Society’s expectations of men have always been a cause for pressure as males’ image is seen as one of power and control in most – if not all – cultures and is embedded in our every behaviour, thought and beliefs. Thanks to the passing down of such values, the idea of redefining masculinity has been put off for women to rise against sexism. The fear of failing the meeting of such social expectations has escalated within men and is an issue discussed in both Bell Hooks and Michael Kimmel’s texts.
Indeed, in Kimmel’s “Masculinity as Homophobia,” light is shed on this subject that is deemed taboo. He talks about how modern perception of feminism is entirely shaped by women, which ultimately does not take notice of existing men’s concerns. According to him, “[t]he great secret of American is: We are afraid of other men.” (p.147) What he means by that is that what men fear most is not their loss of power with the gain of rights for women, but rather the image they diffuse to others. From a young age, they are taught to learn what is adequate for boys from what is not, and to build on their own gendered lenses as they go on with their lives. They are taught to dominate others and to face challenges without saying a word. If they dare neglect their role, social exclusion may entail. Kimmel’s main idea behind that sentence is that not only are women bounded by social expectations, but so do men, and that is what prevents them from accepting the notion that patriarchy should be eliminated.
In the same order of idea, Kimmel also mentions that “feminism has tended to assume that individually men must feel powerful.” (p.149) What he means by that is that women have been so focused on their battle against the patriarchy that they have forgotten that males are not the cold-hearted figures there are trying to pass on and that their individual experiences vary from one to another. They are all expected to have all of the power but often forget that this is nearly impossible as there will always be someone at the top of the chain. If they were to redefine masculinity, this fight for power would not take so much of their time and energy, bringing them a lot of relief, and would ultimately redefine the relationship between men and women as a whole.
As for Hooks, in her text “Understanding Patriarchy,” she conveys a similar message with more focus put on how “patriarchy as a system remains intact, and many people continue to believe that it is needed if humans are to survive as a species.” (p.4) She goes on to compare both women’s and men’s perceptions of feminism to explain how this phenomenon persists. With women denouncing their role as victims, they also portray men as the main committers of such a social injustice. Only, they do not realize that they too are perpetrators of patriarchal thinking and that their fighting against sexism only makes men ” dismiss [patriarchy] as irrelevant to their own experiences” as they cannot conceive the idea that they too are victims of its sufferings. Due to this, they cannot work hands in hands to end patriarchy and instead maintain this lifestyle. Hooks finishes her texts by suggesting that” [t]o end male pain […] we have to both acknowledge that the problem is patriarchy and work to end patriarchy.” (p.5) By doing so, issues such as sexism and homophobia would slowly disappear since focus would stop being put on gendered beliefs, and would instead be placed on issues of equality. Traits deemed as feminine would stop being associated with sexuality and would thus stop the spreading of hate towards non-heterosexuals since men would learn to accept themselves and embrace their unique features. This could also influence racism as values would be revisited.
Personally, both these texts really opened my eyes to men’s experience with patriarchy. I have never given any thought to this subject and have gotten a better understanding of what it is like to be a man nowadays and of why it can be hard for some of them to take us, hardcore feminists, seriously. All in all, more focus should be put on men’s version of the situation so that masculinity can be redefined and real change start to occur.