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Patriarchy, Homophobia, and the Lack of Touch in the Lives of Men

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Patriarchy limits the range of acceptable emotions that real men are allowed to express. And the means for expressing those emotions are equally small. What this means is that we–collectively, as a society, even well meaning liberals and feminists–often misinterpret, or project our internalized patriarchy upon men and boys. Here are a few examples of what this looks like. A young boy, just a few years old, expresses excitement when his babysitter, a teenage girl, arrives to his house. Without giving it much thought, one of his parents makes a comment about him having a crush on the babysitter. This is problematic for a few reasons; one, it’s gross to sexualize a child; and two, why can we only understand a boy’s emotions when they are sexualized? Why is it not as easy to see his excitement as representing joy or happiness, or that the babysitter is seen as a safe and caring person?

Another example, as highlighted by author Mark Green in his investigation into the effects of “touch isolation,” is that adult men’s physicality is too only understood when framed within violence or sexuality–often one and the same. Patriarchy and rape culture have created a toxic form of masculinity in which heterosexuality is the only acceptable sexuality. Therefore, to be seen as feminine is a failure of one’s masculinity. Patriarchy tells us that to be homosexual man is to be a failed or lesser man. Even being perceived as such is a foundational fear for men and boys, and creates a driving motivation in their performance of being a real man. 

From early in a boys life, touch becomes synonymous with weakness, and he begins to be deprived of it. In order to convey toughness, when a boy is hurt or falls, he is told to “suck it up,” or to “take it like a man,” and that “boys don’t cry.” Girls on the other hand are often overly coddled and protected, being taught they are fragile and delicate. For boys and men, this results in relationships that lack tactile connection, elements that have been shown to increase intimacy, build empathy, and increase mental health overall. Until we recognize the subtle ways that harmful gender stereotypes and gender role socializations have on boys and men, and work to prevent perpetuating and enabling the beliefs that enable them, the mental health of boys and men and their relationships will suffer.

– Brett Goldberg

Read the article via Films For Action.

[Editor’s note on the linked article: There is an unfortunate element late in the article that emphasizes the need for normalizing the acceptance of gay marriage by framing its benefits for straight men, which is both tone-deaf and oppressive. Additionally, the article links to an interesting project compiling  photographs from the turn of the 20th Century depicting platonic relationships among men. The link goes to a website that I am not totally comfortable linking to directly, because I haven’t been able to look into them well enough. The name of the site does not sit well with me, nor does some of the permalinks in the sidebar. Their intentions might be fine, but it seems to be embracing an ideology of masculinity that does not seek to undo or undermine toxic masculinity. Rather the site seems to think that by returning to a “golden age” of masculinity, men can fix themselves. This is problematic to say the least. – BG]

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