Dick in a box
Rethinking gender stereotypes.
Men have been placed in a gender box. You cannot escape gender stereotyping as a man, and it would appear it is not even acceptable to rebel against it. I would argue that the current state of society actually oppresses men as well as women, in that we have no ability to act against the revised stereotypes.
I was recently on a ski trip with some friends, and I woke up early one morning. It was freezing cold in the place where we were staying, so I decided to start a fire. Hesitantly, I put together what I assumed would be good enough to get things going. I lit the fire and watched. It smoked a ton and went out within a minute.
I gave up. A little while later a few of the girls came upstairs and commented on the lack of fire. I explained my failure as one of the girls stepped up and lit the fire without issue. We had a laugh about how she was able to start the fire when I couldn’t, but what about the fact that I can’t start a fire and a girl can? Sure, it’s funny, but the humour is also bothersome. Why does my masculinity have to hinge on something stereotypically male like starting a fire? I have all the bits and pieces biologically that make me a man, why does my ability to make wood burn for more than two seconds matter?
Perhaps the stereotypes are most obviously cultivated in our media. I think it is safe to say that female movie characters have developed drastically over the last, say, fifty years, but what about male characters? Women have gone from peripheral subordinates to strong, independent individuals who (gasp!) even dominate men. Males, however, seem to have stayed relatively static— strong, leading, physical, emotionally out of touch or shallow, and violent. Society has created a spectrum within which women can operate, but men have only a relatively fixed point—a point of “masculinity” that men cannot seem to stray from.
Since we started assessing gender roles, the focus has been on women in the context of their oppression by men. In relatively simple terms, female rebellion against gender oppression has hinged upon male gender roles; women have been given an inferior social role because of the socially constructed man. Really, men don’t factor into the equation at this point because they have been reduced to an inhibitor of female equality; the male role seems to have been forgotten. Now if you want to look at masculinity, you can only view it through the lens of domineering physicality. I don’t deny that women have been socially oppressed, and I think feminists have legitimate claim to stating that certain men limited and continue to limit their equality. What I mean to say is that this diminishing group of men is still (through the feminist lens) projected upon the majority of men. This is the box. It is not right to lump men into such a rigid framework. We as men are individuals and our lives do not fit into the diminutive box of male oppression by socially constructed roles. That is a problem when both genders are striving for equality.
I feel that we need to assess the stereotypes placed upon men as much as we address those on women. It is the socially constructed view of a dominating male—the box—that is unrealistic to the current state of men; but we as a society continue to place this expectation upon them. And what if you can’t fit that role? Indeed, the majority of us cannot fit in this box—we have at least a leg or an arm hanging out and no matter how hard you push, it just isn’t going to fit. We feel subjugated or inadequate—men too suffer from a lack of confidence (which of course doesn’t quite fit the stereotype, either).