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