A recently published book called Save the Males, written by leading American columnist Kathleen Parker, has caused a major furore in the United States owing to its central theme that it’s extremely hard to be a man in the 21st century, since men are being effectively emasculated by the expectations that feminism has thrust on them. That metrosexualisation of the modern man has only resulted in diminishing his capacity to provide for the woman and the family is the basic theme that Kathleen Parker expounds upon. Apparently, she does this with a lot of felicity, for, I have only read the reviews of the book and some of the responses to it, but I am looking forward to getting my hands on it, for, it promises to be a good read. One aspect of what the author says does resonate with my own understanding of the gender conflict. Despite conventional wisdom having it that the male of the species is the more empowered of the two genders, I believe that the human male is the more handicapped of the two genders and whatever “empowerment” he seems to enjoy today is more virtual than real. Permit me to explore this premise.
It would be fair to say that at no other time in recorded history than at the present has the human male been at the crossroads, as far as defining his identity is concerned. This is a rather unusual situation for him to be in, for, whatever else he has or has not been, he has been reasonably sure of what he was, where he was going and how he was going to get there. This was the situation even until the 1960s when male and female roles were very clearly delineated and men knew what precisely was expected of them. The hunter-gatherer role that was refined over the centuries to the role of the provider-protector is the one that man seems to have adapted to with the greatest degree of comfort. It seemed to be in keeping with his anatomical prowess and gave him the opportunity to express his identity by utilising his natural assets and strengths, thereby providing him a substrate on which he could define his essential masculinity. The better the provider, the better the man; the stronger the protector, the stronger the man. A fairly straightforward equation that the women’s liberation movement unfortunately put paid to by questioning and actively encroaching on the domain of the larger environment that the male had defined his very maleness in. The threatened response of the male to this incursion could be interpreted to mean that he is unwilling to concede his social position of dominance to the female, since the provider-protector is the one who holds all the strings. However, we need to probe the issue further and go one level deeper to understand, acknowledge and address a more fundamental sub-text that is in operation.Core of identity
At the core of the sense of one’s self is the recognition that one is created from two genders. Each individual will therefore necessarily be the repository of the generic attributes of both genders, even though biologically only one may predominate. It is not one’s maleness or femaleness alone that defines one’s identity, it is the harmony between the two that determines how comfortable and integrated one’s identity is going to be. Karl Gustav Jung, the celebrated Swiss psychoanalyst and one-time protégé of Sigmund Freud, used the term anima to refer to the feminine aspects of the man and the term animus to the masculine aspects of the woman. In other words, shocking as this may be to the more macho in our midst, inside every man there lies an unexpressed woman. And even more shocking is the proposition that the object of masculine identity development is not the elimination of this woman, but acknowledging the existence of and fine-tuning the feminine side with the masculine part of the identity. In other words, blending the yin and the yang. Unfortunately, men have either embraced their anima too much or not enough, as a result of which they have either over-metrosexualised themselves or ended up being committed retrosexuals. The “masculine woman” has become more socially acceptable than the “feminine man”, who is still an object of derision. And herein lies the root of the gender conflict. Women find it easy to pursue their masculinity; men find it disagreeable to even acknowledge, let alone pursue their femininity. Steady inroads
When one looks back at social evolution over the latter half of the last century, it is readily apparent that women, once they decided on the direction they wanted to take, were able to make inroads into what were traditionally male bastions — territories men had protected and mystified over the centuries as being particularly unsuitable to the woman. Whatever the nature of work-related activity, women have shown the capacity not just to function as effectively as their male counterparts, but have often bested the latter in their chosen areas of strength. In the process, some women, in the aggressive pursuit of their animus have lost touch with their essential femininity. An unfortunate by-product really, since this is hardly conducive to the integrated development of the woman. What has been most striking about the women’s liberation movement is the ease with which women have made the domain shift. In other words, it appears that the task of being a provider-protector is not a particularly specialised one; you don’t have to be a man to do it. However, when it comes to femininity, the parity seems to vanish, since it is the woman alone who has the biological capacity to bear a child. She usually gets to choose whether to have a child, when to have a child and how many children she should have. The man’s cooperation is desirable though not mandatory, for, sperm banks can come to the rescue. Men are completely marginalised from this uniquely female experience, unless the women involves him to whatever extent she may choose. From the man’s point of view, it would appear that being feminine is a specialised activity. And this is why the male feels threatened by women’s liberation. Not because women are encroaching on his territory, but because he can never completely encroach on hers. She can do pretty much everything that he can, but the converse is not true. So, he responds twice as aggressively to her, often painting himself into a lonely corner in the process. Critical equilibrium
The way out of the situation is to remember that even as the male pursues his feminine side, he does not have to lose his masculinity and become a woman. Nor for that matter does a woman need to lose her femininity as she explores her animus. For gender equilibrium to be maintained, it is harmony between the yin and the yang that is critical. When one approaches this issue with equanimity, it is perfectly possible to find a balance of power between the genders that pays due attention to the assets and liabilities of both. However when stridency and competitiveness predominate, the man is going to end up feeling disempowered and the genders are going to be stuck in an indefinite face-off, for neither wants to be the first to blink.
7 months ago