Masculinity, Power and Privilege

I grew up thinking that men and women were treated equally until one day in elementary school when it was time to go outside and play dodgeball. Two male captains were picked, and I noticed all the boys were being picked first and no one wanted to have the girls on their teams. This is when I realized men were always going to be seen as the better sex. Am I saying men are the better option? Yes. At least that’s what society wants us to believe. Society has brainwashed us into believing the world can only be run a certain way, which is with men being in control. The idea of traditional male masculinity is an idea that needs to be put in the past. In this society, they are seen as greater, smarter and stronger. However, men living up to these standards of traditional masculinity are causing more harm than good.

Patriarchy is around all of us even if we are not aware of it. In his book The Masculine Self, Christopher Kilmartin defines patriarchy as, “a system in which society confers greater levels of economic power, influence, and prestige on males than on females” (57). Kilmartin’s point is that, Society has created a system where men are the ones in power, the ones who have the control. For example, the United States has never had a female president. They have always been male. A woman wasn’t even allowed to vote until 1920. We see patriarchy every day in the workplace, in parenting and even in relationships. Society has created a “set of rules” that men must abide by in order to be the ones seen as masculine or powerful. Men suffer from this because it requires them to suppress emotion and empathy.

Men have always been the ones in charge and making decisions that would impact everyone. In his book The Descent of Man, Grayson Perry says, “In people’s minds, what do professors look like? What do judges look like? What do leaders look like?” (18). In other words, Perry is trying to get the point across that when people think of these careers that they assume these are male based roles because, these are thought to be careers of power, strength and success. When you hear the words nurse, maid, and receptionist you think woman not man. Most men do not even think about patriarchy, let alone use that word in their vocabulary, yet it is everywhere. As a group, men have the majority of power in the areas of social influence, currency and control of the world.

With patriarchy comes privilege. Surprisingly most men aren’t aware of male privilege. Perry says, “Men have been in power so long, and have built a world that reflects them so accurately, that masculinity is woven into the very fabric of society” (32). To clarify, Perry is saying men have been in power for so long that the world has become a place that is designed for men. Man is everything and everywhere, there is no escaping it. When people think of higher up positions in the work area they think of a man. Men have the confidence that people will take them seriously. Another example of male privilege is that their success will be based solely off their efforts and hard work. Kilmartin explains male privilege by saying, “men have always lived in a world where their ways of being privileged over those of most others, and because men are not encouraged to identify with women, it is easy for male privileges to be invisible in their experiences” (59). What Kilmartin is saying is very similar to what Perry said about privilege which is, men are accustomed to being treated this way and that they are oblivious to the privileges they have compared to others. Male privilege should be no surprise to anyone when looking at the facts. A man is able to have the confidence of knowing anything is possible simply because they are male.

When it comes to masculinity there are four main themes; antifemininity, status, inexpressiveness and aggressiveness. Antifemininity is taught to boys from an early age, they are taught to avoid doing certain things that make them come off as feminine because being feminine as a male is seen as disgraceful. An example of antifemininity is described by Kilmartin by saying “the worst insult for a boy is to say he throws, looks, or acts like a girl” (53). To further elaborate, Kilmartin is saying that traditional masculinity is teaching boys that being feminine is something they should be embarrassed of. The status of a man is very important because the higher status you have, the more respect you gain from other people. Man has this desire of achievement, so they are always working because they never feel accomplished. Inexpressiveness is a theme of traditional masculinity that men are expected to stay in control of their emotions and to always have self-control in any situation. Inexpressiveness limits a man’s ability to express emotion. Lastly, Aggressiveness in males is always expected of them when it comes to taking risks. These four themes are the most popular traits men are taught by society without realizing it.

People who fulfill the expectations of traditional masculinity can acquire some great rewards such as money and relationships. Kilmartin states “men who are “winners” are often able to live in the lap of luxury, enjoy the admiration of others, and basically do what they want to do” (56). In other words, Kilmartin is saying that society created the idea that if you choose to be the traditional man, a “winner,” you will have many rewards such as, luxury and the freedom to do as you please. When it comes to money, the benefits for a man is they are seen as successful. It is easy to measure a man’s success by his bank account rather than his actual accomplishments. Pertaining to men and wealth, Kilmartin states, “no rich man is ugly” (qtd. in Kilmartin 54). To elaborate, Kilmartin is saying as long as a man has large amounts of money women will find them attractive. An example of this would be, when you see an older man with a younger woman, people just assume she’s with the older man because of his money not because she actually has feelings for him. A social reward of traditional masculinity is relationships. A man is seen as a desirable friend and associate to other coworkers and other men. Men like to see another man be aggressive in the workplace because it shows that they are hardworking. A traditional man also attracts other men because they look up to him because of his success. With this being said, benefits of traditional masculinity appear to be very rewarding.

