Most of our critiques and discussion throughout the semester centered on more ephemeral concepts like social constructs or the media representations (the biggest exception being the very concrete, very sexist sexual-predator-elect). Now I want to engage in a more personal critique to close the semester; where I fit in the scheme of masculinity theories.
Understanding and working on my own flaws to become a better ally are the type of every-day activities I can engage in. But understanding these concepts isn’t just for my own benefit; stronger understandings of masculinities supports antiessentialism. (I learned of the connection reading through the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender Volume 33, Issue 2; it is a fantastic series of articles and I highly recommend reading them.) I believe issues of race, class, and gender are inseparable hurdles to a fairer legal system, a benevolent government, and an egalitarian culture; eliminating the self-inflicted wounds of masculine hegemony is a part of that agenda.
For my own self-reflection, David Cohen’s article “Keeping Men ‘Men’ and Women Down” (from the above mentioned Harvard Journal of Law & Gender issue) helped as a starting point. Cohen focuses on how various forms of sex segregation reinforce a “hegemonic masculinity” defined largely by three qualities: anti-feminine, heterosexual, and physically aggressive. This hegemonic masculinity perpetuates patriarchal subordination of women and pressures men to conform. Relatedly, the pressure to conform creates the phenomenon of fragile masculinity. Because men are constantly attempting to portray masculinity, and therefore avoid femininity, they buy ridiculously male gendered products, are quick to jump to violence, and avoid appearing “weak.”
After reading the article, I realize I have failed to recognize how I fit, and often strive to fit, within the hegemonic masculinity. I devoted years of my life to two of the most violent forms of competitive sport, and the prioritization of physical aggressiveness spills off the field and into everyday life. I also place a great amount of effort into outward appearance, one of the few ways gender is broadcasted to the world. Whether by body composition, clothing style, or facial hair growth, my personal choices reflect a decidedly not feminine look. While in of themselves, embodying hegemonic masculine tendencies is not the problem, my blunt refusal to acknowledge the conformity is.
I have never stopped to consider how the way I portray myself influenced younger teammates, the boys I coached, or my own brother. If hegemonic masculinity perpetuates itself by conformity, I cannot ignore the part I play in that. It doesn’t matter that I do not subscribe to the concept of an ideal masculinity, but that I can passively promote its existence.
While I am not likely to change myself fundamentally, I can remain cognizant of how I advertise myself and begin to critique the underlying motivations for the choices I make. I can use my dollars to influence the market by not buying products that reinforce the hegemonic masculinity. I can make efforts to outwardly signify the ways in which I don’t conform. More so than anything, I must continually push myself beyond my comfort level. Doing just so this semester has paid off and I can’t stop now.