Reddit Repost: “Objectification and the ‘Male Power Fantasy’”

This is a repost of an article originally posted on /r/Masculism, here:

This is probably my most successful/popular article to date, probably due to its analysis of some pop culture artworks rather than simply sticking to theory. But theory plays a big part (of course).

A common debate that takes place within the gendersphere is one which focuses on how (typically male-targeted) fiction portrays female characters. Many feminists allege that, speaking generally, the predominant portrayal of female characters constitutes objectification by portraying women as “sex objects.” Typically (although not universally), these feminists express concern that these kinds of fictional portrayals encourage men to see real-world women as not individual persons with the capacity to make their own decisions but rather as physical things that exist principally to serve the sexual demands of men.

In response to this, many advocates for men’s issues point out that male characters are also depicted with idealized body types that don’t represent real-world males.

The typical feminist rebuttal to this argument is that a false equivalence is being made – the physical idealization of female characters is intended to serve as erotic titillation, whilst the physical idealization of male characters is intended to be empowering; the women are sexual fantasies, the men are power fantasies, and in both cases the characters are created to cater to the fantasies of an assumed-to-be-male audience. Thus, the women are still portrayed as objects, whilst the men are portrayed as subjects (and the physical idealization serves to emphasize this).

This argument has, in my judgment, a degree of truth. The traditional norms of gender are ultimately predicated on the subject-object dichotomy, with manhood conceptualized as a precarious social status that is earned and validated and reinforced via actions producing specific outcomes, and womanhood conceptualized as an innate property of female individuals. Men do, women are, because a manhood is about doing and womanhood is about being. I agree that the traditional norms of gender are outdated and destructive towards individuality, and as such I believe that reinforcing these norms is something best avoided.

However, I disagree that the so-called “male power fantasy” is devoid of objectification. Indeed, I would not describe it as a fantasy of power or agency at all. Rather, I am going to argue that the “male power fantasy” is in fact objectifying of men, and that to call it a “power” fantasy is a substantial error. In reality, the “male power fantasy” is better understood as a gender conformity fantasy – a fantasy of being or becoming a “real man” – rather than a fantasy of power. And if one accepts the proposition that traditional gender norms reduce people’s power (defined as control over one’s own life), then the so-called “male power fantasy” is in fact a fantasy that glorifies powerlessness.

As examples of my point, I will be using two works of male-targeted fiction; the movie Thor (a superhero film based on an intellectual property owned by Marvel Comics) and the video game Gears Of War (which Cliff Bleszinski, in an interview with Kotaku, said used unrealistically muscular characters specifically to serve as a fantasy of empowerment).

Part 1: Objectification
The feature which separates Subjects from Objects is that a Subject possesses a mind/consciousness/free will – in brief, a Subject makes choices. Subjects, unlike Objects, can initiate action, and their actions are not the product of “causes” but rather proceed from reasons, goals and motivations. As such, Subjects can be held responsible for their actions whilst Objects cannot; a murderer is put on trial and imprisoned, but the murderer’s weapon is not.

Human beings are Subjects – indeed out of all entities which we know of, human beings demonstrate the most indisputable level of subjectivity. This has led to a situation where we often see “humanity” and “subjectivity” as essentially synonymous, and as such “objectification” (denial/marginalization of a subject’s subjectivity) is seen as dehumanizing. The possession of a mind/consciousness/free will, the ability to initiate teleological action, the capacity to choose, are the traits which separate us (as human beings) from all other known entities (there is some debate as to the cognitive capacities of higher animals, but that issue is beyond the scope of this essay). The denial or marginalization of these traits constitutes a denial/marginalization of our very humanity.

But in discussions of fictional portrayals, “objectification” goes beyond a mere acknowledgement of a character’s possession of free will/choice/etc. Let’s take, for example, the classic piece of BDSM erotica The Story of O. This piece of literature portrayed a fully consensual BDSM arrangement, with the consent of all parties repeatedly affirmed over the course of the story – and unsurprisingly, the anti-sex Radical Second Wave feminists Andrea Dworkin, Susan Griffin and Joan Smith attacked The Story of O as objectifying, even though all characters (particularly the submissive main character) are repeatedly acknowledged as possessing free will/choice/agency.

This leads me to make a proposition about what constitutes objectification – to use Kantian language, to portray a character (in-universe) as a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves, marginalizes their agency by reducing it down to acting as a functionary of some other will, and thus portrays them as an object (an instrumentally useful tool). In this way, being acknowledged as a subject is not protection against objectification. Sexual objectification consists of showing a character as existing principally to satisfy others’ sexual desires, however one can objectify characters across multiple dimensions depending on which ‘ends’ they exist to serve.

This is hardly a controversial proposition – the concept of objectification is Kantian in origin and radical anti-pornography feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon both appealed to the Kantian reasoning (see Non-radical feminist philosopher Martha Nussbaum also appealed to Kantian reasoning in her famous 1995 article Objectification (published in her book Sex and Social Justice) and described treating someone as a means to another’s end as “instrumentality” – which she classed as a form of Objectification.

