As a queer person, topics of homophobia are always very close to heart having experienced it myself many times, but mainly because of the impact that it STILL has on my community. Michael Kimmel’s article “Masculinity as Homophobia” and bell hooks’ article “Understanding the Patriarchy” brings to light some of the underlying sources of homophobia, and discusses some of the ways we can combat these issues at the roots of where they are born and grow.
Spoiler alert: Patriarchy is at fault YET AGAIN!
Gender boundaries that are repeatedly enforced by patriarchal values are thrown upon us before we are even out of the womb. The day our parents receive ultrasound photos that reveal what biological anatomy we possess is the day gender rules, regulations and expectations are put in place. Born with a vagina, I was immediately bought pink dresses and cute little bows for my hair. I would have no say, no choice on what I could freely wear without being judged or ridiculed for straying from the societal ‘norm’. Men, or people who are assigned male at birth suffer similarly in that they constantly have to “check the fences we have constructed on the perimeter, making sure that nothing remotely feminine might show through.” (Kimmel 148).
Men in particular fear appearing or beholding any traits that might be deemed feminine as it might risk confusing others of his sexuality. And this fear of being perceived as gay “keeps exaggerating all the traditional rules of masculinity.” (Kimmel 148) This results in a vicious cycle that controls the expectations of all males, simultaneously being both homophobic and sexist. Men don’t have the room to experiment or explore their gender expression as freely as women might and this often provokes grandiose efforts to reaffirm their manliness or assure others that they are indeed ‘Man’ enough through acts of violence and the predation of women.
bell hooks’ little brother was taught that “his value would be determined by his will to violence.” (hooks 1). Many of the issues start with the socialization of children and the responsibility is often dumped onto parents – expecting them to be responsible for raising a proper man. Truth is it is parents, other children, society and social institutions that all need to revisit how they socialize and the values they imprint on young minds. Perhaps by NOT measuring value by how violent they are and instead on how they treat others would assist in lowering violent statistics as well as easing the pressure and increasing the overall happiness and well being of young males in general.
“The Crisis facing men is not the crisis of masculinity, it is the crisis of patriarchal masculinity.” (hooks 5-6)
Patriarchy is always messing things up – and I know a lot of guys roll their eyes at feminists because they re always saying things like. But…. its kind of true guys, sorry. BUT this is the point that bell hooks makes that all men need to understand. Feminists don’t hate men, they hate the patriarchal rule that enforces unrealistic expectations gender roles. If more efforts were made to changes these unwritten rules of society, then it would relieve a lot of pressure on men to relax in being themselves without the fear of humiliation.
Kimmel, Michael. “Masculinity as Homophobia.” Toward a new psychology of gender (p. 223–242). Taylor & Frances/Routledge. 1994
hooks, bell. “Understanding the Patriarchy.” Louisville Anarchist Foundation. http://ImagineNoBorders.org
Throughout many generations’ men have struggled to keep up with the way that society defines masculinity. It has become a label put on the men who portray strong, driven and careless characteristics. If some didn’t have those characteristics they were often shamed amongst their families and taught to be more “masculine”. Unfortunately, because of these social norms it has caused many men to force themselves into being people that they’re not just because they don’t want to seem weak compared to others.
In bell hooks’, Understanding Patriarchy she talks about how, “Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation.” She talks about how patriarchy restricts men to enable their true emotions considering society expects men to always be so brave and strong about everything. She shared a story about a game that she enjoyed amongst her and her brother during their childhood. It was made clear by her father that the game was only played by boys and when she decided not to listen, she got put in her place. According to hooks this was one of the most traumatic experiences in her life and she blames it on patriarchy. Hooks explains, “In service to patriarchy her task was to reinforce that Dad had done the right thing by, putting me in my place, by restoring the natural social order. If it wasn’t for patriarchy there would be no division for what was accepted for boys and girls.
In Michael S. Kimmel’s, Masculinity as Homophobia he focusses more on the way that men can be called out for acting a certain way that doesn’t measure up to societies idea of masculinity. “He states that men fear being ridiculed as too feminine by other men and this fear perpetuates homophobic and exclusionary masculinity.” It’s very unfortunate that the norms of society think it’s okay to start characterising men who don’t act masculine. He shares an example at the playground that if two boys pick a fight with each other one will either have the option to run like a “sissy” or stand up like a man and fight. Due to the fact that so many people would be watching even if that boy would be terrified out of his mind he would have to stick up and fight for himself to avoid being called out. Kimmel explains how men are pressured to maintain their masculine stature, “Our efforts to maintain a manly front cover everything we do. What we wear. How we talk. How we walk. What we eat. Every mannerism, every movement contains a coded gender language.” He then takes his essay into the direction of how, “Manhood is equated with power.” In reality everyone is powerful regardless who they are or what they portray, but because of society… “we’ve constructed the rules of manhood so that only the tiniest fraction of men come to believe that they are the biggest of wheels, the sturdiest of oaks, the most virulent repudiators of femininity, the most daring and aggressive.” I believe that it ties along with why so many men are homophobic because they fear that those who aren’t masculine will unmask all men. In reality men do have a soft side and its beautiful, but because of society so many have to hide this side of themselves.
I strongly hope that men could redefine the meaning of masculinity for the sake of the impact it has on social issues like sexism, racism and homophobia. It’s easier said than done, but if we could teach men that it’s okay to be more themselves and that’s it’s okay not to portray masculine features, the world would not rely so much on patriarchy. Bell hooks says that, “Patriarchy as a system has denied males access to full emotional well-being, which is not the same as feeling rewarded, successful, or powerful because of one’s capacity to assert control over others.” To conclude all men and women should not have to feel as though they don’t deserve to feel powerful and successful, so societies views on masculinity should end.