Tag Archives: patriarchy

‘Oo are ya?

4 Sep

There are identity-related decisions that we’re not even aware of because we have not been socially “allowed” to make them. Think about all of the traditional rules around being a man: protect, provide, be strong, silent, and emotionless. For people of the past, it was unthinkable to consider men as anything else. With the modern reshaping of the masculine mould, men are experiencing the freedom to express themselves through their clothing and style and forge their own identities, including their own names.
mask identity

Most modern men turn away from the intense control that the old boy’s school had over everyone and everything. That tradition is crumbling and humanity is thriving in diversity, equality, and respect. We’re in an awesome period of gender advancement and people are making their own rules, choosing their own roles, and creating their own identities.

As we continue to question and deconstruct, our choices become wider and we have the opportunity to make significant changes to our lives and our selves, including what we’re called. For example, I always wondered why I didn’t get my mum’s last name instead of my dad’s. Women had much more to do with the children than men did, so why were we labelled with the dad’s identity? It didn’t make sense to me, even as a child.

I got into a conversation with myself about names, thinking that there are no true female last names unless the woman chooses one herself. Traditionally, she’s born and given a man’s name (her father’s), and if she marries, she takes the name of her husband, and symbolically leaves her own heritage and blood line, and takes on a foreign one. There was no choice —  the equivalent of a cattle brand; ownership seared in. It’s a modern concept that a woman can create her own identity by choosing to change her name to what she pleases. Our name is linked to our identity and we should be free to choose our own. Men included.

Jill Filipovic, in The Guardian, wonders why, in the modern age, “does getting married mean giving up the most basic marker of your identity? And if family unity is so important, why don’t men ever change their names?”

A good question that I’ve asked myself. Then I read this:

William MacAskill, in Why men should change their name when they get married, says that he and his fiance together chose MacAskill, her grandmother’s maiden name, to take as their married name. Why? He wanted to go with a name that sounded better and was cooler than his birth surname, “Crouch”. It wasn’t about tradition, it wasn’t about gender assumption or emasculation, MacAskill changed his name out of aesthetic.

It’s no surprise that MacAskill shocks people when he tells them his intention. The news meets with reactions of “raised eyebrows, confusion, or aggressive questioning”. The concept of a man changing his name is probably an alien concept and outside most people’s consciousness (indeed, sacrilegious to some). MacAskill mentions that no one reacted when his fiance said she was changing her name, which reminded me of my parent’s reaction to my name change: Well, she’d change it when she got married anyway.

The irony is that I haven’t been married. I changed my last name 13 years ago because I wanted to and I had a choice to. I never liked my father’s harsh-sounding Austrian last name; it felt like an ill-fitting cloak that I couldn’t take off. Instead, I chose to associate with my mother’s Irish side and went with a softer sounding name. It was largely aesthetic for me but also very liberating because I had the choice. It also feels so much better.

It’s a wonderful time in social history where people can keep pushing for change, for balance, for betterment. No matter what gender we self-identify with, we have the choice to decide on who we want to be and how we want to be known according to our own rules. It’s a blessing. In this modern world that unravels the colossal knots of exclusive patriarchal rule, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and even better if choose it yourself.

The crime of emotional silencing

29 Dec

Sad news this week. While on holiday in Jamaica, Cathy-Lee Martin’s throat was slashed by her husband. The couple were experiencing marital problems and reports reveal that Ms Martin told her husband that she wanted to separate. The 43 year old Ontario school teacher decided that slitting his wife’s throat was a solution to their failing marriage and he intended to kill her.

That horrendous act of violence was the vocabulary that Mr. Martin communicated his hurt. He’s one of so many men who have not had the opportunity to explore and express their emotions in a healthy way, turning instead to violence.

I have looked up some extremely disturbing statistics for this week’s post to illustrate the catastrophic numbers of violence against women by men who cannot see another way to cope with their problems. From the Amnesty International website:

  • At least one in every three women, or up to one billion women, have been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in their lifetimes  (L Heise, M Ellsberg, M Gottemoeller, 1999)
  • Up to 70% of female murder victims are killed by their male partners (WHO 2002)
  • In Bangladesh 50% of all murders are of women by their partners (Joni Seager, 2003)
  • In Pakistan 42% of women accept violence as part of their fate; 33% feel too helpless to stand up to it; 19% protested and 4% took action against it (Government study in Punjab 2001)
  • In Zambia five women a week were murdered by a male partner or family member (Joni Seager 2003)
  • In the USA a woman is battered, usually by her husband/partner, every 15 seconds (UN Study on the World’s Women, 2000)

Here in Canada, the Canadian Women’s Foundation cites half of Canadian women (51%) have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.

