The idea of gender equality has been an integral part of development strategies at a national and international stage for very long, being a major principle of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and constituting the crux of SDG 5. However, the tough truth is that much of the power to make a change in the gender power-dynamics that are present today lies with the oppressive, not the oppressed, since the present gender inequalities in economic assets, political power, cultural authority and the means of coercion that gender reform intend to change (ultimately) means that men control most of the resources required to implement women’s claims for justice. This present gender inequality and the imbalance of power in the hands of males is clearly visible – In Australia, men make up the overwhelming majority of key decision-makers. In 2012, women comprised only 26.5% of Federal Parliament, and in the private sector constituted approximately 10% of company board members and 24.7% of managers, while political participation of women in the Lok Sabha of India is at a dismal 14%. It is thus important to analyse the impact of masculinity, apparently the driving power of decision-making (not on the virtue of capability, but of discrimination) on gender politics and equality struggles.
The idea of masculinity has frequently been equated to physical and intellectual superiority of the male race over females. Worldwide, Plan International found three general categories for men’s attitudes towards gender equality: those who recognise gender inequality and seek to address it — the smallest group; those who acknowledge gender inequality but are afraid that empowering girls will come at the expense of boys; and, those who either do not perceive an imbalance, or do not believe in equal rights — the largest group. Philosopher Aristotle had surmised that
‘Masculinity was equated with the human rationality of men, and women were marked by sexuality, emotion, and their bodies’.
The notion that men are intellectually superior has already been disproved; however, what Aristotle articulates about women and their bodies remains relevant. French feminist philosopher Beauvoir in her landmark book “The Second Sex” surmised that men consider humanity to be constructed in their image: ‘it is clear that in dreaming of himself as donor, liberator, redeemer, man still desires the subjection of women’. This idea of male superiority and female inferiority has been ingrained into traditional masculinity in such a way that masculinity would not exist today without the existence of these traits. Attitudes that stem from traditional masculinity such as ‘the notion that “real men” are tough and hard and that the only appropriate emotion for them to display is anger’, present a significant barrier towards gender equality.
It is thus extremely important to conclusively blur the lines between so-called masculinity and femininity, and especially important to dispel the myths that surround masculinity – the notions that men are expected to be strong, tough, hide their feelings, and show their anger, not only to women, but to anyone. Stereotyping gender roles this way has the impact of ostracizing those men who think or feel otherwise, and creates a feeling of superiority and domination in those who possess these characteristics. Opening the eyes of men to the very possibility (and reality, in fact) that people of their own sex and gender can possess characteristics which are either not associated with masculinity, or associated with femininity, is the first step in normalizing a blurring of lines – it would help prove that neither is strength and toughness the ‘perfect’ characteristic (something that women are presumed to not possess), nor is any other characteristic the opposite of perfect. Thus, the disassociation of traditionally masculine characteristics from the notion of masculinity would open men’s eyes to both the presence of supposedly masculine qualities in many women, and the utter normalcy of the presence of qualities not considered masculine in both men and women.
It is extremely important to deconstruct the cores of masculinity, for the harmonious coexistence of men and women and a pervading sense of self-respect and love for the sex that one is born with, and the gender one assigns themselves. The working of a human’s mind is one of the most malleable and mysterious phenomena known to humankind – to assign a standardized set of responses that a person is expected to carry out, based on what resides between their legs, is an insult to its vast capabilities, the bodies that it inhabits and the harmonious functioning of the world it set out to change.
- R. Connell, Confronting equality: gender, knowledge and global change (UK: Polity Press, 2011), p. 15.
- Department of Social Services, ‘Background Paper: ‘The role of men and boys in gender equality’ (2013), available online: http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/our-responsibilities/women/programs-services/international-engagement/united-nations-commission-on-the-status-of-women/background-paper-the-role-of-men-and-boys-in-gender-equality
- IRIN, ‘Gender Equality: Why involving men is crucial’ (2011), available online: http://www.irinnews.org/report/93870/gender-equality-why-involving-men-is-crucial
- J. Gardner, ‘Men, Masculinities, and Feminist Theory’, in R.W. Connell, J. Hearn and M. Kimmel (eds.), Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities (Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2005), p. 36.
- Aydon Edwards, “It’s a Man’s World: The Effect of Traditional Masculinity on Gender Equality”, E-International Relations Students, https://www.e-ir.info/2015/03/29/its-a-mans-world-the-effect-of-traditional-masculinity-on-gender-equality/#_ednref56
- S. de Beauvoir and H. Parshley (trans. ed.), The Second Sex (New York: Bantam Books, 1968), p. 172.
- Plan, Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls 2011 – So, what about boys? (Plan International, 2011), p. 4.