Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

As I wrote about in my series, Changing Gender Roles for men , when I was younger, what men and women were supposed to be/do was very clear.

Over the years and through a number of discussions with people, I’ve come to believe you can boil these down into “outcomes statements.”

I use them as high level summaries for “our traditional gender roles.”

They go like this..

Women are objectified nurturers

Men are disposable providers

What does this mean in day to day life? Well, it massively affects how we are judged in different situations.

Women, traditionally, were/are often judged by beauty standards and physical attractiveness, how “feminine” they are and how much they adhere to the traditional “wife” image (child birthing, caring, nurturing and domestic jobs etc).

That said, I’ve been told previously that because I’m a man and purveyor of the patriarchy, I don’t get to talk about women’s experiences and what it’s like to be a woman. So I won’t comment too much on that side of the sexes beyond this.

All I’ll add is, whilst these judgements still apply sometimes, it’s become accepted and normal that women can reject them moment by moment (where I live, in the UK at least). And they can reject them vehemently and expect support in doing so. They are often celebrated and applauded for doing so.

They aren’t always successful and there are people out there desperate to force them one particular way of course. But the idea that at the very least it’s up for debate is definitely very much acceptable.

For men, it’s different.

We haven’t been as successful at slipping our gender roles yet. We’re on the way I believe, it’s just a very long road ahead of us. But I believe we’ll get there. And once we do, the consequences of that are going to be extremely difficult for society as a whole I expect. There are going to be some very tricky questions to deal with. I will come on to an example of one shortly.

But it must happen, if we are to achieve proper equality and to “catch up” with the change of gender roles that has been ongoing, effectively, for the last 100+ years.

What this means is, as a man, there are still “expectations” of you and judgements that we all need to start pushing back against.

These apply particularly to heterosexual men but also to gay men a lot of the time too.

I’m going to make a list of these “expectations” as I see them below. If you are a man, see if any of them feel familiar. Otherwise, keep these in the back of your mind as you go about your day to day life and think about how others treat you and how you treat/talk to yourself.

If you are a man :-

  1. You are only as worthy as the help or resource you provide to others
  2. You are only as worthy as your income and your position in the capitalist system
  3. You are only as worthy as how strong, fast or skillful you are physically
  4. You are only as worthy as how much you know about particular practical skills
  5. You are only as worthy as how much you are willing (or able) to protect others. If you aren’t willing or able to risk your life for others, particularly women and children (but also other men), you aren’t worthy and are looked down on.
  6. You are only as worthy as you are deemed through the opinions of women. If women hold poor opinions of you or speak poorly of you, you are looked down upon by everyone.
  7. You are intrinsically bad, unclean and unworthy unless redeemed and civilised through a relationship with a women, ideally through marriage (so you can become a disposable provider to a family). Remember that the term “gentleman” exists to distinguish you from the regular “man”
  8. Your sexuality is dangerous, disgusting and to be ashamed of unless approved by a woman
  9. Your problems are all of your own making and fault. Whether it by physical health, mental health or anything else – they are your fault and often caused by lack of adherence to rules in the rest of this list.

Women will particularly judge you by these points – but other men will too. These are the “standards” that fit a big chunk of traditional notions of masculinity and they are still very much applied to us today.

I see them day to day in my life. When you are attuned to them and start looking for them, you’ll see them very regularly.

I could give thousands of examples but I’ll settle for just one, because it links directly back to the difficult questions men rejecting their gender roles might raise.

It comes from an exchange I saw last year on LinkedIn of all places. It started with a man, “bigging up” his son for risking his physical safety for someone else.

His son was to be rewarded with praise for risking his own physical safety to defend someone else – particularly a woman. It’s a matter of pride. It’s “what is right.”
Point 3 and point 5 from my list above are in action here. His son was living up to these expectations. Expectations which come about, 100% only because of his sex. His father was reiterating them.

The supportive comments (many from women) soon poured in underneath as well :-

Point 6 and somewhat 7 ticked also here then.

And it’s all so subtle and below the surface. Nobody was pointing at this and suggesting its re-enforcing traditional gender roles in the comments.

But it is. It’s entirely reiterating the same story. Man as the protector, woman as the object that needs protecting.

Men reading these posts have it re-enforced. Being a protector – being willing to risk their own physical safety for someone else – is to be rewarded. It’s a mans job. It’s whats right.

But hang on. Whats my problem? Isn’t defending others a GOOD thing in general? And also, the person doing the harassing here was a man apparently? That can’t be ignored?

It’s complex to explain but I believe, if we are going to make progress as men, we need to start pushing back against the list above. That’s going to be hard but it starts with all of us day to day – and with us not expecting men to always live up to the list.

It starts with us celebrating and clapping for men who deliberately eschew their traditional gender roles in a given situation, just like we do for women.

Not only is this going to be beneficial for men, it is going to be beneficial for women too.

“That makes zero sense” you might think – “in this case, a woman was being physically attacked. How is it beneficial to her if a man didn’t intervene?”

What we should focus on is how we can reduces these types of situations from arising to begin with?