However, there are some severe costs of traditional masculinity. Men are expected to follow a certain set of rules created by society which not every man is able to follow. A man not being able to conform to the expectations created by society pertaining to traditional masculinity often leads to emotional restraint, and in some cases, aggression. Kilmartin states, “masculinity is characterized by a willingness to take physical risks and become violent If necessary” (53). In other words, kilmartin is saying, violence and aggression is expected from a man because acting this way is considered to be masculine. A consequence of traditional masculinity is, men aren’t able to communicate their emotions. One of the reasons men can’t communicate their emotions is because they are raised thinking “big boys don’t cry” (Kilmartin 56). Men are raised thinking that showing emotion is something only girls do. Men aren’t able to express sadness because they have the idea that sadness is weakness, and men aren’t weak, they are strong. Being emotional is viewed as a feminine trait that only women possess, and if a man is seen as feminine they get made fun of or degraded. When my two-year-old son cries his dad tells him to suck it up, and his reason for saying this is because he’s a little boy and little boys aren’t supposed to cry. My opinion is, my son should be able to express any emotion he chooses to feel at the time. I will not allow my son to become a victim of this traditional toxic masculinity that has taken over the lives of previous generations.

Another consequence from traditional masculinity is aggression. Some men are willing to do whatever it takes to be the “top dog” because traditional masculinity says, the more power you have the better man you are. Perry states, “men from lower socioeconomic groups usually denied power in a wider political or cultural sense do seem to have a tendency to find power in cruder, more physical ways” (36). To clarify, Perry is explaining that a man with not as much power or success tries to search for opportunities of power in harsher violent ways. Men will have outburst of violence towards someone they know is weaker than them in order to feel a sense of control. Kilmartin’s views on men and aggression is “The valuing of aggression has dire consequences for men and the ones around them” (61). In other words, Kilmartin is saying, society continues to make an aggressive man be seen as a good thing, the truth is aggression can have a negative impact for themselves and the ones who surround them such as self-harm or mental and physical abuse. For example, our president of the United States has more of an aggressive approach to come off as a winner, but he tends to rub people the wrong way and comes off very offensive and insensitive at times.

The concept of male dominance is now being challenged as time goes on. Men are uncomfortable with the idea of women also having power, but traditional masculinity needs to be put to an end. As Perry states, “the idea that masculinity is in crisis is nothing new” (41). What Perry is saying is, problems of traditional masculinity have always surfaced time and time again throughout history, and has been questioned, but for some reason always ended up being socially accepted. As the times are changing the new generations need to adapt to the idea of woman being able to contribute to the world as well. Perry also explains that, “man has done many things well, but it is time for him to relinquish his dominance” (22). Perry is saying that man have always been in control and now it’s time for men to take a step back and allow women to have a chance to be in control as well.

Woman can add something new to the world that people haven’t experienced yet. If only society would allow the idea of woman being in power to be seen as normal as a man being in power. A solution for change would be that people should start to become more open minded to A woman being president of the United States. Not only would a woman president give the country a new perspective on how the country is run, but also the fact that we have no history of a woman president to learn from. The only examples we have are from men running the country not a woman. As Kilmartin states, “contrary to what some people believe, men and women are not enemies, and gender study can lead to an appreciation of our commonalities”(61).In other words, society needs to work together and stop separating us by gender and try to understand how we can complement each other and we will see that we have more in common than most people may think. Another solution for change would be that society needs to start seeing all career positions as gender neutral, not thinking certain jobs are a man’s job or a woman’s job, just a regular job. This generation has the power to influence change for equality and empathy towards one another, we just need to continue to stay open minded to new ideas that previous generations have been afraid to explore.

Clearly, standards of masculinity vary from person to person. However, traditional masculinity will always define itself as superior over femininity. Even though I believe traditional masculinity causes more harm than good, I do realize that there can be some benefits. I am a strong believer that change can be implemented if everyone had a better understanding of traditional masculinity like I now have. I think that women should try to better understand the social pressures that traditional masculinity puts on a man, but also that men need to try and be empathetic towards other men and I guarantee you traditional masculinity will be a topic of the past.

Works Cited

  1. Kilmartin, Christopher. The Masculine Self, “Introduction.” English 100: Intensive Reading
  2. Writing and Reasoning. Supplemental Course-Reading Packet, edited by Sam Pierstorff,
  3. Modesto Junior College Duplicating, 2018, pp 49-62.
  4. Perry, Grayson. The Descent of Man. Penguin Books, 2017.