Masculinity: Gender and Violence Essay
Being a male in today’s society is not about living and enjoyment, it has become more of a task. Social pressures and media have made it difficult for males to live a life in which they are not being pressured to act or perform a certain way. In order to reassure themselves of their masculinity, violence has become the main method in assuring themselves and those around them that they are powerful. Not only is this violence being perpetrated against others, but self-inflicted violence also exists. The violence being used is not only physical but it is emotional abuse as well.
Masculinity has forced many males to perform in ways that are detrimental to their own health as well as their loved ones. Furthermore, it has also put males in the position to display hatred against those who do not measure up to a certain degree of maleness. This can eventually cause harm to those individuals portraying characteristics that are less masculine. The definition of masculinity must be explored and refined in order for this cycle of violence and hatred to culminate. Finally, this type of hyper masculinity and suppression of emotions is leading boys and men towards depression and more anger.
Therefore, through the examination of violence against themselves and others, stifled emotions and societal influence, it is evident that masculinity is an ideological construct that must be redefined, as it is leading towards the destruction of men. As society develops, so does society’s definition of their surroundings. Masculinity has been developed into an act which must be displayed by males in order to stay masculine. In most cases, if a man is seen showing female characteristics, he is ridiculed and discriminated against.
As Kaufman notes that while many of the characteristics associated with masculinity are valuable human traits-strength, daring, courage, rationality, intellect, sexual desire-the distortion of these traits in the masculine norm and the exclusion of other traits (associated with femininity) are oppressive and destructive (3). Although these characteristics are valuable and treasurable, it is masculinity itself that distorts these characteristics by giving them new meanings and bringing about new expectations out of males.
Furthermore, it is important to explore the roots of masculine violence. In order to redefine masculinity and to solve the issues that follow it, it is crucial to examine where these issues ascend from. As Kaufman suggests, much of the sociological analysis of violence in our societies implies simply that violence is learned by witnessing and experiencing social violence: man kicks boy, boy kicks dog (6). It can be concluded from this that violence is something that is learned. It is something that grows and cycles after it is witnessed.
Consequently, Kaufman suggests that such experiences of transmitted violence are a reality, as the analysis of wife battering indicates, for many batterers were themselves abused as children (6). In some cases, many men are abused as children and see violence as a way to solve disputes within the household and as they grow older, they believe it is acceptable to use violence with their own children and spouse. It becomes a constant cycle of violence. Additionally, violence has long been institutionalized as an acceptable means of solving conflicts (Kaufman, 5).
The acceptance of violence as a problem solver shows that violence is a method in which males can emphasize and preserve power. It would be seen as feminine to solve problems in a peaceful manner and to avoid violent confrontations. As a result of this, males would be ridiculed and teased for not solving their issues through violent measures. The message that masculinity conveys to young males is that being a man means being violent. Moreover, masculinity is a way of showing power and declaring that power over other individuals.
This power is then used to exploit individuals who do not contest masculine power. As De Beauvoir states, because she is reduced to servicing men through her sex-whether for pleasure or procreation-woman is exploited (342). The definition of masculinity shows young males that in order to be respected, power must be applied upon others and intimidation is the only method of gaining this respect. Through the use of this power and intimidation, females are often oppressed and kept under the control of men.
Woman has need of the male in order to gain human dignity, to eat, to enjoy life, to procreate; it is through the service of sex that she gets these benefits; because she is confined to that function, she is wholly an instrumentality of exploitation (De Beauvoir, 360). Males use power over women to reassure their manliness and to portray their masculinity. This violence is not only present in households. It is also present in masculinity versus nature in a capitalist society, where the environment must be altered and destroyed for economic gains. It appears that violence against nature-that is, the impossible and disastrous drive to ominate and conquer the natural world-is integrally connected with domination among humans (Kaufman, 7). Another example of showing this power is through rape and sexual abuse. Through rape, men display their dominance in the most violent and gruesome ways. As Kaufman notes, in the testimonies of rapists on hears over and over again expressions of inferiority, powerlessness, anger (15). By committing this crime, males display their physical strength upon the victim and this is what masculinity is defined as, a display of power and control through violence.
Furthermore, masculinity can be seen as a fight or revolt against the idea of being an inferior individual or the fear of being dominated. In order to overcome these fears, many males feel the excessive need to hide their emotions and connections to other human beings. If a man dares to show emotion, he is mocked and teased. To avoid the teasing, emotions and feelings are kept bottled up. As a result of hiding these feelings, males are subjected to even more emotional pain and stress. The emotional pain created by obsessive masculinity is stifled by reinforcing masculinity itself (Kaufman, 12).
This clearly shows that the ideology of masculinity causes emotional suffering and misery. Masculinity’s definition teaches males that showing emotions is a sign of weakness. When asked by interviewers, many young males replied that being a man is about being intimidating, powerful, and physical and that not having these characteristics brand you as a homosexual (Tough Guise). Additionally, masculinity requires a suppression of a whole range of human needs, aims, feelings, and forms of expression (Kaufman, 13). Moreover, it can be seen in social settings how males approach one another and attempt to show their feelings in a less obvious form.