Part 2: Traditional Masculinity As Objectification
If to be reduced to a functionary of others – a means to others’ ends rather than an end in onself – constitutes objectification, then both traditional gender roles are objectifying. Firstly, the gender system arose primarily to incentivize reproduction and population growth in a world where most children didn’t see their tenth birthday – sexual dimorphism necessitated that women bear many children over time and men serve as protectors and providers. The resultant social norms – good woman is mother, good man is hunter-warrior – reduced women to fertility objects and men to provision-protection objects.

Females, with a few exceptions owing to natural infertility, would simply gain the biological capacity to bear children owing to their maturation process. In short, their ability to serve as a means to socially-mandated ends was assumed, and thus their womanhood was conceptualized as an inherent part of their nature.

Men lacked this particular developmental feature, since the socially-mandated end of men was to provide and protect for others across a long span of time and biological maturity was no guarantee of being either able or particularly proficient at fulfilling this end. Thus, a male’s ability to serve as a means to their socially-mandated end had to proven and demonstrated, and thus their manhood was conceptualized as an ideal to aspire towards. As is typical with Platonic idealism, the normative pressure is to aspire towards the ideal – to prove oneself a “good” man by complying with the role’s demands.

The good man was a good provider – i.e. one that provided for his tribe and family and not only for himself. The good man was a good warrior – i.e. one that defended his tribe and family from external threats and was willing to die for the ‘greater good’ of his group. The good man may have been competent and powerful, but this power was justified in terms of service to an higher will (the idea of individuals living their own lives in accordance with their own wills is historically quite recent – principally it is a product of Enlightenment Individualism, which is far newer than traditional gender roles). The good man was thus a means to an end – a disposable tool – an object (albiet objectified in a very different manner to women).

Part 3: Masculinity, Dominance, Submission and Self-Determination
This naturally clashes strongly with an understanding of masculinity as dominance. Both feminist gender theory and traditionalist gender norms often conceive of masculinity in terms of dominance and femininity in terms of submission. This contains some truth but it is an oversimplification which ignores a feature of traditional masculinity that has been long-ignored; traditional masculinity, owing to its hierarchical nature, contains a significant component of submission.

As explained in my article Separating The ‘Boys’ From The ‘Men’ ( , the Platonic Essentialist nature of the socially-mandated male role results in a multi-tiered hierarchy of “real manhood.” Those who are not “real men” are practically treated as a third gender. Those who are “real men” compete with each other in order to attain superiority, and eventually an “Alpha” status defined by possessing the ability to revoke an inferior’s “real manhood” and socially emasculate said inferior. For the purposes of this article, let us call those “real men” who lack “Alpha” status “Betas” and let us call those males who lack “real man” status “Omegas.”

Traditional masculinity, whilst often mischaracterized as being centered on dominance, mandates that a Beta submit to his Alpha so as to avoid being rendered an Omega. Sure, the Beta isn’t as good a man as the Alpha (by social standards), but he is still a “real man.” The penalty for unsuccessful rebellion is a loss of status, which may reach the level of social emasculation.

As I have argued above, traditional concepts of gender are heavily grounded in notions of maturity – hence how “grow up” and “man up” are functionally synonymous. A Beta who unsuccessfully rebels against the Alpha is often called a “brat” or “punk” – two terms with immature connotations (bringing to mind discontented children/teenagers who dare question their allegedly-omniscient elders). To be a “real man” is to not act like a child male (a “boy” – a common emasculating slur), and to rebel is childish.

In short, real men acknowledge rank and obey their superiors. The military is an institution held as the height of masculine, and it is brutally hierarchical (and, in what would be a paradox to those that define masculinity purely in terms of dominance, it is the soldiers rather than the officers that are considered more macho even though the officers hold command).

As such, submission to authority is not inherently emasculating, but rather masculinity-mandated under certain conditions.

When asserting one’s own self-sovereignty (which is inherently rebellious since it denies the legitimacy of others’ dominion over oneself) is seen as transgressive of the gender norms, when surrendering one’s will is seen as properly masculine, when obedience is elevated to virtue, it becomes impossible to see traditional masculinity as being about dominance alone. When knowing one’s place and being a good soldier is a masculine duty, one can scarcely describe traditional masculinity as empowering men to live their own lives on their own terms.

And it is this self-sovereignty-sabotaging ideal of masculinity which is being aspired to.

Part 4: Case Studies
In light of the above, the discussion moves to two real-world works of fiction targeted primarily towards young males and aimed at providing a so-called “male power fantasy.” I shall argue that the object of these fantasies is in fact gender-compliance, of being a “real man” rather than possessing power (“power” being understood as self-determination).

Study A: “Thor”
The movie “Thor” provides an interesting case-study in the culturally-induced self-loathing of many nerdy young men; simply take Thor and his brother Loki and ask oneself “which of these characters is the audience surrogate?”

Clearly, it isn’t the six-foot-three, unshaven, heavily muscled, popular, father’s favorite Crown Prince. Thor embodies the normative ideal of Asgardian masculinity – a warrior who wins with as much force and as little tactics as possible.

