can masculinity, as it stands now, exist without power?
He answered: I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but based on my own experiences I believe the construct of masculinity is very linked with the idea of power. As a male in today’s society, I feel that I am expected to act in a certain way to “be a man” or be viewed as masculine. All throughout my life I have been made to feel that I am less of a man because I don’t fit into the mold that men have been expected to conform to, something that has influenced how people perceive me and how I see myself; it took until high school for me to become comfortable and happy with the fact that I would never live up to the ideals that traditional masculinity demands from men. It is undoubtedly true that within the social construct of masculinity there is an expectation of power, given that society still views masculinity in the traditional sense of physical strength over emotions and intelligence, sports over arts, and a general sense of superiority to women. Masculinity, as it exists today, cannot continue without power based on the fact that the traditional vision of masculinity is itself an entity defined by its overwhelming need to have power and control.
(E-mail me your answer and it will go here too!)
Since femininity is considered masculinity’s opposite (like yin and yang) it makes sense that the construct of femininity does not much allow for power. Herein lies the problem of defining the sexes based on these concepts of masculinity and femininity. There are plenty of physically and mentally powerful women, there are plenty of men who would rather take on a less outwardly powerful persona – but in both cases people often feel limited in the things they can express based simply upon their biological sex.
Imagine a society where no one assumed anything about another person based on their biological sex (
other than, I suppose, the undeniable fact that they would have the “parts” associated with that biological sex. Updated (2/20/2011) because I don’t want to let the trans and intersex erasure that this comment reeked of stand uncorrected. I have grown a lot since writing this in 2009.) In this society boys and girls would be free to wear the clothing they wanted (pants or dresses, whatever one chooses), they would be free to pursue the hobbies and career goals the desired (girls wouldn’t be ridiculed for liking football or wanting the be a mechanic, boys would be free to knit, be a nurse, or even be a stay at home parent without worrying about teasing)… and so on. Why does that world scare some people so much?
I suppose, what I really want to know at the end of the day isn’t: why are masculinity and power so inextricably linked but why do we, as a society, cling so tightly to our prescribed gender roles? How does having these roles in place benefit anyone?
I doubt I’ll ever have an answer.
* Its hard to write about Riot Girl culture when you have no idea what that culture evolved from or entails! (/20/2011: Which is why I am so glad I got around to doing some research! This post is very embarrassingly bad/ignorant two years later…)