Column by Daryl Yang Guest Columnist | Photo credit to Flickr User gaelx
In “Gender Equality Isn’t Just A Female Problem”, Justin Ong rightly noted that it is a troubling problem that many men’s issues are still not talked about enough. Many men continue to quietly suffer from mental illness, and young men represent one of the highest demographic among those who attempt suicide. Yet, it might be inaccurate, or even counterproductive to assume that this is because feminists and others concerned with gender issues are not paying enough attention to the issues facing men today. We need to take a few steps back and consider why these issues are not gaining the same amount of traction and attention that they deserve. This is all the Patriarchy’s fault.
Feminist writer bell hooks defines the Patriarchy as “a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak”. Patriarchy, besides putting other genders at a lower standing, wrongfully divides gender into the binary of male and female, Patriarchy being a masculine endeavor and everything else a feminine struggle. Therein lies the problem — for gender inequality is not a male or female problem; it is a problem that affects everyone, from cisgender heterosexual men, transgender lesbian women to genderqueer asexual persons, agender bi-romantic individuals and everyone else along, around and beyond the gender spectrum.
As the writer argued, we cannot analyze the issues facing any one group in isolation from the rest. That women should stay at home suggests that men shouldn’t, and that is equally damaging to both these genders. Yet, such a binary perception is equally damaging to those who do not identify exclusively as cisgender, heterosexual masculine-presenting men or feminine-presenting women. Ultimately, the Patriarchy not only perpetuates sexism, it also promotes heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia and femmephobia among many others.
As such, Ong is right in suggesting that what needs to be done is not to adopt a “masculine” or “feminine” lens in understanding the power relations and dynamics between genders. He suggested that we need a set of “neutral” lens, and I would go further to argue that what this means is we need to dislocate ourselves from the gendered social positions we have come to reside in. To fully appreciate the effects of the Patriarchy,each and every one of us has to situate ourselves within a complex hierarchy of gendered power from the alpha masculine to the subservient feminine.
The difficult question lies in how we can liberate ourselves from the trappings of a system so deeply entrenched and self-perpetuating in practically every aspect of our lives. The oppressed groups have first come to develop a heightened consciousness of the Patriarchy because it was more apparent, more explicitly overpowering, with feminists and queer activists having railed against the Patriarchy for decades. It is no wonder that bell hooks once described the Patriarchy the “single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation”. What, then, needs to be done before men will realise that the Patriarchy is more noxious than good for even men themselves? What will it take for them to finally get on board with the endeavour to dismantle the Patriarchy? This is a difficult question to answer because what the Patriarchy does is to essentially delude men into believing otherwise.
I doubt there is a simple panacea we can hope to discover except to encourage critical reflection, sharing and dialogue among men and between the genders so that everyone can come to appreciate that we all are needlessly subjecting ourselves to the cruelties of a system that ultimately benefits no one. We might begin with the question of what it even means to be a man in a world today with its unrealistic ideals characterised by Clark Kent’s carved torso, Bruce Wayne’s emotional remoteness and Steve Rogers’ valiant charisma.
In the end, change will come, but it will come slowly, one conversation, a human connection at a time. Only when men are finally cognisant and recognize the role that their gender plays in oppressing not just others but also themselves will we cure the disease of Patriarchy, and achieve true equality among genders.
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