The slightly shorter, slender, pale, dark-haired Prince Loki fights with deception, trickery, illusions, sorcery and throwing knives – all of which transgress Asgard’s concept of how a “real man” fights. His skills are seen as mere “tricks.” And Thor’s friends are arguably Thor’s friends who endure Loki’s presence out of respect for Thor rather than like of Loki.

To use language suited for the high-school target demographic, what we have is a simple contrast between the popular, gender-normative jock and the unpopular, gender-atypical nerd. Out of these two archetypes, who is more representative of the typical audience of comic books? And who exactly is the villainous one?

In a way, Loki’s relationship with Thor can be seen as having similarities to that of the target audience’s relationship with Thor: jealousy and resentment and wishing to be the golden, approved of, normal kid. Loki is in effect a representative of Jung’s Shadow – the parts of the self which are disowned on some level.

But the relationship between Thor and Loki cannot truly be understood without viewing it in the context of the Princes’ relationship with their father, King Odin – they both crave their father’s approval and endorsement. It is implied that Thor begins with this endorsement, and Loki does not. As I wrote in my article The Literal Patriarchy (, this approval/endorsement is something which our gender system places a high value upon; the result is that culturally speaking, father figures have the ability to bestow or revoke “real man” status.

This is precisely what Odin does to Thor during an early part of the film. After Thor rashly causes an incident which nearly triggers a war (an incident caused by Thor reacting with outrage at another character verbally emasculating him), Odin makes Thor human and casts a spell on Thor’s hammer which results in Thor being unable to use the hammer until proven “worthy.” During a verbal admonishment, Odin verbally emasculates Thor further, calling him a “boy.”

The implications should be obvious – verbal and symbolic (the hammer being a pretty obvious phallic symbol) emasculation combined with depowering until Thor began to meet Odin’s standards.

Thor only reclaims the hammer by proving himself, i.e. complying with Odin’s will. He regains his symbolic masculinity by sacrificing his own life for the humans (both affirming male-sacrifice (and hence male disposability) as well as self-sacrifice (and hence Christian and Comtean ethical beliefs)), simultaneously complying with his father’s will and a deeply-rooted premise of the gender system. Thor regains his masculinity through acts of submission (as paradoxical as this may seem).

This is further validated when at the end of the film, Thor confesses to Odin that Odin is a better King than Thor would ever be and how he longs to make Odin proud. Odin then confesses pride in his son. Yet again, Thor acquiesces to Odin, and through that gains approval and is validated as a “proper” man.

Thor may be physically mighty, but he lives essentially as his father’s vassal, motivated entirely by the desire to prove himself and live up to his father’s standards. He desires to serve as a means to his father’s ends and be a good, dutiful son. How, with any depth or meaningful contemplation, can this be seen as a power fantasy?

Indeed, if Loki is the audience surrogate, then the film itself explicitly denies being a power fantasy; Loki clearly states that he never wanted the throne (i.e. wasn’t interested in power) and only ever wanted to be Thor’s equal (the “in father’s eyes” is implied).

At the climax of the film, after discovering his actual heritage as a frost giant foundling adopted by Odin, Loki uses a superweapon to attempt genocide on his race’s homeworld (after killing their King, who was Loki’s biological father). Loki’s motivation was to prove himself to Odin, to prove himself a good son, and to essentially out-Thor Thor, by demonstrating (though an extreme act) compliance with Asgardian standards (including gender standards (we could describe Asgardian gender standards of embodying certain elements of Toxic Masculinity)).

Loki’s plan failed, and when Odin looked at him with nothing but disappointment and regret, Loki committed suicide. As Warren Farrell pointed out, suicide is not a response to power, but to powerlessness.

If Loki is the target demographic’s representative and Thor is the escapist character, then the Thor film is no power fantasy. It is a fantasy of fitting in, of meeting popular standards of masculinity, of pleasing authority figures. It is a fantasy of being the good son that makes Daddy proud. It is a fantasy of proving oneself a “real man”. It is a gender conformity fantasy, and therefore it is the opposite of a power fantasy.

Study B: “Gears Of War”
Amongst gamers, “Gears Of War” as an IP is infamous for extreme levels of conventional masculinity. In an interview between Cliff Bleszinski (the game’s creator) and Kotaku, Bleszinski stated that the unrealistically muscular (i.e. hyper-masculine) bodies of the main characters were intended to give a sense of empowerment to the player. This statement is of course in line with the “power fantasy” narrative, but to paraphrase Warren Farrell, men have been taught to think of that which makes them powerless as power.

“Gears” takes place in a world run by a totalitarian-collectivist dictatorship called the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG). The symbolism of the acronym should be obvious – being a cog in a machine is clearly objectification, isn’t it? So, obviously, since this game is a power fantasy (i.e. a fantasy of having/attaining/increasing one’s control over one’s own life), the plot must be about a rebellion against the COG, right?

