What is oppression? Or, what does all this mean for men?

What is oppression when it comes to gender and sex? Women are oppressed by a male-dominated social order that favors masculinity and male sexuality over femininity and female sexuality. Women are oppressed by images in the media that portray us as passive sex objects, by songs that refer to us as ‘bitches and ho’s,’ and by our own complicity in a sexist culture that prevents us from breaking the cycle.

But how are men oppressed by this same sexist culture? How are men forced to be a certain type of ‘man,’ or risk losing the title of ‘man’ altogether? Men are oppressed by gender stereotypes and sexist practices just as women are, by being forced to conform to a certain idea of masculinity that is strong, dominating, and sometimes even violent. Men are oppressed by a society that casts them in a role that is part aggressor, part protector, but always the one in charge.

The author Bell Hooks argues that this phenomenon is even more acute for black men, who are forced to take part in what she calls our “rape culture,” or else be cast out as not a “‘real’ black man.” In fact, she says, the expectation is for “‘real’ black men to be sexist and proud of it, to rape and assault black women and brag about it.” (Hooks, p.110) This idea not only hurts the women who become the victims of these actions, but also the men who are taught that this is the only way to be a man.

Sexist oppression of men has serious implications for those men who refuse to conform to a sexist ideology. Hooks mentions the men who “rethink masculinity, who reject patriarchy and rape culture,” and describes how these black men get no attention from women, who have been taught to revere and desire a masculinity that is aggressive and insensitive. (Hooks, p. 111)

How can we break this cycle of oppression, and force ourselves to rethink our notions of masculinity and desire?

Sources: Hooks, Bell. “Seduced by Violence No More.” Outlaw Culture. New York:   Routledge, 1994

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2 Responses to What is oppression? Or, what does all this mean for men?

  1. dorothea3 says:

    The objectification of men has become more prevalent in recent advertisements. Some may argue that men are not influenced by advertisements or that the consequences of male objectification are not as severe in comparison to women. Conversely, research shows that men are rigidly socialized to repress any feminine-like (or non-heterosexual) characteristics they may possess. In commercials and print ads, men are typically portrayed as bigger, stronger, and more powerful—the ultimate “manly” man. This presents a paradox: for men, a higher amount of muscle mass is linked to a loss of intellectual ability.

    Furthermore, the congruence of racial identity is connected to a particular portrayal of gender identity for men of color. According to Hill-Collins’ article, African American men must exhibit hyper-heterosexual masculinity in order to assimilate into today’s society. Regrettably, this implicit mandate controls individuals’ perceptions of the ability and opportunities for African American men. Any attempt to evade this hyper-sexualized stereotype requires the shedding of one’s “blackness”. Thus, increased awareness and profound, global changes are necessary in order to break this cycle of oppression and transform the current perceptions of African American men.

  2. domcp says:

    Thanks for starting such an intriguing topic, anneweis! At the end of your post, you pose the question of what solutions can change the oppressive nature of sexism in its effect on both men and women. I am a firm believer that lasting change in most any situation requires a comprehensive recognition and understanding of the causes of the problem. I agree with your underlying notion that societal norms and pressures reward stereotyped “masculine” behavior, whether through female attention, leadership in the professional setting, or social dominance. hooks offers a cause for black male participation in the in this masculine behavior surrounding the “rape culture,” when she writes: “Black males, utterly disenfranchised in almost every arena of life in the United States, often find that the assertion of sexist domination is their only expressive access to the patriarchal power they are told all men should possess as their gendered birthright.” (hooks, p. 110) Unpacking her causation reveals the complexity of combatting such a structure, particularly in the black male community.
    Firstly, recognizing and combating the “disenfranchise[ment]” of black males has been a long fight over the course of US history. And it continues to be a long fight as the status of black males as the unspoken (and sometimes blatantly expressed) outlaws of American society persists. Secondly, limited representation of the black male body and the black male being give a skewed definition of black masculinity and black male achievement. Just as images of sexual submissiveness and sexual objectification effect the treatment of women, black male minds are influenced by the influx of images of physicality, intimidation, and violence that adorn the black male body in media. There is hope for progress away from oppressive sexist structure sparked by disenfranchisement by presenting a different storyline of black male accomplishment, in both what is represented by the media and what is experienced.

    Reference: hooks, bell. “Seduced by Violence No More.” Outlaw Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994

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