Feminism & the Influence of Masculinity
Every time I visit the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center, I see a variety of men and women taking advantage of the inviting space. Although it is a women’s center with the purpose of providing services for women to ensure equal opportunities and resources, men too are welcome and their participation is important in the fight for gender equality.
As feminists it is important to remember that patriarchy is just as harmful to men as it is to women. Toxic masculinity, for example, creates an idea of the male gender role as aggressive and forbids the open display of emotions. According to this concept, any men that don’t display this idea of masculinity aren’t “real men”.
This idea of society’s influence on gender, as well as the performance of gender, is described in a New Statesman article by Samuel C.L. Jones. http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/05/my-crisis-masculinity-and-how-feminism-set-me-free
Joss Whedon, director of Avengers and writer of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, also showcases his idea of masculinity that as a feminist I appreciate. His ability to write strong female characters and strong male characters that appreciate their strength provides important role models for both genders. He not only discusses the necessity of equality, but also stresses the imbalance created by inequality as harmful to all.
That being said, I love Disney and Pixar movies. Some feminists will point out the stereotype of the passive/helpless damsel in distress being saved by the active/heroic prince. While I appreciate the prince’s helpfulness in more classic tales, I also appreciate Disney’s Mulan and Pixar’s Brave & Tangled, which show young girls and boys that both male and female characters can be active, strong, and intelligent.
There are many men out there who hold doors for women and perform other gestures out of respect and politeness and many who are gracious when women repeat the same gestures back to them. I know of men who stay at home with their children while their significant others go to their jobs outside of the home. Other men continue their professional careers while also supporting their significant others at home. I know of men who are administrators and men who are nurses: stereotypical male and female roles. You too have noticed variations in masculine roles in professional and personal areas of their lives.
Is there a right or wrong? What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman?
I don’t have solid definitions or ideas and doubt that simple ones can truly fit for all individuals and their variations. But I do know that gender roles have changed and continue to change from past traditions and stereotypes, and it is up to the individual to decide what is right for her/him. What aspects of a gender role make you comfortable and encompass who you are?
If you are in a relationship, it is up to the two of you to decide what you are comfortable with. In my own relationship I always remember Joss Whedon’s words of equality and respect between genders, which continues the work and ideals of feminism.
And as a teacher I will continue to expose students to various male and female characters, showing a multitude of masculine and feminine characteristics to continue the conversation of gender and feminism.
– Sarah Chase, MSWC Volunteer