In reality, the plot focuses on a super-gruff, super-growly, steroidally-sized soldier named Marcus Fenix; a war hero who fought for the COG in multiple battles, but got stripped of his rank and thrown into prison for going against orders. The story begins with Fenix being reinstated, although Fenix’s CO Colonel Hoffman is not happy at all with this. Over the course of the story, Marcus Fenix aims to prove himself to Hoffman; at the climax of the game when Fenix is hanging on for dear life to the struts of a flying helicopter, Hoffman finally reaches down and helps him up. The music grows to a soaring, triumphant crescendo.

The story here is one of Marcus Fenix proving himself, through compliance to an authority figure, as a reliable and effective servant – a very good cog in the machine, as it were. Like Thor, Fenix is punished for a transgression against his overlords, and is given a chance to redeem himself through compliance to his ruler’s standards. Like Thor, Fenix is eventually redeemed for his transgression through servitude. Like Thor, Fenix has to please an elder male authority figure (Colonel Hoffman in this case), and just like in the movie Thor, the audience is expected to find fulfillment in the approval of said figure.

“Power” is not the object of this fantasy – being a good soldier boy is not a position of power. One might be shooting tons of enemies and kicking proverbial ass across a pixel-gore-coated screen, but one is doing so on orders. As E.S. Raymond points out in The Myth Of Man The Killer (, military insociation is based upon breaking people’s individual will and reformatting them into collective-identifying agents of the wills of their superiors – in short, removing the sense of individual agency/responsibility – in short, objectification. It is a fantasy of instrumentality (in the sense Nussbaum used the term) that powers “Gears Of War” – a fantasy of being an effective attack dog who is rewarded by his master.

Marcus Fenix is the slave of a totalitarian regime and exists to serve his government. His career consists of following orders. He is merely a tool with a gun and even though he is unrealistically muscular and speaks in a guttral snarl, he has no control whatsoever over his own life. His motivations consist of pleasing the higher-ups. The sales figures of the “Gears” series make it clear that a disturbing number of young men indeed believe that Marcus Fenix is an empowered man.

But Fenix is a clear case of Nussbaum’s instrumentality – in slaughtering legions of enemies, Fenix proves his usefulness. In ordering his squad around, he fulfills the demands of his own superiors. In fulfilling aspects of the masculine gender role, he serves. He may not be sexually objectified, but he is clearly objectified.

A soldier fighting for a totalitarian state, striving to prove himself a useful instrument of his rulers, is hardly in a position of power. But what Marcus Fenix does display is a level of gender conformity which is borderline ludicrous – as explained above his instrumental efficacy is perfectly in line with the traditional expectations of manhood. His stoicism is practically a running joke. His size is extraordinarily unrealistic considering his nation is living at near-starvation. His voice and mannerisms and facial features speak for themselves. So what is the object of the fantasy?

An interesting case could be made that a fantasy of power over others is exhibited by Gears Of War. For one, as the game is a Third Person Shooter, one can argue that the nature of the gameplay involves exerting power (in this case, violence) over the opponents the player faces. For two, in the context of the game’s plotline, Marcus Fenix is the leader of his squad. However, with respect to the second point, the fantasy of power over others is marginal compared to the overwhelming lack of power that Fenix has in the storyline – he has superiors too, after all. And with respect to the first point, almost all action games fulfill this role, even those with female protagonists; is Bayonetta thus a transgendered or autogynephiliac power fantasy?

The power over others Marcus has is justified in terms of how he uses it to serve his own superiors, nation and family – he is merely a conduit for the power over others possessed by his superiors. He is a senior slave who sets out to win the approval of his rulers and prove himself a good soldier. He is not a fantasy of power, but rather a fantasy of appeasing traditional standards of masculinity. Compliance is hardly an assertion of power.

Part 5: Conclusion
The depiction of men in popular (and typically male-targeted) fiction is an important issue for anyone that wishes to criticize the traditional gender system. However, some feminists react to attempts to discuss the topic by arguing that it falsely equates female-characters-as-sex-objects with individuated, powerful and truly human idealized men.

But this argument errs because traditional masculinity has always been objectifying, albiet in a very different way to the manner in which traditional femininity objectifies women. The male gender standards demand that a man be an instrumentally useful, compliant servant; a male may possess agency but he is no “real man” unless he deploys that agency in an approved fashion.

As such, works of fiction typically seen as “male power fantasies” become more comprehensible as fantasies of compliance with gender norms. As demonstrated by the two case studies provided, neither central character could be described as possessing control over their own life; both central characters act as executors of an higher will than their own and follow narrative arcs where they are rewarded with approval for being good subordinates. If Thor Odinson and Marcus Fenix are embodiments of normative masculinity then to fantasize about being them is hardly a fantasy of power.

A different kind of objectification is not a power fantasy. A fantasy of measuring up to social norms is not a fantasy of power, nor are such fantasies a product of power; rather, they are a response to and manifestation of a profound powerlessness.

