The Tragedy of Masculinity

Opinion

We may not be as extreme as the Larry Nassers or the fictional Khal Drogos but we are the Aziz Ansaris. This is not to label Aziz as a sexual assaulter but the story that came out about him was emblematic of problem about men in society at large.

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A pursuit of truth is the highest ideal and we search for this most elusive object all our lives, most of us, without thought. The nature of our reality is such that we are questioning beings; a product of our elevated consciousness which produces a fascination with our universe and truth matched only by a consternation of our place within it.

A pursuit of truth without knowledge of what truth is or should be leads us to dark places and as we pondered on the nature of ourselves, we cried out to the vast expanse of the universe for answers it would never provide. So instead, we crafted our own existence. We searched for meaning in the metaphysical, discovering the world of Gods and heroes. As our numbers increased exponentially, we contemplated how best to raise children and build a lasting society. Our search for meaning overtook our love of truth and instead of crafting ourselves around truth, we were placated by incomplete findings, content to build our world on untruths and half-truths.

One of the consequences of stumbling around in the darkness is how we constructed systems to define who (and what) humans should be. In our flawed minds, we elevated the idea of masculinity above that of femininity and for more than ten thousand years there has been (and still is) a seemingly unshakable belief that men are the supreme version of humanity and that women existed merely as the support of this supreme form. Societies across the world practice and pass down this idea in many different ways: it is in the interaction between father and mother, mother always serving father and never vice versa, it is in the depictions of women in many religious scriptures, it is in how you probably cannot think of a single female philosopher but Socrates, Confucius and Plato come to mind whether you’ve read them or not, it is in how marriage is projected as the ultimate achievement for women, “Get a good man”. It can also be explicitly expressed: as in when parents voice their displeasure at having a girl instead of a boy, it is in teachers expressing disgust at a young boy being bested by a girl, “how can you let a girl beat you?!”, they exclaim. It is in how men (and women) have tried to curb female sexual freedom by practicing female genital mutilation. It is in the mind of Plato, who writes,

“A woman’s natural potential for virtue is inferior to a man’s, so she’s proportionately a greater danger, perhaps even twice as great.”.

And of Aristotle, “[T]he relation of male to female is by nature a relation of superior to inferior and ruler to ruled.”.

Most assuredly, our society has taken great pains to ensure that we truly believe that women are inferior to men.

We can no longer make the claim of ignorance. In the pursuit of truth, a necessary part of enlightened existence is understanding that our world view is shaped by our experiences. The core of our being: our beliefs, prejudices, behavioural traits, likes and dislikes are [mostly] dictated by these experiences and thus, it is important to constantly question our decisions, attempting to find their root instead of accepting them as “who we are”.

There has since been a realization that our experiences are subjective and thus, cannot be projected unto the world as truth although each experience is a crucial in reaching the truth. Thus, to understand the experience of women, men cannot rely on their world view because it is tainted. Men have been considerably focused on their experience in the world and our socialization colors our interpretation of the world. Seek out the works of women, read their experiences and their thoughts. Analyze the stories you hear with an open mind and with a desire for truth. When you see a consistent treatment of women across cities, countries, continents, history, then perhaps you should apply reason and come to the same conclusion that many feminist philosophers have also come to over the ages.

The problem is that humans are not taught independent thought and modern day Africa is emblematic of this grievous crime. The ‘reality’ for most Africans (men AND women) is that men are the superior form of humanity and this world view is solidified in so many different toxic ways that merely attempting to unlearn is immensely difficult. Religion entrenches this view so deeply that we are unable to get a coherent thought on why men are the heads of the households. We blame victims for being victims. You read about cases of sexual assault and/or rape and the automatic view of most of the comments betrays an idea of blaming women for being too ‘free’, for not being cautious enough.

“Why did you go to his house?”

“Why did you wear that?”

“If you go to a man’s house and something happens, you can’t blame him”

Some go their entire lives and never once question this social order. And as noble and benevolent as many of us men like to feel, we must realize that we are complicit in this subjugation. It is not that we (men) do not know that evil is perpetuated against women, when we hear and read vicious stories about men like Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nasser, Richard Pryor, we attempt to distance ourselves from that narrative. “Oh I could never do that, he must be an animal”, “not all men are like that” we think to ourselves. It gives us some comfort to know that we are not like ‘that’ but the truth is that as extreme as those cases are, they are merely variations of a current reality (and society) that nurtures men to see women as objects of possession for [sexual] pleasure.