And if you think outside the box a bit, you might ask yourself, is it possible that it was the list of expectations that contributed to the sexual assault happening to begin with?

For avoidance of any doubt, it is absolutely NOT the fault of the woman in this example who was being “sexually touched.” I’m not saying she was to blame or in anyway her actions “created” a man that would do something like that.

But I am saying, society, the way it works now, with the expectations in my list (especially 6, 7 and 8) possibly helped to create that mans behavior?

I obviously don’t know the guy in question, so I’m theorizing. But I’d submit that a man, measuring (and being measured by) his worth, by the approval of women, not being “redeemed” and “civilized” unless validated by a woman and worrying about how much of a provider and protector he is, especially to a woman/child, is under a vast amount of subtle psychological pressure?

Men who cannot fulfill these roles are considered losers in our society? If we don’t step up to the list above, we are looked down upon by other men and women.

There are a small percentage of men who will not know how to deal with it and a percentage of those will lash out.

It doesn’t make it right. It isn’t an excuse. But it is an explanation. At least, it’s a contributor. A small minority of men, who feel like losers, who are looked down upon and can’t find a way out, sometimes lash out or behave in socially unacceptable ways.

And so here we arrive at a very odd circular situation – a paradox almost.

Men are pushed so deeply into their traditional gender roles that a minority of those who cannot live up to the standards required lash out – violently or sexually.

And our response to that is to push them further back into their gender roles?

It makes NO sense at all to do this. Making a man responsible for being a disposable protector, adds to the pressure, which in turn can make him act out.

This cycle, MUST be broken.

Women will not break this for us. If anything, they may try to hinder us. We have to do it ourselves.

And the consequences, as I said earlier, are going to be drastic.

If you are taking this as “Tragic Truth is telling us we shouldn’t do anything if we see a woman being sexually harassed!!” – yes, that’s almost, but not exactly what I’m saying. And it’s this that makes it so difficult.

Back to our example above, the consequences of what I’m explaining mean, letting a passing man deal with this situation how he likes. It doesn’t mean he must automatically walk away from the scene of a sexual assault (although if that was his choice, ok), but perhaps just finding non violent ways of immediately trying to address the situation. Phoning the police. Distracting people. Dealing with the situation as a good citizen in other words, NOT as a disposable provider.

Granted, that might be extremely difficult. But what matters is men feeling like they have that choice. Not a DUTY to immediately risk their own physical safety. Fixing this side of the equation, will help to fix the other side of the equation (in other words, it will, long term, reduce male violence against women).

Or to put it another way, you don’t fix violence with more violence. You don’t fix gender roles with more gender roles.

On the LinkedIn exchange, there was just one voice (and one agreement) that made the point that direct violence and confrontation is risky to men and we shouldn’t do it…

…but the post didn’t link it in anyway to gender roles.

Of course – this sort of narrative, the one I am talking about here, is somewhat taboo perhaps? That’s because, the idea of men, NOT acting like their roles is shocking and somewhat discomforting to us still – exactly as it once was for women I suppose?

Tradcons don’t like it of course, it means men not acting in traditional ways.
And a lot of women, especially feminists don’t like it. Radfems for example, enjoy men being hurt, injured and killed in general. That is what they want.

Further, directing men into confrontation against each other, is a very common way some (note the quantifying word) women enjoy feeling more worthy or gain a sense of control.

Not only that, but it’s counter intuitive and hard to understand.

But I think it needs to happen? If we are to break through to a more equal world, we need to stop forcing the old gender roles and rules on each other and they need to become optional. FULLY optional.

A man can be a disposable provider and protector if he wants to be. In just the same way that a woman can be a stay at home mother and carer if she wants to be.

But he should be just as celebrated, loved and supported for choosing to not be either.

And so if a man sees a woman being “sexually touched”, there needs to be zero expectation he will physically intervene. He can choose to if he wants but there should be no negative connotations if he does not.

As I said above, we cannot expect or rely on women to do this for us. We need to lead this ourselves. No, I’m not pumping some “toxic masculinity” shit here either. This is about helping each other out as men.

We can start by not forcing this nonsense on each other. Not shitting on other guys for how much they earn, whether they have a girlfriend or not, whether they’ve got kids, their sexuality, whether they are good at sport or whether they decided to hit that other guy who challenged them or just walk away.

We can stop shitting on guys who chose to phone the police and give a statement, rather than risking getting their face punched in? You and other men, are responsible for your own actions. But you are NO LONGER responsible for the safety of women. This is not 1957. You don’t owe them anything anymore – not at a group level at least.

You can fix this in your day to day interactions with others. And every time you do, it’s a step forward.

You can also help men to be liberated from them when they are under pressure. When a man is being pushed into doing the physical, dangerous or dirty task, purely because he is a man, you can speak up for him. Mention gender roles directly. Point out he is being pushed back into them. Point out that it’s sexist, in exactly the same way other women would if one of them was being treated by their traditional gender roles without consent. Stare down and disagree with those who tell you that there is a model that should be followed.

In short, the prize is there for the taking. All we need to do is work together to get it.