Those who wish to address how the gender system harms men should continue to analyze the depictions of men in popular culture, particularly in male-targeted fiction. Fiction crafted for a target audience will typically attempt to embody and flatter the beliefs, norms and values of this audience; thus, fiction can serve as a reflection of that audience’s greatest desires and aspirations. What does that imply about the so-called “male power fantasy”?

Feedback and discussion is appreciated.

Reddit Repost: “The Literal Patriarchy, Men And Masculinity”

This is a repost of an article I originally wrote for /r/Masculism and posted here:

“Patriarchy” is typically used in gender studies to refer to one of two things; either a gender system which is masculosexist and femmephobic (Third Wave definition), or a gender system which is systematically constructed as a tool of class oppression by men to oppress women (Radical Second Wave definition).

But the literal meaning of “Patriarchy” isn’t synonymous with “Androcracy.” The literal meaning of “Patriarchy” is the rule of the father.

In this essay, I will be looking at a feature of the gender system which disproportionately oppresses males, particularly young ones – the Literal Patriarchy.

Part 2: A Quick Recap of the Gender System
The social norms around gender evolved in an environment where many, even most, children did not reach adulthood, and humans lived at subsistence level or close to it (this is why the first substantial challenges to the gender system did not emerge until the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution – for the vast majority of human history, the gender norms were a survival necessity). Because of the low level of technological development, human survival was predicated on a consistently expanding supply of labor, i.e. consistent population growth. We needed more protector/providers and we needed more producers of protector/providers. Sexual dimorphism provided the template for the basic division of labor between the sexes.

As such, the social norms were established to reward men that were good protector/providers, and reward women that were good (i.e. fertile) mothers.

Society demanded that women serve the function of bearing children (a risky, high-maintenance process which renders a woman less mobile and more resource-consuming during pregnancy), whilst men serve the function of protecting the women and children and sustaining them. Individuals of both sexes were judged on the basis of how well they served these socially mandated functions (or gender roles)… “proper” femininity was the mother, “proper” masculinity was the warrior/hunter.

But females would, almost inevitably, end up capable of bearing children due to natural biological maturation. “Girls” would just become “women” due to the onset of puberty (with a small number of exceptions due to natural infertility). A woman’s “proper” femininity (i.e. value to society in serving the female function) was thus socially conceptualized as an innate property of women.

Males, on the other hand, did not have the biological assuredness of becoming a satisfactory protector/provider. These tasks required proving oneself in dangerous, strenuous physical activity. Not only that but they required the demonstration of a reliable track record (consistency) in results. Not all male individuals managed to do this, and those that did still varied in the level of skill they displayed. Whilst “girls” managed to just “become” “proper” women, “boys” were not guaranteed “real manhood.” They needed to prove themselves to their peers and elders. “Real manhood” (i.e. value to society in serving the male function) was thus socially conceptualized as an ideal to aspire to for males.

As a result, there are two kinds of Epistemological Essentialism which underpin our gender system. Femininity is understood through the lens of Aristotelian (or Immanent) Essentialism. Masculinity is understood through the lens of Platonic (or Transcendent) Essentialism.

This is ultimately the underpinning of the basic gender role in our society; the subject-object dichotomy. Men are seen as subjects, i.e. actors and agents, beings with the capacity to choose a goal and strive to achieve it. Women are seen as objects, since action is not a necessary component of femininity. Men do, women are. Men have to act, women do not. Men are actors, women are acted upon.

But there is a twist here – as stated before, the gender system ascribes value to the fulfillment of both the male function and the female function. Since females are (assumed to be) automatically capable of fulfilling this female function, they possess an innate value. Males do not have this assumption on their side – they must prove their capability to serve the male function, and thus they possess no innate value. Women are innately valuable objects and men are innately valueless subjects (with the capacity to acquire some value).

This system arose to incentivize population growth during a time when most children did not survive to reach puberty, let alone to reproduce. Thankfully, the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution made the prosperity of the modern world possible, but as such our gender system has been rendered obsolete. The system needs to be examined, critiqued, and rejected or modified where necessary.

Part 3: Maturity and Manhood
As alluded to above, the gender system’s mandated roles are connected to biological maturation. Women cannot serve their mandated function until their body is sufficiently developed (i.e. they start mensturating). In the case of female maturation, the onset of mensturation provides a clear biological sign of a woman’s ability to bear children.

A man, however, is biologically incapable of serving this function – he can only serve the mandated male functions of protector/provider (protecting women, particularly pregnant women, and providing for them and his children). But there is no single biological “he’s ready” indicator. Not only that, but merely reaching puberty doesn’t guarantee capability or competence at physical tasks. As such, various social institutions (such as initiation rites into manhood) evolved to fill this function – these rites typically consist of testing the man’s ability and, should he succeed, granting him the social status of “real man.”

But in both cases, the gender system’s mandated roles are based on notions of maturity. After all, a male that is not a “real man” is considered a “boy” and socially emasculated. “Boy” just means “young male” but the way the term is used contemptuously as a form of verbal emasculation is quite telling (“girl” isn’t used the same way (or at least not nearly as commonly), because a female’s ability to serve the mandated female function is treated as innate). So to be a “real man” is to not be a “boy” is to “grow up” and be “mature.”

