An inevitably brought about by the increasing social and political strength of women since the end of the Second World War has been a decrease in the absolute power many men indulged in. Where once a mans word was the law in a household, or in the workplace, these days this is only the case among luddites like fundamentalist Christians.
What’s interested me for a while has been thinking through the role of masculinity in a our new, non-patriarchal society, and it’s thinking that that accelerated of late with the prospect of an addition to my family. So to give us a starting point, a favourite quote of mine has always been Germaine Greer, “the opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy, but fraternity” (or at least, I that’s how I’ve always remembered it). What I’ve always liked about the statement is that it doesn’t suggest that the old power structure should be overturned (i.e., now women have exclusive power, and men are relegated to the shed, where a god deigned to grant them appropriate skills), but rather that the role of men within society needs to be re-imagined.
It’s appropriate at this point to state that I don’t consider that great Australian value ‘mateship’ to be the fraternity I’m talking about. Mateship is probably the most exclusive kind of fraternity you can imagine. It’s sexist, racist, and anti-intellectual. So when I say fraternity I mean it in a much more simple sense; family and brotherhood.
The first thing I can imagine an intellectual friend like Deborah stating at this point is, “but isn’t that still exclusive? Fraternity distinguishes itself from sorority by it’s very nature.” To which my answer would be, “well yes, but you say it like it’s a bad thing.”
From my long study of identity politics I noticed that one common mistake made by people is often to confuse equality and sameness. Being equal does not mean having exactly the same rights, and it does not mean have exactly the same obligations. The problem always crops up in arguments about multiculturalism, where rights given to a minority are interpreted to mean fewer rights on the part of the majority. But this is usually a perception issue. The right to speak a minority language in political life doesn’t take anything away from speakers of a majority language, if anything it expands the options available to majority individuals. Thing is, it’s really hard to get that across to some people.
And that, from my perspective, has been the problem with the decline of masculinity within our society (and possibly Western societies of our type). It seems to be regarded as a zero-sum game in which gains by women are at the expense of men. Now in some cases that would appear to be the truth. If more women are in executive positions in corporations, there will be less men. But women in these roles doesn’t weaken masculinity, it weakens patriarchy. And frankly, good. Patriarchy held back men as much as it held back women.
My opinion is that there is too much confusion of patriarchy and masculinity. Being a man doesn’t necessarily need to mean that you exercise political power, or that you have a right to exercise that power and women cannot share it. Being a man does however mean that you have a right to exercise masculinity, or put another way, you have the right to represent masculinity.
But let’s segue out for a second and state for the record, that beer-swilling, date-raping football players aren’t masculine. They’re dickheads. It’s probably also a good time to state that classic William Gibson quote, “the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.”
A lot of men haven’t caught up with the C20th yet, meaning their idea of masculinity is confused, and in transition.
As I say, being a man doesn’t mean you have to be “the Man”. Exercising the essence of masculinity isn’t a power trip, it’s a way of being. And it’s a way that should find its complement in femininity, and it should be strengthened through fraternity and family. With the decline of patriarchy what men seem to have missed out on is some way to reassert the worth and validity of masculinity, and cultural norms mean we don’t talk it through. Which on average might not be an entirely bad thing. American willingness to talk about everything, all the freaking time, is at best annoying…
I’m running out of words, so I’ll continue this conversation in comments and in another post. But the idea of rescuing masculinity, and restating what it is to be a real man, is something we al need to think about. Men who feel self-worth are better men, and men who know their role in society and the family should be less prone to confusions, and more accepting of their strong feminine counterparts.