Men can learn from feminism by adopting a "we can" philosophy, which acknowledges that gender is no barrier to individual capacity, says Jack O'Sullivan.
---This is article #9 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
To realise our full potential as men, we need to get the analysis and the alliances right.
First, the analysis. A big barrier to self-realisation is anything in our heads – or in other people’s heads - which suggests that being male is a limitation rather than an aspiration. ‘We can’ should be reclaimed as the core of masculine identity. That means junking and challenging notions that we can’t … express emotions, multi-task, care for children, care for ourselves and each other, listen, be valuable people even without a job... ‘We can’ does not claim innate ability. It establishes goals and entitlements. If we’re not instantly good at something, it means that we seek help. We make sure that boys as well as girls emerge fully equipped for adulthood. We give men – as well as women – who might have missed out, both the opportunities and inspiration to catch up.
If that’s the analysis, then we should make alliances with those who also say ‘We can’. And we should challenge those who don’t. Let’s start with feminism. It has championed a philosophy that gender is no barrier to individual capacity. Women picked up this insight, historically considered to be a masculine paradigm. They ran with it and have travelled far together, outstripping men’s sense of our own possibilities. Feminism should be our inspiration.
Patriarchy hurts men
Patriarchy is our enemy because it confuses control over women and children with male self-realisation. We don’t need to control others - we need to develop our own capacities. And patriarchy gets in our way because it dictates that only women do certain things. That stops us from doing them. Patriarchy says ‘We can’t’ to men just as it tells women ‘You must’.
Feminism has done us a favour in beginning to dismantle patriarchy. But it’s left matriarchy for us to challenge. Matriarchal values – claiming that women are innately superior to men and that we are incompetent in key parts of the private and domestic arena - has messed up the heads of women and men. We have not supported equality in the public arena to then be policed and infantilised in our homes. Perhaps, in the old world, patriarchy and matriarchy somehow provided a balance, but both systems are out-dated as men and women reject gender-based power and its inevitable diminishing of the ‘other’ gender.
We're stronger together
Then we have to talk about mending fractured relationships between different types of men. ‘We can’ requires mutual support. So, for starters, heterosexual men should dump their historic hostility to, and discomfort with, homosexuality. Straight men have a lot to learn from, and share with, our gay, bisexual and transgender counterparts, who have bravely and successfully said ‘We can’ about their contested identities.
And then there are fathers living with or separated from the mothers of their children. These fathers often act as strangers to each other. Men in ‘intact’ families provide little support for those fathering children after separation. Yet we’re all saying, ‘We can’ be good parents. The power dynamics between fathers and mothers that become so obvious after separation are all present inside ‘intact’ relationships. They are just better hidden. We need to share our understanding of these dynamics.
Lastly, there’s that word ‘We’. Too many of us lack the will to collectivise in order to create a better world for everyone. Yet, individually, we are often unable to understand and tackle the cultural pressures that we face. Together, ‘we can’.
---Cartoon credit: Jack O Sullivan
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men's Day 2014 by clicking on this link---#100Voices4Men---and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
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