As stated before, however, male biological maturation is only part of the picture. Since there is no simple biological indicator of “he’s ready to go out and be a hunter/gatherer,” various social institutions took that role, and these social institutions were typically administered by elder men (those men that had earned “real manhood” in society’s eyes). The elder males became one of the judges of manhood (particularly the judges of the manhood of younger males), and also one of the conferrers of manhood. This status is not exclusive to the elders – the gender system creates many other judges and conferrers of manhood (peer groups and women particularly), but the point is that there is an intersectionality effect between ageism and masculosexism.

So who is the first elder male that most male children know? Who is the first elder male in a position to judge the child’s maturity, capability and competence?

Part 4: The Literal Patriarchy
Whatever one’s stance on feminist Patriarchy Theory (in either its Radical Second Wave or Third Wave variants) is, it is hard to deny that a huge number of males are psychologically “ruled” (so to speak) by their fathers. This “rule” is based on the fact that our gender system sees fathers as possessing the ability to legitimately confer or revoke their sons’ status as a “real man.” Your father automatically possesses Alpha Male status over you (in my article Separating The ‘Boys’ From The ‘Men’: Male Heirarchy And The Oppression Of Men I define an “Alpha Male” as a male with the ability to revoke another man’s “real man” status, and thus to reduce them to a “boy”).

As I have emphasized, this is an extremely effective form of psychological control – it makes a fact of one’s nature (one’s gender identity) socially contingent on validation granted by others (in this case, one’s father). If by “power” one means the ability to live one’s own life on one’s own terms, then this Literal Patriarchy is very destructive to the power of male individuals.

The cultural prevalence of so-called “Daddy Issues” in countless amounts of male-targeted art and fiction – even the classical “Hero’s Journey” monomyth has an “atonement with the father” component as well as the Wise Old Man that blesses/endorses the hero – goes without saying. Now, whilst there are a few exceptions, “Daddy Issues” in fiction typically is of the “I wish I pleased you, Dad” variety. Why would this fictional trope be so prevalent if it weren’t a trope which vast numbers of males relate to?

As stated before, there are other avenues besides paternal endorsement by which one can gain “real man” status – peer endorsement and female endorsement being two common alternatives. A male denied paternal endorsement may choose to pursue one of the other two avenues in order to achieve their validation, or they may decide to employ paternal substitution in order to do it (or some combination of the aforementioned avenues).

Paternal substitution is possible because of the ageism-masculosexism intersection effect; because our gender system implicitly casts the “real man” in terms of maturity, a male that believes the gender system is true will see elder males in general as embodying “real manhood” more than he does. If a young male does not receive paternal endorsement from his biological father (or perhaps suffers a sufficient trauma from his father so as to nullify the father’s credibility) yet still believes in the gender system, he will revoke the power his father has over him but then grant it to some other elder man.

This younger man will voluntarily take a subordinate role, as a “lesser man,” to that elder. This younger man has made the elder into his Alpha, possessing the power to confer or revoke his “real manhood.” The younger man then attempts to earn the elder man’s approval so as to finally have his real manhood conferred upon him. A young man can in fact disperse this power amongst multiple different “father figures,” and perhaps even invest that power within certain heirarchical institutions (the military, or a street gang, serve good examples). In each case, the dynamic is fundamentally the same.

Part 5: Empowering Men, Depowering The Father Figure
Masculism, or Men’s Rights, seeks to do for men what first-wave and early-second-wave feminism sought (at least nominally) to do for women: guarantee legal equality of the sexes and to attack popular stereotypes, prejudices, obligations and expectations assigned on the basis of sex. In short, the objective is to empower men to live their own life on their own terms (assuming they respect the right of others to do the same), irrespective of the demands of traditional gender norms.

Doing this requires that we destroy the power that the Father Figure has over us.

Just to clarify, I am protesting not fathers, but rather traditional masculinity. I am simply pointing out that traditional gender roles are entangled with notions of maturity in such a way as to place elder men into a position which can grant them (within the gender system) the ability to pass judgment on a younger male’s masculinity/maturity. I also argue that plenty of male-targeted culture reinforces this (and the foundational attitudes for it). This does not mean fathers are bad – it simply means that the gender system burdens males with having to “earn” social recognition of their gender identity, and one of the ways this is done is through proving oneself to one’s Father Figure/s (who can be one’s biological or adoptive father, or not).

This is a change which must begin in men themselves. We must reject the gender system, in particular the Platonic Essentialist idea of “real manhood.” We must reject attempts by anyone (especially our elders) to gender-police us. We must ruthlessly question the “wisdom of the fathers” and acknowledge the fallibility of our Father Figures. We must attack the idea that a “real man” is a servant of others. We must refuse to let our sex impose a list of arbitrary duties upon us. And most critically of all, we must not live to make our Father Figures proud of us. We can desire that he/they be proud of us, but if we are willing to alter ourselves in order to win his/their approval, then we have lost and the gender system has won.

