The 1970’s saw the intensification of the feminist movement as a social,
moral, and political force in the American arena. They focused their attention
on the systematic oppression of women in politics and business. They were
attacking male chauvinism, dominance, and a social system that relegated females
to household duties. By most standards, the feminist movement has been
successful in nearly all of its endeavors. The result, however, has left the
American male uncertain of his own role in not only the dating arena, but the
business, marriage, and society in general. All the things that once made a man
desirable now make him the enemy of the advancement of women. The result has
been a reactionary Male movement. Though not as prominent in the media or
politics the feminine counterpart, it has garnered a rather loyal following
through the 1980’s and 1990’s. It focuses not on men’s rights, but functions
more as a male bonding experience that educates and enlightens men about their
new roles. Created in the mid 1980’s, the Mythopoetic men’s movement emanates
from the works of Robert Bly. His view is that the men’s role has lost direction.
The men’s gatherings are to reconstruct a valid male initiation and role model.
This male movement has been cautiously encouraged by women’s groups.
Most realize the new pressures being exerted on men by the changes in society
and recognize a male movement as a means to finding the new balance. “I believe
that ‘we’, I.e. men and women, need a “men’s movement” in the sense of men that
have come to understand the evils of patriarchy … These are men who are
prepared to work in harmony with women to create a new society liberated from
patriarchy.” (Hagan, 14) Women want and need the men’s movement as bad or worse
then men do. The entire point of the feminist movement is to change men. Though
not overtly stated as such, the promotion of women must occur in men’s thoughts
to happen in a society initially run by men. They must encourage men to not only
bond with each other, but to reconstruct their mindset in a way more appropriate
to the new social structure.
That is exactly the point of the men’s movement. It is important here
to distinguish between different factions of the men’s movement. There are more
than a few, but most fall into one of two categories. The smaller, less
important group deals with their frustration in a non-directed physical bonding
manner. They have gone so far as to assume initiation and celebration rituals
similar to those of Native American culture. The larger group, including
feminists and male liberationists, believe in feminization of the male character.
“Masculinity distorts an individual’s nature. It puts him out of touch with his
emotions. Men do not cry. They do not touch each other. They do not form real
friendships. They are too silent. They are aggressive, achievement oriented,
competitive bullies.” (Stearns, 179) Stearns goes on to assert that by assuming
more feminine emotional and social traits that allow more healthy relationships.
The problems with male-hood have not arisen as a result of men’s
complacency, but the sudden rapid change in the status of women. Men may be
less responsible for female dissatisfaction than women’s inability to find the
family an adequate substitute for traditional child bearing. (Stearn, 163)
Suddenly, in the last decade, the role of the man has become uncertain. In the
1950’s and 60’s, men were the breadwinners. A man brought to the marriage the
capability of support. The woman brought to the marriage the home and children.
Now, the women also bring in the money and the man has become an optional part
of the family. Women can now become successful on their own and children become
a burden. The man ends up wanting the family more than the woman, and must give
up power to have it. When man loses his worth to the relationship, he loses the
power and his traditional role also.
This shift in power also allows women more room to criticize qualities
that have previously gone unnoticed. “To old complaints about male brutality or
insufficient attention were added new ones… More recently women have become
freer to criticize male lack of emotional sharing and sexual incompatibility.”
(Stearn, 163) Most feminists recognize that the male movement is a response to
their changing wants and needs. Most men, likewise, recognize that a change in
their own behavior is needed to promote the social well-being of both sexes.
The television media today is but a single example of many institutions
striving to embrace the goals of the men’s movement. One television show comes
to mind immediately. Home Improvement, and Tim (the toolman) Taylor personify
the male striving to embrace the new order. Every episode features a man trying
shed his male, grunting, belching, insensitive past. No watcher of 1990’s
sitcoms is unfamiliar with the patented Tim Allen grunt. His goal in life seems
to be to keep his wife and kids happy without giving up his tools. That is what
the men’s movement seems to be about, letting men be happy, keep their family,
and their toys, tools, or whatever it is they cherish.
There are several questions that need to be asked when the idea of
changing either of the sexes arises, however. Why are we trying to change the
traits that have evolved in man over the last thousand years? Further, there
are certain traits in the male psyche that are genetically based. Are we
striving to change those traits or suppressing them? We cannot change the
genetic code that makes a man. The expression of those traits can not be
altered, just hidden.
Today’s society strives to hide or change personal features to fit
self perception as well as a wanted public image. People change hair color,
eye color, and now, even physical sexual characteristics to fit the way they
want society to see them. Is the new men’s movement just a reflection of this
trend? Men have been bashed through the 1970’s and 1980’s. As a result, men
started wanting to change their public image, lest they become referred to as
Neanderthals. The resultant movement may be seeking to give the male species a
Category: Social Issues