There is a less sensual side of the gender inequality conversation much of the expertise employed to work on the social problem conveniently ignores: one that puts gender rhetoric and “men as potential victims” of the imposition of gendered social norms in the same place. It is one that must not be confused with the engagement of men and boys with a singular view to ameliorate the lives of women and girls, but one that must sometimes make men the sole focus for their own good. As an end in itself. Done right, it is one that may have the greatest potential for achieving gender equality.
This website must primarily address the skepticisms that the statements above may attract. For it is easy to provoke the mentality that largely believes gender equality is all about women, a mentality which must already be going nuts at the boldness of supposing that men’s wellbeing is anything worth focusing on in the presence of the evident atrocities imparted on women by the hand of one too many men. Of course, the lessons from studies and daily observation, be they objective enough or conveniently engineered to tell a uni-directional story, indicate that it is indeed women’s rights, autonomy and welfare that are every day and everywhere on our planet being trampled upon in our unbalanced world of males and females. This means the work for women’s rights, empowerment and wellbeing must fiercely continue. However, this website strongly calls for someone to pay attention to what we discuss below. And now that we have – hopefully – cleared the dust with the skeptics, and have their attention once again, we proceed to the essence of why we tell this tale today.
A small group of British men and boys called Big Love My Brother, who routinely meet in a small part of Merseyside in Liverpool, United Kingdom, seem to respond to this call. Their mission neither focuses on debating the latest cars on the market, nor the better football (or let’s call it soccer) team between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, nor is it to show off the latest medal for physically-demanding athletics or a science project. On the other hand, these Merseyside males meet to discuss deep inner feelings, how best to manage their emotions and, what’s most important, to have the assurance that there is always a time and space where someone lends an ear. If it is any consolation to the quintessential gender activist, the protagonists that make this happen are actually women.
To circle back to the gender framing this article, our premise anchors in the main vices that are believed to be perpetuated by males, particularly those that pertain to all forms of violence against women. But males will also be more likely to hurt other men or damage property than women. And so are they also known to commit more suicides. These happen to be socially-constructed beliefs that have established for ages out of observing human behavior.
This is why the Merseyside group is convening. While the gender roles assigned on men and women define women’s roles that much gender equality work is striving hard to redistribute more equally (or fairly) between the two sexes, there is much less debate on the extent to which men are expected, as breadwinners, to accomplish in life. The social expectation from “a real man” has placed too much responsibility on the male sex that a man must do everything possible under the sun to make sure those for whom they are responsible are catered to. They must weather the storms, no matter how harsh and unkind, to put food on the table, clothe the family, send the kids to school and make sure the safety and sanity of the individuals under their guard is guaranteed. And sometimes, even if this does not amount to much, they must be seen to try. Without this, they are sure to be frowned upon and disregarded as unworthy of protecting their territories.
Men are inadvertently not expected to complain when the going really gets rough and tough, or else it is a show of weakness or ill preparedness for the vicissitudes of social and economic life. Either way, such a man is unworthy to anyone let alone ever be capable of keeping a lady. So a man must oblige and diligently deliver. The line that separates whether he eventually delivers or not is one that defines whether he is a man.
Our socialization has put these constraints on men’s grooming in very much the same way it has aided the disproportionate burdens women bear. It ignores the vulnerabilities that result in the lives of males who must sometimes be willing to break the law, or to do more than their physical bodies were designed to take, all in a bid to conform to social demands. Society does not take cognizance of the likelihood that, to demonstrate manhood (or what is left of it), the recourse to silencing the high expectations of women can sometimes be expressed through irrational physical or mental violence against women. When any form of physical harm can not be fathomed, which many normal men identify with, suicide can become an easy solution to dealing with insurmountable pressures.
The opening up of communication among men and boys at Big Love My Brother, while many of them make ley artistic impressions on canvases, reveal a laxer side of a gender that is heaped with so much expectation of parading its virility. Knowing the normalcy of the human limitations of men in a very competitive world where mediocre achievement and poverty resonate with many helps them cope with life in more dignifying ways and with the acceptance that achieving the best of one’s abilities is also okay. It soothes the anxieties that shedding tears, complaining or seeking the comforts of significant others are unmanly signs of weakness.
Yet many men will not, now or in the foreseeable future, have the opportunity to reveal their vulnerabilities to the judging world they will live in. As human relationships continue to be reshaped into looser social bonds in which one fends for themselves physically, emotionally and economically, smaller social networks are bound to exacerbate unilateral decisions that even the vulnerable are expected to make, and which under stronger relationships would be cushioned by a larger group. And this goes with those individuals susceptible to hurting women and girls or bound to a socialized weak assurance in the capabilities of females as economic agents who would assure their families of income security.
Men are usually forgotten in the discussion around gender equality, and this will prove to be difficult in achieving a world where genders enjoy equal power dynamics and thrive. As Big Love My Brother demonstrates, there is something at the core of the thick skin and larger-than-life ego men are expected to display that is soft and needs nurturing.
Otherwise, we will be solving one part of the problem without addressing the whole.