Monday, 26 December 2011

The Fragility of Male Identity

"When I look at any thoughtful person, any engaged person in modern society be they male or female, I think we all need to call ourselves feminists, whatever we've got in our pants. We need to talk about things like patriarchy. I think it is necessary for men to acknowledge the reality of it and engage with women about it in order for a radical shift in consciousness to happen. But I also think there needs be a great humbling, where men literally sit down and shut up for a minute and stop echoing and expounding on each other's cleverness. They need to learn to defer - to listen and defer long enough to incorporate a female truth."
Ani Difranco

One thing I am not doing in this blog, is trying to deflate the importance of Feminism. I don't engage with it directly for two reasons. Firstly, because I genuinely think it is none of my business. It is only my business in so far as it has implications for me and my sense of self as a man. Whatever grounds our gender identities have, whether it is nature or nurture, I believe Feminism affects men because men must reconstruct themselves in light of it. We have to rise to the occasion, if you like.

Secondly, because I am not an expert on it. I have no need to be, and I don't want to be. For a long time, I thought that it was a duty of mine to be a Feminist, and I saw the weight and importance of the feminist critique.

However, more recently I have seen the challenge for men is not so much to support Feminism, but more to engage with our own “politics of the personal.”

I know that many of the people that read this have psychoanalysed the tendency behind what is written here. And I know that their conclusions are probably negative and very reductive about my motivations.

They are wrong, however right they think they are.

My intentions are noble and always have been. This blog was borne out of deep respect for the Feminist movement. Any anger and resentment I have about the gender conflict as I have perceived it, is against what I term post-feminism, and for me, there is a clear distinction between that, and true Feminism.

I see the post-feminist landscape as one that has constructed a patchwork of confused concepts that serve only to entrench the gender wars and power-battles that were drawn by a culture of Patriarchy. Feminism is important to men. However, it's importance is not so much in that we should we put up and shut up, as some who would call themselves Feminists, would say.

On the contrary, true Feminism, as I see it from my restricted and necessarily ignorant position as a “modern guy,” is a call to action. It is a challenge, but not a challenge to battle. It is a philosophical challenge.

The idea that there is such a thing as “masculinity” is a very Patriarchal notion. However, it is very much the case that, for good or bad, in light of our post-Patriarchal mindset, there is such a thing as “the masculine experience.”

There is nothing contradictory about what I am saying here. The paradox is significant, though. Masculinity, as with all gender notions, is largely constructed, it is formed through the unconcious evolution of identities and cultural norms. I don't have a problem with that at all. It seems rather obvious to me, and I think any science, trying to prove whether gender is nature or nurture is redundant. True Feminism is way past all that.

Much of what we consider our identities is constructed. Even our genetic inheritance is the product of evolved habits of consciousness, that are subsumed into our biological make-up. Evolution itself should put to rest any simplistic analytical distinctions such as nature/nurture.

Despite this, it is also ignorant to pass over the reality of our experiences. Whether nationhood, or gender, or racial affinity is socially conditioned or devised, or not, it does not diminish the weight of that experience on us.

This is my feeling about my own masculinity. I don't consider it the deepest fact about myself, that I was born with a penis, and that I have more testosterone than other human beings. It is a contingent part of my human identity.

My point is, that I feel a lot of people misunderstand my prorject here. I recognise that gender is not the be all and end all. I also recognise the gravity of the Feminist project.

I just feel very passionate that the experience of being a man, from my own personal point of view, is itself being diminished in importance by a culture of power and aggression that masquerades as Feminism, but is simply another aspect of the original problem.

It is one thing to say that gender is a construct. And many people throw this truth at me in reaction to what they have read here. As if to say that in light of the contingent nature of gender, my blog is obsolete, and I would do well to take a good look at myself and examine my true motivations for writing it. (Which incidentally, I do, every time I move my fingers to press “publish post”).

But such a challenge does me, and I feel, all men, a disservice. It is all the more important for men to examine their masculinity in an open and public fashion, given what the most advanced Feminism has shown us about gender constructions.

In light of Feminism, masculinity is in existential crisis. This is because the foundations of it were always so fragile in the first place. However, I think what a lot of people don't understand, is that I personally welcome this crisis. I think this crisis is a good thing, and any resistance to the idea of men examining their own identities in the face of it, I treat with suspicion.

The usual accusations I get come down to the idea that what I am doing here is not important, that I'm exaggerating certain issues out of a typically male form of self-aggrandisement. Such accusations appear quite convincing in their condemnation, because they are self-serving. They assume their own correctness and so are impossible to argue against.

I'm not exaggerating anything. Nor am I diminishing the true weight of Feminism and the continual battle for women to achieve equality. In truth, the opposite is the case. All I am trying to say that the masculine experience, however fragile, is real nevertheless. And any true Feminism should welcome an introspective examination of it.

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