Part 6: Conclusion
The gender system of our society evolved to incentivize consistent reproduction; sexual dimorphism meant that the most “efficient” (from the perspective of population growth) course of action was for women to be mothers and men to be protector/providers. This formed the basis for our society’s concepts of masculinity and femininity. However, females were more-or-less biologically assured of being capable of serving their socially-mandated function and males had to prove their capability at performing tasks with far less certain outcomes. This led to femininity being seen as an innate property of women, but “real manhood” being cast as something a male must “earn” (which in turn underlies the men-as-actors, women-as-acted-upon distinction in our culture).

Both femininity and masculinity were connected with maturity, yet a male’s ability to serve his socially-mandated function was not biologically evidenced in the same way that a female’s ability was. As such, various social institutions developed to separate the “men” (those capable of serving the male social function) from the “boys” (those incapable of doing such). This resulted in a situation where elder males held the ability to extend or revoke “real manhood” to younger men. Thus, becoming a “real man” was, at least in part, about proving oneself to elder men. The father-son relationship, at least as traditionally cast, seems to be the archetypal and obvious example of this pattern.

Since males, to earn their “real manhood,” are incentivized to please their father (or substitute), the gender system can be described as perpetuating a Literal Patriarchy (so to speak) amongst males. Since this damages the psychological self-sovereignty of males, it is a bad thing and we should oppose it.

Discussion and feedback is appreciated.

HOMOPHOBIA – Why homophobia is not some subset of “femmephobia”

…and I put “femmephobia” in quotes, because from where I sit this culture is structurally gynophile; not only does it value and reward conventional femininity but it values it above just about everything else, brigading men into protecting, providing for and honoring women by law, custom and social policy.

In any case the claim is made over and over again that homophobia (when it is directed at gay men) is really just another example of society’s misogyny, that femininity is hated and this is just one more expression of that truth. It’s bunk on several levels. For one thing it looks suspiciously like another feminist appropriation a la “Women and minorities”. But the other thing is it’s just an inaccurate characterization of what is going, proceeding largely from general pig ignorance of male sexuality and what a man has to do to be perceived as fully masculine in this society.

Hyperagency – Zach Howe has a post at Slate that makes some very good points about the way male heterosexuality is perceived or “constructed” which are crucial to understanding the mechanics of homophobia, and have much more explanatory power than femmephobia. Basically it comes down to hyperagency:

“Clearly, men in America have grown up learning to be scared of gayness. But not only for the reasons we typically think—not only, in the end, because of religion, insecurity about their own sexuality, or a visceral aversion to other men’s penises. The truth is, they’re afraid because heterosexuality is so fragile.

Heterosexuality’s power lies in perception, not physical truth—as long as people think you’re exclusively attracted to the right gender, you’re golden. But perception is a precarious thing; a “zero-tolerance” policy has taught men that the way people think of them can change permanently with one slip, one little kiss or too-intimate friendship. And once lost, it can be nearly impossible to reclaim.

Put another way, the zero-tolerance rule means that if a man makes one “wrong” move—kisses another man in a moment of drunken fun, say—he is immediately assumed to be gay.”

He says this is where the actual fear of gayness comes from – it is a fear of being labeled gay, regardless of a man’s actual sexuality. And as he points out, it is determined by something a man does or fails to do, even the smallest thing he might do.

The gender binary – Yet Another Commenter explains another way that homophobia is not necessarily or even primarily femmephobia – it’s not about a man being feminine at all. It’s about being non-masculine, and non-masculine is not the same as being feminine. It is a third state, neutral. After all there is more being a woman than being a non-man. The masculinity the gay man is failing at is predicated on desiring women, and not doing that is read as a failure, as for example by slipping and desiring a man for even a one-time hook-up – more hyperagency. It’s as if male heterosexuality is some fragile state of grace that requires constant effort to maintain. A man does not have to act feminine to fail at being masculine, and that is the root of homophobia.

So no, failing to be male does not instantly pop a man into the female category. He will not be able to turn on  the tears and rely on the pity of men to run to his aid. He will not be able to sit in a bar and have people keep coming up to him to see if he’s interested in them. If he harms someone he will not be able to casually explain it away as self-defense and blame his victim, or blame it on something his spouse did or falied to do; he will not be able to use tears and a show of helplessness to evade accountabuility. So no, he is in no way going to be treated like a woman.

 David Palmer picks up on this:

Fascinating. This would explain the problem I have when I encounter feminists asserting that “homphobia is really misogyny” and is all about “hatred of the feminine”. As a gay man I’ve never thought that was really a valid sort of argument and it tended to stick in my craw quite frankly-but I never could quite articulate why it seemed so off to me. I think your article explains it. The proposition that “homphobia is about misogyny” is based on a flawed proposition-that we must define everything in binary terms-which results in a classic either/or fallacy.

David Palmer sums up in another comment:

I always loved the one about “homphobia is really misogyny”. As a gay man, I cannot recall single case in which I was faced with being attacked based on my orientation (whether physically or verbally) in which it was “all about hating women”. It’s sort of the ultimate in feminist narcissism: If a gay man is bashed, it’s STILL all about the wimmin.

