It is always important to ask yourself who the stories you hear are coming from and why. Is their information supported by what you already know? Have you heard the other sides? My attention was recently brought to a little rumour about the men of America. Apparently they are in grave danger and who could the culprits be? Those darn feminists again.
Nick Adams, America’s number one fan from down under, motivational speaker and author of the 2013 book The American Boomerang warned the nation of a so-called “dangerous phenomenon” in a guest appearance on Fox news. Let us first get a fair understanding of Mr. Adams’ viewpoint by looking into his positionality.
This quote, directly taken from the Politics page on his website, spoke volumes to me about his line of thinking:
“He considers all people to be equal but not all cultures to be equal, and that the English-speaking world is the greatest hope for mankind.”
To be honest, I read Nick Adam’s website and saw a man clearly cashing in on a few general realizations: America loves itself, America feels threatened, and America has money. But for the purpose of debate, we can assume that he genuinely believes a decline in strict enforcement of traditionally masculine behaviour is affecting the USA’s national security. Is masculinity in danger? If we are referring to some rigid definition and the stereotypical expectations associated with masculinity then yes, in fact it has never been safe. This term is and always has been continuously critiqued and remolded by society.
The issues I have with the words masculine and feminine are that they take the place of other adjectives that would better describe people more specifically, accurately, and would be inclusive and accessible to all. When we allow the word masculine to take the place of words like smart, independent, outspoken and driven or let feminine replace gentle, caring, respectful and accepting, we create a roadblock preventing half the population (and all who identify as androgynous or middle sex) from feeling comfortable to identify with and exhibit behaviours they have been taught to avoid. Further, when one’s gender performance does not align with mainstream ideals, their gender identity and often sexuality are called into question and scrutinized. The association of distinct traits to gender categories is a smokescreen that blocks people from recognizing that everyone (even the crocodile hunter) is capable and more importantly, required to express traits from both arbitrary categories in various situations.
Amy Cuddy’s TedTalk on how body language can impact confidence, public speaking and ultimately success is a remarkable example of the lasting impact gendering children has on reaching their full potential. So it is not as Adams’ puts it that men are preventing women from achieving their goals but rather the the ways society views and values men and women. He may be right about the importance of teaching young boys to be leaders but is it not important and fair to teach girls to stand up for themselves and be confident as well? In his critique of the effects of feminism, Adams’ fails to acknowledge any significance that gender roles forced onto young girls may have on the well-being of the country yet the last time I checked, women had an active place in the American affairs he claims are at stake including politics and military.
The consequences of promoting certain skills to only one gender can negatively impact boys just as much as girls. While girls are encouraged to behave passively and cater to men domestically and sexually, young boys are taught to be aggressive and possessive. The obsessive degree to which strength has been equated to a lack of emotion can be summed up in the phrase “Be A Man.” The same claim Nick Adams’ says will save America is in reality leaving boys more prone than ever to depression, suicidal thoughts and violence. The documentary entitled The Mask You Live In gives an informed polar-opposite perspective supported by expert opinions and statistics (which Adams’ story seems to lack.)
It is important to note whose definition of masculinity Adams’ is fighting to defend. The image he paints of men being men by watching football, going to the shooting range or having a beer is a stereotypical All-American cultural artefact that does not honestly represent the cultural diversity of the country. He says men are not allowed to participate in these activities and are demonized for doing so where I believe men are pressured to participate in these activities whether they are interested in doing so or not and are ridiculed and called “weeps and wussies” if they don’t. To say men win and wimps lose is not only offensive to men who don’t feel inclined to demonstrate normative masculinity but also implies that “wimps” have feminine qualities therefore women are innately losers too. If we want to analyze his theory from yet another lens, we can also note that his use of the term “male” in congruence with man in the quote “just being male has now been made really suspect” marginalizes men who may self-identify as such but biologically have female physical sex traits.
Gender intersects with race in the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity that pop culture feeds us. Does Nick Adams have an opinion in comparing the “proper” way to be a man or woman between white and black people? It seems that this type of gender policing triggers racial gender slurs like “angry black woman” and “strong independent black woman” to be so frequently mocked.
On a final note, I draw attention to Clayton’s question, “how do we teach our children to be who they are?” While he continues to clarify that he means “boys to be boys and girls to be girls” I’d like to rebut that being who you are is not something that can be taught. In the self-proclaimed Land of the Free and around the world, all should be free to be who they are.
“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” (A.A. Milne)