Be a man.
That’s not manly.
Are you man enough?
I want a real man.
We often hear these phrases when a male person’s manliness is explored. What is really in question here though? Is it his economic status? The size of his penis? His physical strength? His courage? His supposed lack of emotions? Whatever it may be, there are many misconceptions about masculinity. A “real” man is mostly described as fearless and tearless, a warrior.
Yes, it is a fact that most of the world’s soldiers are men. Military training, boys’ peer groups and media often promote a direct link between being a “real” man and the practice of dominance and violence. It is true that men are responsible for most violent crimes, largely due to the fact that men rather than women are central to the symbolism of violence in mass media, sports and political rhetoric.
It is clear, there are links between masculinity and violence. To recognize this is not to say that all men are violent, or that men are naturally violent – it is to discover masculinity and its effects on gender-based violence.
Pointing out issues about masculinity can be misunderstood. It may be seen as unfairly blaming men for all violence, or implying that women are inherently better people. On the contrary, it may be seen as a way of excusing violent men, since the behavior is attributed to masculinity, which many believe to be natural and unchangeable. The focus, however, should be on characteristics of socially constructed masculinity that lead men towards violence, and on the ideologies that reinforce aggressive behavior. This allows the focus to shift towards prevention of violence against women and the building of positive alternatives.
Violence against women is used as a “policing mechanism” to emphasize socially set gender roles, and to perpetuate gender-based inequality. There are structural and personal roots to gender-based violence. At the structural level it is grounded in Patriarchy; a system that positions men over women (and other men). At the personal level it is also based on pressures, fears and emotions that underlie many of the dominant forms of manhood adopted in different settings.
The biology of sex does not explain the issues; biological differences are just that, while social patters of violence require social explanations and solutions. Our understanding of masculinity must embrace economic production, power and authority, sexuality and emotions, and identities and communication. Eliminating violence against women and building a culture of peace requires change in masculinities. But it does not require men to be weak or incapable. On the contrary, violence often occurs because masculinity is constructed to make violence the easy option, or the only option considered. We must move towards a leadership that does not see violence as the only alternative. The leadership “inherent” to masculinity should be used to work towards gender equality rather than to further segregate the gender hierarchy.
Education can open up a diversity of pathways, and allow boys and men to use a broader spectrum of their capacities; emotional, communicative, and political. Education can show boys and men a variety of ways of being a man, and allow them to experience this diversity. It can develop boys’ and men’s capacities for nonviolent action, training them in techniques of peace as they are now commonly trained in the techniques of combat.
An educational effort in this direction cannot work in isolation. It needs to be supported by action in other areas of life that will make greater diversity of experience possible for men, and nonviolent conduct easier for them. This means action to reduce gender hierarchies across the spectrum of social life, media, workplaces, and institutions.
Moving towards gender equality is an important part of the culture of peace as well. Cooperation and dialogue between women and men create new knowledge and positive change. Men’s groups should not pander to those who might attempt to emasculate them for fighting for gender equality. Media constantly emphasizes the “natural differences” between men and women. The fact is what men share with women – talents, languages, interests, institutions, and family – is far more than what divides them. As long as we focus on the mutual benefits and share the responsibilities, we will have the basis for a non-violent future.
Göktuğ was born and raised in Istanbul. He moved to the US during high school and was lucky enough to live in many awesome cities while earning his degree in gastronomy. Thirteen years later he’s back, living in southern Turkey near his family. He and Feminist Activist are currently living and loving on the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. He is very proud of his partner’s work towards gender equality.