“Hey fellow males, be critical of your gender!”

We are still all affected by gender inequality and the negative behavior that is a result of it. Even if you claim to be in favor of gender equality and women*1 liberation in a pro feminist sphere, you are still affected. Therefore, it is important to recognize the images of genders constructed by society! You just can’t ignore the effects of the social construction and norms of gender, the images connected to them and the resulting internalization of sexism.  

By: Joel Hankiewicz, Political Science  

You’re not safe from sexist behavior 

Strg_F (a journalistic team from Germany) found out that a man had installed cameras in the toilets of a festival called “Monis Rache” and uploaded the videos of women* on a porn page, so they published an article on that topic. A scandal arose as he was also part of the team organizing the event, which explicitly calls itself left-wing and pro feminist. But how did they react and how should they have reacted? The identity of the person was known even before the report, and they reacted months later, after it was published. They didn’t go to the police and didn’t ask the victims if they needed support. Some say they protected the sexual predator and thus reproduced the sexist behavior of the patriarchy. A male person (in a left-wing, feminist context) can film women* without the organizing team taking any action or being self-critical. 

There was also another similar scandal, but with a different behavior from the organizing team. Last year at the Fusion festival (the biggest left-wing and pro feminist festival in Germany), a camera was installed in the showers and the videos where uploaded to a porn page. The Fusion festival’s organizing committee only found out due to an anonymous e-mail. They went directly to the police to file a lawsuit and created an e-mail domain to which affected people and victims could write to. Furthermore, they deleted all the videos and want to create a support meeting where they try to help the victims. Also, they tried everything to stop this toxic behavior and the sexual assaults. It is not yet known if the offender of both incidents is the same person.  

But it shows that sexual assault and toxic masculinity take place everywhere and can be perpetrated by anyone, and that is why we should support the feminist movement and be critical of our own masculinity and behavior! 

Still a male dominated world 

We live in a male dominated society, also known as patriarchy. In a world where hegemonic power is based on masculinity and the representation of it. There are many examples to prove it, like women* often still earning less money than their male coworkers (gender pay gap) or the dominance of males working in executive positions. But it is not just about the public sphere: it starts with men not taking women* seriously in discussion, because they think they’re “hysterical”. Furthermore, men often feel entitled to judge a woman* by her* looks. What about a night out? I have never been harassed in a club and I party a lot, but if I go out with female* friends, there is always at least one creep trying to approach them in an uncomfortable way, either by touching her or with sexist remarks. And what happens after a woman* has been sexually assaulted? Many voices in society blame her and not the predator! “The personal is political” is a common phrase from second-wave feminist groups to differentiate themselves from a liberal understanding of feminism, where equality is achieved only in the public sphere. If you understand gender as a social construct, it is important to understand the interdependence between the public sphere, the private sphere and the impact on your daily life. We are all socialized in our gender roles and thus internalize some attributes connected to them. However, these attributes are not natural or unchangeable! The term “doing gender” by Candace West and Don Zimmermann describes gender not as an attribute you have, but as an act you do daily. The dichotomous differentiation between male and female* is everywhere and influences every aspect of life. 

Why you shouldn’t claim feminism while being male 

One big paradox that should not be underestimated is the feminist discourse for itself. Male domination is seen by society as something “neutral” and “objective” that doesn’t need any explanation. Therefore, we subconsciously connote gender with certain attributes. Those “male attributes” are for example to be strong, powerful and justified. On the other hand, “female* attributes” are submissive. When I’m talking about masculinity and “male attributes” I’m not talking about the accumulation of all men, I’m talking about the idealization and an image of what it means to be a man and what you need to be seen as “manly”. The power shift constructs itself in the social relation between the genders. These relations have led to the fact that society values the opinion of the male over the female*, even in feminist discourse. 

There is a big need to support alternative perceptions on masculinity and to reduce sexist behavior. 

If a male considers himself as a “feminist” or “pro feminist” he is most likely more accepted or even applauded by society, than if a woman* does it, thus a sexist way of thinking is reproduced. Even though it isn’t their fault, this is the reason why males shouldn’t claim feminism for themselves. Also, males tend to talk themselves out of their toxic behavior by claiming to be feminists. There are other ways to be supportive: help women* articulate their interests, support their needs, but don’t try to speak for them or be in the frontline if not asked to do so. Equality in history meant seeing the man as a norm, but I think this is unfair. So, we should all be critical about our own gender and about our own behavior and the privileges that come with being male. 

Critical masculinity to support Feminism 

To start off, we must understand what it “means to be a man”. There is a strict definition of this and the images of it as described in the previous paragraph. Of course, these “attributes” differ from context to context, but they share one important similarity: the “guidelines” on how to be a man. Therefore, they naturalize these ways of behaving, which in turn harm men as well as other genders! Masculinity creates a form of hierarchy to differentiate itself from other genders, but also within a group of men. This structure creates the phenomenon called toxic masculinity. Because of this, men are not allowed to share their weaknesses and they must compensate with violence against themselves, or towards other men and women*.  

Therefore, we need a critical approach to this topic which is called “critical masculinity”. First, it is important to make those images of masculinity, those instructions and the resulting toxic behavior visible. There is a big need to support alternative perceptions on masculinity and to reduce sexist behavior. To achieve that, we have to be critical of ourselves, our friends and of male behavior in general, because every male has toxic aspects. But this isn’t about guilt! It is about recognition, and the learning process reduces sexist behavior. As I already said, there is no power free space in our society, because we’re all socialized by social norms and thus it is even more important to start in one’s own environment. This could mean calling out a friend if he is doing something wrong, criticizing your group of friends or another association if you have the feeling it is toxic or just talking to a person if you see they have a problematic behavior. But the most important part is to protect the victim and not the predator of a sexual assault! It can happen everywhere at any time – we’re all affected by toxic masculinity. 

Further readings: 

Bourdieu, Pierre (2005): Die männliche Herrschaft. Suhrkamp. Frankfurt am Main. 

Moser, A. (2010). Kampfzone Geschlechterwissen: Kritische Analyse populärwissenschaftlicher Konzepte von Männlichkeit und Weiblichkeit. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften / GWV Fachverlage GmbH, Wiesbaden. 

Lindahl, Björn (2019): Norway: Gender pay gap remains, but influence is slightly up, 12.04.2019. in Nordic Labour Journal. Verfügbar unter: http://www.nordiclabourjournal.org/nyheter/news-2019/article.2019-04-11.3066164563 [14.02.2020].  

o.V.: Was ist kritische Männlichkeit? Verfügbar unter:https://kritische-maennlichkeit.de/was-ist-kritische-maennlichkeit/ [14.02.2020]. 

Schwarz, Carolina (2020): (K)ein Ort für sexualisierte Gewalt, 04.02.2020. in TAZ. Verfügbar unter: https://taz.de/Spannervideos-bei-Fusion-Festival/!5658019/ [14.02.2020]. 

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