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Acknowledge Homophobia and Try to Stop It

So You Think You're a Male Feminist #3

Acknowledge Homophobia and Try to Stop It

As Michael Kimmel (author of the excellent book, Guyland) recently wrote on Ms. Magainze's blog: a big part of masculinity of homophobia.  We're men, and the popular cultural conception of masculinity is a heterosexual one.  Heterosexuality and masculinity are so intertwined that when man faces the homosexual man, he denies him his masculinity.

Homophobia starts from a young age.  Men who deviate from societal expectations of masculinity can't be men.  To acknowledge to alternative forms of masculinity would weaken the concept of a monolithic, one-size-fits-all sense of "man."  So we label outliers from traditional masculinity as something "other" something that's not man, and that something in our modern society is frequently "gay."  In a binary society one that acknowledges only "man" and "woman," the "gay man" confounds the popular conceptions of masculinity.  And something that confounds is a threat.

Kimmel's post talks specifically about how gayness diminishes masculinity, and how the term "gay" is used for just about anything bad among teenagers and young people.  He contrasts the gay bashing that has recently caused several teenage boys to commit suicide and analyzes why it does not seem to occur among girls.  I don't know if I have an answer as to why anti-gay bullying (as opposed to anti-lesbian bullying) seems more virulent, or at least results in more tragic suicides, but it does seem to me that one of the reasons why teenaged boys so zealously guard their masculinity is that masculinity has not fundamentally altered itself along the lines of any social movements in the past decades as femininity has.

Think about it.  50 years ago, the traditional caricature of an American woman was one where women did not work, did not participate in politics, was a caregiver, a mother, a spouse, a daughter, something that was always in relation to man.  Although few feminists would say that we've come as far as we need to, we've certainly come very far.

I don't think that traditional ideas of masculinity have progressed as radically as femininity has.  The vision of man as a provider, as dominant, as aggressive hasn't really given way as much.  I talk a little a bit about how feminism for men frequently critiques traditional masculinity, but has not advanced, or is only really beginning to advance new notions of feminist masculinity in a post here.

So how is that relevant to this discussion?  Well, the gay man, the queer man, or the kid who just doesn't fit in at school, is, for many teenagers, the first blow against their traditional notions of masculinity.  Whereas women in modern society can see lots of examples of both women who follow traditional gender norms and women who defy men, most prominent examples of men in the media, politics, culture, etc., etc., are men who follow traditional norms.  So whereas perhaps a teenaged girl sees a woman who defies more of those norms, she might know of at least a few examples in popular culture or politics, I don't know if the teenaged boy does for men.

But to bring this discussion back to "So You Think You're a Feminist," and how to apply some of these ideas to our own lives: although Michael Kimmel's article focuses on the current outbreak of bullying of teenagers, it's important to remember that it doesn't end once you get into your teens.  Men joking with each other something being "gay" or calling each other a "fag" or criticizing a men for being "pussy whipped" are all ways to denigrating a man's masculinity and a manifestation of homophobia.

Something that male feminists have to do is acknowledge homophobia in their own lives, and when they see it occur, firmly voice their disapproval.  It's easier said than done, as these things can come up in socially awkward situations, maybe with old friends, or in the workplace, but even if it's hard, it's important to speak up.  Because it is hard, it's important to speak up.  And for many men, this might be the first time they've heard someone speak up, because as Kimmel's article and research in Guyland suggests, homophobic boys certainly aren't hearing any of their peers speak up against gay bashing while they're in school.  Although we're not in high school anymore, we have to start somewhere.