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Column by Justin Ong Opinion Editor | Illustration credit to Roger Ko
As most feminists would argue, I do believe that being a male in today’s day and age confers its benefits. This isn’t purely a “feminist narrative” but it is backed by actual everyday occurrences. By and large, being female means having to bear the burden of wage gaps, and constitutes the lack of basic human rights in many parts of the world. In addition, women grow up enduring history lessons about mainly male endeavors, even accepting language biases where female insults are often animalized or “whore-ified” (whore, slut) as opposed to male insults, which are more humanized (jerk, dick). This is just the tip of the iceberg.
What I’m arguing here is not that males have it harder in general, for this is not the case. What I am suggesting is that due to gender inequality and the premise that “males have it better”, a lot of problems that men face today are often ignored, even intentionally downplayed, not just by females, but by men themselves. Inequality doesn’t mean that one gender will definitely have it better than others; but in fact suggests a plurality of benefits and detriments, spread out across different genders.
On a functional level, society already funnels men into roles that suit their image, which is divorced from matters in the household and childrearing. In many parts of the world, a man is often not the one who cooks, nor is he expected to be good with babies, or know how to sew on a button. In these places, a man who is able to fulfill the above is seen as unusual at best, emasculated at worst. Rather, he is expected to be the primary breadwinner and leave the domestic chores to his partner. Here lies the problem. Gender equality does not mean that women fulfill these “feminine” and “masculine” roles all at once, while leaving men with only the “masculine” roles. Rather, it advocates interchangeability, that we can live in a world where a woman is not considered “manly” for being a construction worker, and a man not considered “cute” for changing his baby’s diapers. Men should accept these “feminine” roles as something they can partake in as well.
Similar to a man’s aversion to domestic roles, men are often afraid or unable to express their emotions and insecurities. This is reinforced in both the workplace, where men have generally taken more leadership roles, and in our language, where phrases like “man up” and “grow a pair” ascribe courage and stability as intrinsic to men. It is no surprise that men feel trapped in these expectations of masculinity and feel ashamed of their vulnerabilities. Why is it more impactful when a man cries on film, or why is it particularly “heartwarming” when men express their feelings? Traditionally, the idea of two men getting vaguely intimate often provoked feelings of discomfort and unease, for what business did two men have in hugging or being close to each other? How come it is so acceptable when girls did the same? Male pride and the maintenance of the male image is not a natural choice, but one brought about by the propagation of masculine ideals. Such idealization is often discussed through the feminine lens, but in fact is one that all genders have to grapple with in the fight for equality.
Oversimplification does us no favors. We have to acknowledge that any assumption or stereotype cast upon one gender inexplicably affects the perception of another. Assuming that a woman cannot flourish in the sciences invariably means a man has to excel, assuming that a man has to protect a woman suggests that a woman is incapable of standing up for herself. We cannot see each stereotype in a vacuum, but acknowledge that all genders have to compromise and communicate in order for equality to arise.
Statements like “a male definitely has it better in today’s world” thus come with their own weight. It incorrectly elevates the status of men on all fronts and makes gender equality seem a purely female fight. However, all of us are subject to expectations that are far beyond our control, and these expectations come with their unique set of benefits and detriments. Only when we begin to view gender inequality through a neutral lens can others be included in these conversations, only when others begin to speak up will this no longer be solely a female fight.
The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org