A (very) Brief Understanding of the Modern History of Gender Roles
You can read a greatly expanded history of gender roles through google, so I'm going to skip out on what I consider to be 'introductory'. It's unclear how exactly men and women related to one another for the vast majority of our existence, although there is plenty of reason to believe that gender roles had developed (or had already developed) at some point late in human history. Women basically become more vilified as a bunch of little Jezebels in the Western part of the world throughout recorded history, and only recently, during Enlightenment times, did a general understanding of the relative equality of humans begin to emerge. Women were considered weak, stupid, irrational, and generally whatever invective you'd like to pile on, and thus were easy targets of oppression, which was vastly formalized, as well as a major element of human culture in most societies across the globe.
Happily, things began to change. First the formalized oppression was targeted - voting rights being a very obvious first, and only a few decades later, women were being put to work in factories, a traditionally male atmosphere. Of course this was only due to the fact that men were being sent off to die, but hey, women could use all the help with their image as they could get. One thing I would like to stress is that this isn't an issue of men vs women - women were just as complicit in the oppression of other women as men were, this was a cultural problem. Indeed, as the more temporally relevant Women's Rights movement came in the late 50's and 60's, formalized systems of oppression as well as cultural systems were targeted, and things started getting better. Not perfect, arguably not even good, but better. Women still earn less than men in a broad sense, but it's a lot closer than it used to be, as an example.
So why, then, is this an issue? If things are getting better, shouldn't we just keep doing what we're doing, and be happy that everything will be sunshine and roses?
The Frontier of Oppression
Major questions still exist. Here's just a few of them:
- How do we cure sexual violence against women?
- How do we eliminate domestic violence against women?
- How do we encourage women to take part in male-dominated fields?
There is a problem with this list, however. In the vast majority of feminist literature, the problems are being phrased incorrectly. You can't convince men to stop beating their wives if you don't take aim at why men beat their wives. The core problem, now, isn't with the way society treats women, it's with the way that society treats men. This is definitely the case, as these problems aren't socially accepted. There is definitely a culture of silence around them, but not a culture of acceptance. I posit that feminism will never be successful with it's current initiatives until it opens itself up to men, co-opts the masculist movement, and fights for human rights instead of women's rights.
The good news is that more attention is starting to be paid to this issue. While I don't deny for one moment the notion that society still has a problem with women, I think it's safe to say that the bulk of issues facing women today are, in fact, due to the way that society treats men. This is the frontier of resolving oppression, and is the next logical step in the journey to a better society.
What are Men's Issues?
I'm glad you asked. The great problem with men is the need to keep up a high standard of masculinity. "Gay", used as an insult, is a direct result of this - as a man, you must act as a man, and if you don't behave by your proscribed gender role, you're girl-like, or "gay". It's not difficult to see where this immediately segues into the oppression of women on the level of the individual. If you take a boy and tell him his whole life that his life worth is calculated by how not-like-a-girl he is, it seems almost obvious that he would grow to think himself better than women, perhaps by virtue of his greater natural strength or whatever he can come up with.
Sex is another great issue. A double standard certainly exists, that men can have sex as much as they like, whereas women are shamed for having as much sex as they like. The flipside is rarely discussed, I've found, however, that men who don't have lots of sex are shamed. This is the problem where instead of being repressed, held back, men are instead pushed and jostled into action. The excessive male sexual action (sexual harassment of women, rape culture, etc.) is probably largely to blame on this. Men feel like they need to be constantly sexually projecting themselves in the hopes that women will be receptive and then he can have sex and feel like he's a Man, rather than a creep. As a society, we must encourage healthy sexual attitudes in men as well as women. Abstinence-only education doesn't count, that stuff is just wicked.
The male as the stereotypical breadwinner is surely a significant issue. Women's wages are on the rise, as are the number of households where women outearn the men, and yet society still holds on to the idea that men are expected to be the financial backing of their families, rather than as a parent. Just as women were held back by social expectations of their domesticity, so too are men receiving a hard push to be successful at any cost. How can you feed a boy propaganda his entire life that he's going to have to take on the financial deadweight wife and work the rest of his life for her, and then turn around and expect him to respect her as an equal? You can't, and shouldn't, until you determine that the responsibility to provide financially can be carried by either partner, and that there's no shame in only having one partner provide, should that be the desired situation.
Part of the reason why I wanted to write this blog was to try to project the importance of targeting men into the conversation surrounding gender relations. This is an issue very near and dear to my heart, and I utterly fail to see why things should be the way they are, and why we, as a society, aren't doing more to change things. Men chafe at their bonds. Although they don't wear handcuffs as women did, men are constantly stuck on a track of improvement, their emotional needs ignored by society, their value determined only by their productivity. This must change for things to get better.