Ouellette: Feminism and the New Man

by Torrese Ouellette | 9/12/12 10:00pm

Throughout history, some critics of feminism have claimed that the ideology espouses nothing less than the wholesale destruction of men. As an ardent feminist and a male, however, I would argue that feminism actually seeks to reform a masculinity that is defined by the possession and exertion of power. In a society and world where our understanding of the human experience and social organization is transforming, men must evolve.

Women, over the last few centuries, have rightfully demanded a world of full equality. They have toiled alongside their enslaved brothers in the blistering fields of servitude, picketed in the streets for their suffrage and against apartheid, joined men as wage-earners in factories and sweatshops and when given the opportunity, they have proven their mettle in business, politics and institutions of higher learning. Meanwhile, masculine anxiety in the face of women's advancement has been the most persistent barrier to true gender progress. As feminist Gloria Steinem once said, "We've begun to raise daughters more like sons but few have had the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters."

In her much-discussed 2010 article in The Atlantic, "The End of Men," journalist Hanna Rosin argued that in a modern information and service economy that emphasizes social, collaborative and intellectual skills over physical stamina and authoritarian leadership, many men find themselves at a significant competitive disadvantage. Other changes such as the growing need for two incomes within a family, a decreasing relevance of the male-dominated nuclear family and a greater awareness of the full spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientation are causing the privileged status of traditional heterosexual masculinity to wither in the face of social, economic and cultural reality.

This is problematic for men who are trapped within a decreasingly relevant and increasingly inflexible masculine identity. As we can see in the backlash against LGBT rights, the political power struggles over women's reproductive choices, the persistently high rate of sexual violence and continued resistance to full equality between men and women, men often respond destructively to change, unleashing frustrations upon people in their personal lives or through enforcing masculine privileges and institutions. And indeed, how can this adjustment to equality be easy if men are still greatly defined by outdated notions of individualistic "success" that is, our ability to dominate in politics, the market, the classroom, the family, the bedroom, at whatever cost?

Gender and our most basic notions of power are inextricably linked. Power, in turn, is changing in modern times from something that is seized and manipulated by select male-controlled authorities and institutions into something that must be shared and negotiated among equals. Men must decide whether we will cooperate in the establishment of a fairer world or fight desperately for the privileges we have historically enjoyed under patriarchal societies. I suggest that men rise to the challenge of equality, abandon patriarchy and fashion ourselves anew.

This newly realized man will be empowered to acknowledge his own emotions freely and to actively respect the emotions of others. He will not merely denounce homophobia from a comfortable distance but combat its violence against others and its limits on his soul. He will be able to have healthy, intimate relationships with women without feeling compelled to control them. He will be just as secure in being led by women as in leading them. He will view tolerance and diversity not as mere tools in his arsenal of social advancement but as essential principles to guide him in serving others. Most crucially, he will not be deceived by the voice of self-satisfied complacency telling him he has already evolved; he will only know upon seeing a world around him that is fundamentally altered for the better.

The continued subjugation of women is deeply rooted in the conditioned masculine fear that he must dominate the world or be dominated by it. If we can liberate men from this suffocating notion, women will also be liberated from the idea that they must conform to traditional masculinity or otherwise be crushed beneath it. As a consequence, both women and men will find it possible to become fully equal and spiritually secure human beings. Some people see the idea of casting off old notions of masculinity as frightening; I see the birth of a new sort of man as a necessity for a more peaceful, sustainable and humane world.