We may not be as extreme as the Larry Nassers or the fictional Khal Drogos but we are the Aziz Ansaris. This is not to label Aziz as a sexual assaulter but the story that came out about him was emblematic of problem about men in society at large. We focus so much on busting in a nut that we subconsciously (or consciously) see women as nothing more than a route to that orgasm. That’s why our language and way to communicate about our sexual interactions focuses on our experience rather than on a shared experience. We see women as objects of conquests that millions of men are comfortable with the idea of a ‘trophy wife’, an entire other human being who exists merely to make you look and feel good.

See the misogyny in action:

It is these toxic views of women that leads us to believe that our role in a marriage is that of a benevolent dictator. Supreme power bestowed upon us as long as we ‘love’ our wives. It is why so many men (especially in Africa) are uncomfortable being in a union with a women that earns more than them because they believe it empowers the woman and gives her licence for freedom, terrified that she might usurp the power of head of the house. Our egos are massaged to the point that some women go as far as giving their husbands their entire salary so their husbands can make the decisions about the household. Preposterous bullshit.

Your existence is not worth more than the existence of a woman. You are not more than her. More important than your masculinity is your humanity. We have not learned to be human because we have untapped reserves of emotional immaturity bubbling beneath the surface because we were encouraged to suppress it. And if you have seen the injustice and remained unmoved or have not taken substantial steps to suppress it, then you are complicit in the oppression. I’m not sure how long it will take for the status quo to change, but it requires that men begin to change from perpetrators to active allies.

Getting to the point of attempting to understand the experiences of women is probably the hardest part about this transition. So soaked are men in the ultimate delusion of grandeur that merely acknowledging the existence of a gender based system of oppression is a difficulty most men struggle with. We are perfectly capable of seeing that some men treat women badly but to then ask us to make the leap into seeing the entire system of oppression? Might as well ask us to time travel.

It is instructive that many men have interpreted the assault in the patriarchy as an outright assault on men. Yes and no. Because men are the perpetrators and beneficiaries of the patriarchy, an assault on the system feels like an assault on men. This applies to any system of oppression. So every thing that attacks these ideas about the dominance of men is instantly seen as an evil. That is why millions of men are intensely antagonistic towards feminism. The principal ideal of feminism is to create a society where men and women exist as equals, where “all men are created equal” is an ideal for all humans not just humans born with penises.

Feminism enshrines equality at its core and seeks the destruction of systems that uphold this oppression. Many men, in an attempt to discredit feminism attempt to dismiss the opinions of women as ‘emotional’ or try to beat them (sometimes literally) into submission. Or we use the holy grail, religion, to drive home our point about men being in charge. “I agree with gender equality, in principle, but the man is the head of the house because it’s in scripture”. There is no legitimate criticism of the philosophy of feminism. You may criticize feminists, of course, after all we are all human and subject to fallibility but feminism itself is a flawless ideal and men need to understand that.

And you know, when you read about the history of women’s treatment at the hands of men, when you read the works of feminist philosophers, you instinctively understand because you recognize your own oppression in the oppression that we have perpetuated against women. But we hear and we suppress, attempt to discredit or outright dismiss these experiences because they do not fit within our world view. We don’t want to view women as equals because if we do such a ghastly deed, it would demand that we face ourselves as the demons of this oppression. It’s cowardly and pathetic.

That instinctive understanding of the evil of the treatment that women have received points at a semblance of humanity (still present within us) that society has attempted to suppress in lieu of elevating your masculinity. Unlearning the toxic views that we have picked up over the years will probably be the most difficult test of your life and the tragedy is that to regain our humanity, our greatest enemies will be ourselves.

Responses

  1. Kabuki
    Interesting piece!
    This position of yours seems easy in theory, however, how do you propose to reconcile the discord/chaos a truly equal society will bring. Maybe those philosophers of old were on to something that has now been lost over the ages.
    And don’t forget, equality, as with every concept there is, is relative.
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