Gloria Jean Watkins, known as bell hooks, published The Will to Change in 2002, and even 17 years ago, she concluded that masculinity was in crisis. If we take a look at the world in 2019 – Donald Trump (a man who has been quoted discussing ‘grabbing women by the pussy’) is President of the US, violence against women in the UK is at an epidemic level (currently two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner), and the male suicide rate in the UK is at 17.2 deaths per 100,000 men. This conclusion is clearly still relevant to today’s society.
Next Tuesday (19th November) is International Men’s Day, and the University of Manchester Feminist Collective is hosting an event titled ‘Re-thinking Masculinity’, in order to bring together men and women’s struggles against patriarchal masculinity. Lots of people would have you believe that men do not gain anything from the advancement of women’s liberation. Little do they know, we all have one common enemy: The Patriarchy.
For many men the assertion of their masculinity, whether that be via violence or dominance or competition, has become the assertion of their personhood and the backbone of their very being. Questioning that backbone, or suggesting it should be removed, will often provoke a defensive response. This is often what puts men off feminism, and deters them from working cooperatively with women.
To first try and ease away from defensiveness, we should attempt to make the following mainstream: masculinity is not intrinsic to biological sex, masculinity is performative. It is important for us to instead speak of the plural ‘masculinities’. Each self-identifying man performs and experiences their masculinity differently, and gender is fluid, but the singular term ‘masculinity’ does not allow for such flexibility. These statements are not things fundamentally threatening to men, they are threatening to patriarchal masculinity. We’re not asking you to give up your identity, we’re asking you to disown the masculine narrative which devalues your character and reduces you to domination, violence and emotional silence. Simply put: to critique masculinity is to hold men accountable for their actions, whilst believing in their capacity to do better.
The Feminist Collective has put this event together to stress the importance of working together and bridging the gap between men and women’s activism. We teach young boys to feel pain whilst teaching them that in no circumstance should they express it. This is as threatening to men as it is to women. Our relationships with grown-up men are often fractured and emotionally-lacking, while men’s mental health declines as they are unequipped with the emotional expression required for a tough and complex world.
In the session next Tuesday, we will not only be debunking the ‘boys don’t cry’ myth, but we will be offering an alternative narrative for young boys and men alike. bell hooks writes, “feminist masculinity would have as its chief constituents integrity, self-love, emotional awareness, assertiveness, and relational skill, including the capacity to be empathic, autonomous, and connected.” Let’s start teaching this to men.
Ultimately, our event, ‘Re-thinking Masculinity’ offers an opportunity to engage with the alternative that feminism offers to us all. It is about educating and engaging any and all genders about the issue of masculinity and building alternative, liberating narratives that enable us to work towards a feminist future.
‘Re-thinking Masculinity‘ will be taking place from 15:00-17:00 in LG1/Basement 1 of the SU on Tuesday 19th November.