... and ain't i a woman?: Another player in the backlash?

August 5, 1992

Another player in the backlash?

The "wild men" tell us that we have ignored them for too long. But not any more: the wild men are on the move. Over recent months, there has been a tremendous amount of interest in the many issues that surround the politics of masculinity. If the media's reaction is anything to go by, masculinity is a hot issue. The number of commentaries and documentaries on "men's problems" has increased enormously. Some of the debate and information coming through is quite good (or at least interesting) whilst some of it is, to say the least, extremely misogynist in tone (not to mention boring).

No social movement is totally homogeneous. In any movement, there is often a wide range of opinions, which helps to ensure it does not become static. The men's movement is no different.

Many within and outside the movement claim that the women's movement has denied men a voice and that true equality cannot be reached as long as we continue to tread this path. Others worry that men have lost the ability to relate to their inner natures, which are supposedly wild and aggressive. Yet others speak of the oppression of women and men being a result of patriarchal culture and thus recognise the need to make structural change rather than individual changes.

However, despite this diversity of views, the debate has of late been dominated by more extreme elements. There is a tendency towards essentialism (the idea that qualities associated with the different sexes are innate rather than socialised) in a lot of the theories and literature, the "wild men" being a case in point. Women are blamed for denying men the ability to voice their true feelings. This is apparently the result of demands made by the women's movement for equality. For example, women are criticised for wanting "better sex" (this came up in a recent 2JJJ discussion about masculinity). The whole argument about sexual equality has been turned on its head, with women becoming the oppressors and men the oppressed.

Are such arguments a worthwhile addition to the debates about sexuality, equality and the role of the women's movement? Or are they merely a means of diverting attention from the issues that have been the focus of the women's movement for decades? Is it possible that certain groups within the men's movement are driven primarily by fear, given the remarkable gains that women have made? It may well be that the men's movement is just another player in the backlash against the women's movement.

By Vanessa Traynor

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