Letting Go of “Manning Up”

August 6, 2014 in inQueery

chris_hemsworth_01Straight men, especially straight white men, are socialized through a culture of sexism and homophobia. Our society has based many of its values off of a patriarchal system of thought; putting men before women, and debasing female perspectives. A few examples are of male socialization are: valuing the denial of emotions, a lack of empathy towards others, and high levels of aggression towards out-groups. This is taught through many facets of life such as media, parents, peers, etc. Through this paper I don’t intend to prove any of these things to be true, but instead, I intend to examine my socialization under the context of a patriarchal society that produced my past, and to some extent, current behavior, as well as how these processes of socialization were undone. The reason I believe this is important is due to the nature of male oppression. It mostly comes from people like me; white, privileged, straight males whose opinions and beliefs are represented more often in our society. Because people like me are generally those who create a lot of the social ills in society today, it is important to understand the various influences that socialize white males and create the current system of ignorance and oppression towards LGBT people and women alike.

The three things growing up that I remember most frequently hearing were “don’t be a p*ssy”, “man up”, and “nut up.” This was coupled with watching TV programs that starred white males in positions of power over women. Only being worthy of respect when they made money, were unmoved by others, and were aggressive towards those who disagreed with their viewpoints or current goals. Comedy shows I watched frequently belittled men who cared for others, making jokes about their inability to adjust to societal norms. The word “whipped” was frequently applied towards men who cared for their significant others’ needs. These early experiences shaped me, and as I grew older my life experiences backed up these viewpoints and the beliefs of male superiority solidified. As an adolescent, male superiority was played out through fighting, aggression, stealing, and disrespect towards others. But as we grow older things like legal issues and job loss can arise from such behavior, and so men take it into different areas of life. From my experience, it’s through seeking status in society and belittling other groups or people who cannot achieve this status. This status is used to maintain power over women, and to support the patriarchal system we are all raised with.

The only way I was even able to see these processes occurring was because of drug abuse I had endured during my teens. The drugs I used caused me to become dependent upon several substances resulting in extremely acute withdrawal. This withdrawal prevented me from stopping any sort of intrusive thought or anxious feelings, leaving me completely open to any negative energy coming in from the outside world. One of my first experiences about a week into the withdrawal was watching a documentary on the Castro in San Francisco. The thought crossed my mind that I may be gay, although today I have found this to be false in a sense (I consider myself pansexual). At the time it struck so much fear into my heart that I began to obsess over the idea. I was convinced I was gay, so much so, that I began to identify as gay internally. But it wasn’t the idea of actually being with another man that bothered me, it was being labeled submissive or feminine, common stereotypes associated with LGBT people. This instance of fear was my first look into the culture I was raised in. I began to feel the ignorance and hatred I had been taught coming through me in a very real sense. This allowed me to see a lot of the limitations put on LGBT people by society – when I watched television LGBT people were always represented as feminine, weak, or stereotypical in nature. It was sickening. Music I listened to devalued men and women – women for being women, and men for being like women. This resulted in a dedicated interest in understanding how this feeling had come about in me, and what I could do to stop it.

I came to realize that the only way to undo the bigotry and hatred in one’s mind is through direct experience and encounter with the very thing they fear and hate. Unfortunately this is not easy to do, and approaching somebody openly is very difficult. Often people react angrily to having their values challenged, regardless of how these viewpoints affect people. It’s hard to stop years of socialization and behaviorally backed up hatred through a few sessions of therapy, or through sensitivity training/education. Unless you have a personal stake in changing the change will probably not come. I believe that attacking the source of the problem is the only real solution. We can go after television, movies, and any other form of media that show women in stereotypical roles, or LGBT people as linear and defined by their status as LGBT people. We can be more vocal about the power structure we live in, openly teach the basics of how a patriarchal society works early on. People today are not taught the reality of how androgynous human beings really are. But also, understand that this system of thought is embedded into us and until society is able to value sensitive belief systems as equal and important, these problems will not stop. From what I have seen, they come about from a starting point of hatred towards being sensitive, not a lack of sensitivity itself. By promoting and showing how being sensitive can be a positive solution to dealing with personal issues, people will be able to see how it can be useful in dealing with social issues. Often men I try to convince to see differing points of view feel they have to prove their manliness before they are willing to be sensitive. My goal is to change this completely – I don’t want to make the oppressive sensitive, I want them to value sensitivity as a centerpiece to their philosophy on life.

Connor Payne is a Guest Contributor at InQueery and a volunteer at the Pacific Center.