These numbers are frighteningly high. Why is this happening?

Marc Lepine, the gunman who murdered 14 women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique before killing himself wrote in his suicide note that “feminists have ruined my life… The feminists always have a talent for enraging me. They want to retain the advantages of being women… while trying to grab those of men.”

Anthropologist David Gilmore finds that there has always been a tendency for men to fear and hate women: “Most men need women desperately and most men reject this driving need as both unworthy and dangerous.”  This love/hate dynamic, says Jed Diamond in The Irritable Male Syndrome, “is rooted in men’s unique dependency on women: boy relies on mother, and later relies on his wife for food preparation, domestic care, emotional support, and nurturing.”

Sociologist Michael Kimmel suggests that while “psychologists and feminists and the entire [US] legal system see male sexual aggression as the initiation of violence, guys describe it in a different way – not as an initiation but as retaliation… against the power that women have over them.”

In other words, some men are threatened by women encroaching on “their” territory, and there is a perceived inadequacy for a patriarchal / macho man to need and rely on a “weaker” woman in a society that demands male self-reliance and stoicism.

The Montreal massacre sparked concerns in Canadian men and in 1991, The White Ribbon Campaign was born, addressing violence against women (website here). To support the group and to wear a white ribbon is a personal pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls. The White Ribbon Campaign sees the future having no violence against women. As it should be.

However, it is one thing for a man to say that he will never be violent against a woman but it is completely another thing to nurture boys from birth, encourage them to communicate their feelings, and simply allow them to love. And so I turn to a brilliant feminist thinker, bell hooks, author of The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love.  I was overjoyed to read her book because I found a kindred spirit in her way of thinking about men.

“Feminist thinkers, like myself,” hooks writes, “who wanted to include men in the discussion were usually male-identified and dismissed. We were “sleeping with the enemy”. We were the feminists who could not be trusted because we cared about the fate of men. We were the feminists who did not believe in female superiority any more than we believed in male superiority.”

Male superiority, or patriarchy, is the exclusive social system that puts men in the dominant position above all else, and what hooks goes on to describe as a convention that “endowed [men] with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.”

She says that the patriarchy keeps men from knowing themselves and experiencing their emotions, from loving. “To know love, ” she says, “men must be able to let go the will to dominate.”

She also says, “Patriarchy demands of men that they become and remain emotional cripples.”

If any of you have read Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that it’s easy to create a deeply hurt and seethingly angry, violent, self-loathing man by mistreating him as a child. On top of this, add a heavy-handed expectation to conceal his feelings and swallow his natural emotions. And if he slips, let him have it.

“For many men, anger is the only emotion they have to express themselves,” says Jed Diamond, author of the Irritable Male Syndrome, “men are taught to “do” and as a result, men keep their emotions under wrap – they cannot show hurt, fear, worry, or panic.”

Hooks speaks at length about her experiences growing up with a brother just one year older, and how their gender roles were literally beaten into them by a patriarchal father who refused to accept his gentle and passive son and also refused to have an aggressive and competitive daughter.

“Something missing within” was a self-description I heard from many men as I went around our nation talking about love,” hooks explains, “Again and again a man would tell me about early childhood feelings of emotional exuberance, of unrepressed joy, of feeling connected to life and to other people, and then a rupture happened, a disconnect, that a feeling of being loved, of being embraced, was gone.

“Somehow the test of manhood, men told me, was the willingness to accept this loss, to not speak it even in private grief. Sadly, tragically, these men in great numbers were remembering a primal moment of heartbreak and heartache: the moment that they were compelled to give up their right to feel, to love, in order to take their place as patriarchal men.”

This idea is so sad to me. Manhood sounds like a sentence this way. I cannot imagine not being able to feel – it seems to me that I would explode. Young men can explode into violence and grown men explode in heart attacks and high blood pressure, both under serious stress, coping with a deafening and imposed silence, and no outlet to express themselves.

I see a lot of men walk around beaten, confused, abused, and bullied into patriarchal submission, and it breaks my heart. I think of this a crime against humanity.

We need to examine this social practice and start to heal from our patriarchal wounds, and to heal says hooks, we as a society need to stand by men and love them and support them, “offering a love that can shelter their wounded spirits as they seek to find their way home, as they exercise the will to change.”