By Mira Zimmerman
Disclaimer: I am writing specifically about heterosexual female/male gender norms and roles. I realize that there are so many other circumstances and factors at play. I want to make it clear I am not speaking for all men, and as a woman, I am extrapolating from experience and observation, not fact. Also, men are rape victims too, but I specifically speak about women.
Scary man? Cross the street. Someone is following you? Go to a familiar house that you don’t live in. I have never walked home at night without being on high alert. Women especially, live in fear. Fear of men.
Patriarchal society has reigned throughout time, and with this type of biased society, power is in the hands of men. Power itself is not dangerous, but when it is systematically given to a certain group, problems begin to occur. Social power is made in part by gender roles. I believe that gender roles that have allowed men to hold social power are not only harming women, but men too. Often overlooked as feminists, men are key to changing the sexism and fear in our society. Not only are they raised in ways that promote gender inequality, but men experience sexism and gender pressure too, albeit in different and often less common ways. These issues need to be addressed before the social constructs that have created them can be changed.
Often, if not always, men are put in boxes. Traditional masculinity is often shown in the form of strength. They must be strong, charming, smart, athletic and confident. They must pursue women. These expectations of traditional masculinity cause a lot of pressure, and I believe this pressure leads to some men being controlling and coercive and disrespectful towards women. I don’t mean to say that this the case for all men, but I mean to make the connection that the expectations that influence men can lead some of them to be sexist or even sexually abusive – and it’s not necessarily their fault. Keep in mind that if someone initiates sexual abuse or rape it is their fault. I’m suggesting that what leads a person to these acts are symptoms of the society we live in. A society where children are raised with pink and blue, barbies and trucks, causing a massive divide from the start, and it just gets worse. Later on, boys are told they must have sex to be men, and girls are told that they should please men, but losing their virginity makes them dirty and impure. It is a two way street of unfortunate events. Because of all of the pressure for young men to be attractive and persuade girls into having sex, rape culture is born. Many boys and girls do not understand the subtleties of consent, because nobody has ever taught them those complexities. When asking my parents about their definitions of consent, even they didn’t recognize some widely known non-consensual interactions. Not once in my sex ed class was there even a whisper about consent. I believe that most people think that rape culture causes obvious and clear violence- but if lack of consent is so clear, then what about date rape or rape within a marriage? What many people don’t realize, is that the people we should be watching out for are not going to steal us from a street. They are people we know, even people we love, and even those who are deluded enough to think they love us. Gender roles are creating a society where women and men alike are victims of ignorance. We teach our boys socially that sex makes you a man, but not whether coercing a girl into having sex is consensual or not. I myself have experienced this phenomenon, and so have many of the people I know. Some boys simply think that “no” means “convince me”. They don’t understand that what they are doing is violating because they have been raised in an environment that makes persuading girls a sport and a requirement for manliness, and therefore, social power. Not only does a culmination of these different social factors hurt women, but they hurt the men who are influenced by those factors. If a man doesn’t fit the macho requirements of the society, he likely feels powerless, and that is dangerous. Often, sexual assault and harassment isn’t about sex. It is about power. This is so terrifying because society has put men in boxes, and yet most men cannot fit in those boxes. That is how sexual predators are born. That is why the teenager whistles at you from his jacked-up compensation truck. We are creating a culture where it isn’t safe for people to be themselves. Men can be strong and big or weak and little. They can be smart or stupid or feminine or masculine or a big mix of everything in between. Boys don’t have to like trucks or sports. They don’t have to date and sleep with girls to be manly. The problem, mainly, is that there is a lack of awareness among and about men and how they are initially influenced by gender roles. Feminist movements tend to focus on women, and how they can change things. This next wave of feminism needs to focus on men, and how they can help women change things, whether it be through the words they use or how they raise their children.
Being aware of the influences on both sides of the gender spectrum is essential for social change, and I have hope that things will progress. Already, a huge social revolution is beginning to occur. I’m excited to see the children of my generation, because I think by that time, many more people will have caught on. They will let their child wear and play with what they like, and teach them that objectifying or disrespecting or violating any human is not acceptable. They will teach them about social expectations, and help them help those social pressures change. Men and women alike are beginning to break the walls of the box.