Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Self-reflection and moving forward

I began this semester of Feminist Legal Theory with doubts. Given the opportunity to put my federal loan money where my progressive mouth was, I doubted myself. Up until this fall, I took advantage of having a marginally stronger grasp of feminist concepts than my male contemporaries. I accepted the social capital without trying to grow my knowledge, change my lifestyle, or push for more. I let myself remain complacent because I felt better than most, and that was enough. After the first week of class, I realized how little I knew. If I quit, I could revert to the ignorant belief that it was enough to be more feminist than the average guy. Thank goodness I did not let fragile masculinity win this battle.

Most of our critiques and discussion throughout the semester centered on more abstract concepts like social constructs or media representations.  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 in which I can engage. But understanding my role in perpetuating or upholding traditional masculinity isn’t just for my own benefit; a stronger understanding 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. Link below.) 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. First, 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. While I benefited personally from the regiment and structure of American football and rugby, to this day I never considered what brought me to those sports over all others. I enjoy profoundly less violent sports such as basketball, soccer, baseball. However, I gravitated to the more violent games. It was not the violence in of itself that attracted me to them, but the social capital I received as a male for playing them. I believed bullies would respect me and girls would like me if I played these sports.

I also put great effort into outward appearance, one of the chief ways gender is broadcast to the world. Whether by body composition, clothing style, or facial hair growth, my personal choices create 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, if I 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 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.

Link to Harvard Journal of Law and Gender:
Link to David Cohen's article:

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