Man Without Being Masculine

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Alexander Wang

You can be a man without being masculine, but reaching that happy place will take generations. So sometimes it’s helpful to ask some difficult questions: “Where do these feelings come from?” and “Do I treat women differently to men?” But perhaps not, deconstructing masculinity is tough to begin and it’s even harder to complete. We can’t make it a perfect world, but we could make it a significantly better one.

The male child feels that to be dependent on a woman is dangerous and this makes him feel vulnerable, which, without wishing to sound like Yoda, leads to fear, which leads to sadism. That anxiety is repressed and is expressed via the unconscious as misogyny. “The internalization of misogyny is not restricted to boys – it comes out of being raised by mothers,” celebrated author and psychoanalyst Susie Orbach told. “Because the mother is the person we are most dependent on, the rage and fear at being cut off from her or the terror of mother’s disapproval leads us to repress it. Girls grow up to be mums, so they internalize misogyny, but boys don’t grow up to be mums, so they feel thwarted and their power comes from feeling they can thwart back. For a boy it’s so confusing.”

In its basic form the theory is that as boys “individuate” and develop a sense of self, they have to separate from their mothers when they realize that they are not like them and they cannot – in Freudian terms – possess them. This repression marks the end of the Oedipus complex. In their anxiety the boys then identify with the father and it’s here that they learn about what it means to be masculine. The clichés of masculinity: being strong, fearless and competitive – above all, not being like the mother – permeate boys’ lives. At this point, “A part of the male ego is identified with a penis,” says Jukes, “and the whole body can be identified with a penis and that’s when you get masculinity.” If true, it will lend certain piquancy the next time you hear a woman tell a man to stop being a massive dick.

“There’s an asymmetry in the development of boys and girls. Infant boys have to learn how to be masculine. Girls don’t. Masculinity is not in a state of crisis. Masculinity is a crisis. I don’t believe misogyny is innate, but I believe it’s inescapable because of the development of masculinity.” – Jukes

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“Even in a nurturing family, a child will grow up with chauvinism,” says Jukes. “Culture and society are the seedbed where the child’s misogyny takes root. The construction of the woman as the carer is all around us, and that is part of what informs men’s rage with women.” Masculinity, then, appears on a sliding scale, usually depending on a boy’s childhood environment and trauma. All children experience negativity, with indifference or neglect at one end and physical or sexual abuse at the other, and the more painful childhood is, the more likely a boy is to emerge as “hyper-masculine”. Meanwhile, the more masculine a boy is, the more he represses his feelings about women, so the more misogynistic and abusive he is likely to be. This also works in reverse, with hyper-masculine men also more likely to be emotionally vulnerable, even helpless.

“Incels’ basic premise of ‘She won’t let me fuck her’ is about as straightforward an Oedipal statement as you can make.”

Incels – the online subculture of self-loathing “involuntary celibates” who define themselves through their inability to find love or a sexual partner – fit this misogynistic pattern very neatly. Paradoxically, these self-proclaimed losers also exhibit a kind of hyper-masculinity. The cultish nature of incels is not an aberration but an extension of male psychological development: a need to control mixed with a sense of humiliation. It’s always someone else’s fault – in the case of incels, it begins with a belief that genetics has dealt them a bad hand. Damn you, Mother Nature.

But how can we break down masculinity and the misogyny that comes with it? If the problem starts with childhood, so does the solution. Breaking the dependence on the mother as “primary carer” is the first step. For this to happen, we need to reconsider the value of social engineering. “The solution for me isn’t to blame mothers at all, it’s to engage fathers in child-rearing so that the fury and disappointment and authority is not vested only in the person of the mother but shared between two parents,”

Masculinity and the misogyny it allows is so embedded men rarely recognize it. It affects our physical and mental health, and it builds walls few of us even acknowledge, let alone attempt to peer beyond. “The LGBTQ movement is having the argument for all of us,” says Jukes. “In essence, they are fighting this battle for everyone, gnawing away at the edges of these definitions of femininity and masculinity and we will all be liberated by their success.”

A look into the psychology of misogyny, the idea that masculinity is now toxic suggests we’ve only just noticed. For millennia, rigidity and repetition has been ingrained into male and female identities, but behind these social structures may be something more primal. An unholy stew of psychology and the culture that springs from it is has made men what they are. Toxic masculinity is a tautology.