Kaufman notes that expressions of affection and of the need for other boys had to be balanced by an active assault (19). This could be a simple punch on the shoulder when greeting one another or a heavy pat on the back when trying to show your feelings towards another male. It is evident that showing emotions and feelings are natural, human traits but masculinity has changed that. Masculinity has declared it unsuitable for males to show emotions without some sort of violent or macho attitude. Consequently, if a male does show sentimentalities or feelings, he is stripped of his masculinity and his power.
Freud suggested that great amounts of passivity are required for the establishment of social relations among men but also that this very passivity arouses a fear of losing one’s power (Kaufman, 18). In order to have healthier relations between men, there must be a level of passivity involved but that same passivity creates a fear in the individual of losing his power and being dominated by his male companion. As seen with this concept, masculinity makes it impossible for males to have relationships with one another as the norms of masculinity do not permit men to be passive individuals.
The constant reminder is that masculinity means to be powerful. Masculinity is defined by power. This same power is the force applied on woman, children and other males in order to secure this authority. The loss of this power declares you as an inferior being and someone who is dominated and losing this power takes away an individual’s manhood. As young boys, the future of manhood is seen through this equation: male = penis = power = active = masculine (Kaufman 19). To be the opposite of this as Kaufman states is female = castrated = passive = feminine (19). Additionally, another issue that arises with masculinity is homosexuality.
As Kaufman states, the maintenance of masculinity requires the repression of homosexuality (19). The simple thought of homosexuality is seen as frightening or a threat to one’s masculinity. Due to strong social restrictions, men are only permitted to show their pleasure of being around other men in specific social institutions. Some of the energy is transformed into derivative pleasures-muscle building, male comradeship, hero worship, religious rituals, war, sports-where our enjoyment of being with other men or admiring other men can be expressed (Kaufman, 20).
This indicates that finding pleasure through the accompaniment of men in other surroundings is unacceptable in masculinity. The irrational fear of homosexuality is an issue for a great number of men in society. It is a socially constructed phobia that is essential for the imposition and maintenance of masculinity (Kaufman, 21). This illustrates that in order to be masculine; one must portray hatred and dislike of homosexuals. It can be described as an illogical and unreasonable fear which many men feel is the correct way to deal with individuals of different sexual orientation.
Masculinity states that being a man is being heterosexual and all other sexual orientations are abnormal. Therefore, masculinity has the authority to define what is normal and what is not. All of these concerns with masculinity eventually begin to deteriorate the individual himself as well. The health and well-being of males often becomes problematic as emotions are concealed and violence is perpetrated against others. Feelings and emotions cannot be blocked because they are a major part of how humans behave naturally.
The continual conscious and unconscious blocking and denial of passivity and all the emotions and feelings men associate with passivity-fear, pain, sadness, embarrassment-is a denial of part of what we are (Kaufman, 22). This denial of emotions has a devastating effect on men as they begin to grow feelings of self-hatred and blame. Often, these feelings of self-hatred can lead to anger, resulting in more violence. Part of the anger is directed at oneself in the form of guilt, self-hate, and various physiological and psychological symptoms (Kaufman, 22).
In fear of showing emotion and losing power, men often begin to deal with depression. Masculinity inevitably destroys the male himself throughout time. Furthermore, a man’s family also suffers from this anger and depressing state that he is in. A man feels most safe in his home and free to do as he wishes, but with this anger and hostility, the family often becomes the victims. As the dams break, the flood pours out on women and children (Kaufman, 16). Consequently, alcohol and drugs become the remedy for this depression.
Statistics show that men outnumber females in binge drinking in college and high school because they believe that is how men deal with situations (Tough Guise). As alcohol consumption increases, so do the number of drunk driving incidents. Cultural norms suggest that driving recklessly is cool and manly (Tough Guise). When boys see rock stars and individuals they idolize in music videos, driving recklessly, they get the message that masculinity asks them to be irresponsible drivers as well as it is dangerous and daring.
Not only are males putting themselves in danger while drinking and driving, they are also endangering the lives of many others. Masculinity has been labelled as a public health problem by many people due to the damage they are inflicting upon themselves and individuals around them (Tough Guise). This self-inflicted violence is a result of masculinity and the expectations that masculinity asks of males. Through the examination of blocked emotions, self-inflicted violence and violence against others, it is evident that masculinity is an ideological construct that is weakening and diminishing men.
It is an ideological construct which is placing society as a whole on a setback. Power defines masculinity and this same power is being used against women and children to reassure men that they are in fact men. As a society, we must redefine what being masculine is. Violent masculinity has become a cultural norm that we as a society have constructed. The definition of masculinity must be changed for the betterment of people in general. Being a male should not be a duty or a performance, it should be an experience in which men can move forward in their lives with confidence and self-respect, not violence and self-hate.