Honey Badger Radio: Feminism Objectifies Laci Green

Laci Green is a youtube feminist. She recently told us all about objectification.

In simple terms objectification is about how male sexual urges hurt women. When men feel desire for women they have to be carefully policed least they remove women’s humanity with their thoughts.

Of course this requires believing that men victimize women with their illuminati voodoo eye balls. Or maybe they’re space reptiles with thought controlling mind rays.

But most importantly it requires believing that women’s sexual desires are passive, while men’s are active and villainous. It requires believing women are sexual objects defined by how they are acted upon by men.

Join us tonight on Honey Badger Radio as we discus “Feminism objectifies Laci Green.”

Show Time: 9 PM EST/ 8 PM CST/ 6 PM PST

Show Date: 30/01/2014

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Reddit Repost: “Beyond The Binary Gender Structure: Biological Maleness vs. Social Masculinity”

This is a repost of an article I originally wrote for /r/Masculism and posted here:

Upon a second reading, I notice one error or piece of sloppy reasoning: with respect to the “prison bitch” issue, I did not take into account that in some cases, the “prison bitch” is in fact treated “like a woman” to some extent. This makes sense as the relationship being pseudo-heterosexualized due to the fact that some of these relationships are the product of situational sexuality practiced by heterosexual men who obviously wish to maintain the ‘illusion’ that they are having sex with a female. In spite of this fact, there is also a strong number of “prison bitch” relationships which follow the template I describe in this article. This subtext seems validated by reports on the phenomenon of prison rape, for instance “No Escape: Male Rape in US Prisons.” I could cite other examples of phenomena which are consistent with my analysis, however.

In addition, this post uses a significant amount of technological terminology relating to Philosophical Methodology. I do not wish to sound patronizing, but I’ll provide a definition for these terms in advance (my thanks to Chris Sciabarra at NYU for these concepts).
Monism: Everything is understood as being “the same thing” or epiphenomena (products) of that one thing.
Dualism: Everything is understood as fitting into one of two mutually exclusive and exhaustive categories.
Dialectical: A relationship between things in which these things are defined/understood in terms of their relationship to each other. Understanding X in terms of comparing-and-contrasting it with Y.
Dialectical Pseudo-Monism: A monism which ‘masquerades’ as a dualism by outwardly establishing two categories (X and Y), yet it understands/comprehends Y exclusively in terms of its relationship with X. Y is not treated as an entity of its own, but ultimately as an epiphenomena of or response to X.

In my article Separating The ‘Boys’ From The ‘Men’, I argued that traditional gender roles, whilst both premised on Gender Essentialism, were based on different types of Epistemological Essentialism. Traditional femininity was (and probably still is) seen as innate to female biology (probably due to the fact that a female can serve her socially-mandated function, i.e. reproduction, simply by virtue of her biological maturity (barring infertility)), in the tradition of Aristotelian Essentialism (a.k.a. Immanent Essentialism or Moderate Essentialism).

Traditional masculinity, on the other hand, has always been based on Platonic Essentialism. Men, by virtue of their innate biology or biological maturation alone, do not serve their socially-mandated functions (hunting, protecting, the extremely dangerous tasks). Rather, they must act to prove they not only can perform these functions but to show how they can perform these functions better than other males. Thus, biological males have to “earn” their “manhood” by proving they can serve society in specific ways, and the better they are at doing this the “more man” they are.

As a consequence of this Platonic concept of masculinity, not all males end up achieving the social status of manhood. There are the “real men” and there are the “not-real-men,” or as we might put it, there are “the men” and “the boys.”

I believe that this fact has been sorely missed in the vast majority of traditional gender analysis. I believe that this fact also has particularly radical implications which need to be drawn out.

In traditional (and, with very few exceptions, feminist-conducted) gender analysis, there is a methdological dualism between masculinity and femininity – all gender classifications are seen as falling into masculine or feminine. Even feminists that aren’t of the radical-second/third-wave type have usually subscribed to this model. Even relentlessly politically incorrect feminists such as Camille Paglia have. This model is fundamentally gynocentric (or perhaps femmecentric would be a better term). It sees the masculine as based on the disownership of and revolt against the feminine (technically speaking this makes the model pseudo-monistic with masculinity defined dialectically (i.e. the not feminine, masculinity is defined in relation to the feminine) but that’s a whole different issue and for simplicity’s sake we’ll describe this as a methodological dualism). It sees the feminine as the “default” from which the masculine acts in order to differentiate itself (to be fair, this argument has some biological basis – fetuses are female until they are exposed to androgens in the womb, which masculinizes the fetus over the course of development. This leads to the situation of some feminists trying to use a biological argument to defend gynocentric analysis; a situation that strikes many as hypocritical).

As an analytical consequence of this model, anything which “falls short” of “real manhood” is classified as feminine. Thus, the bullying of men for being insufficiently macho is classified as an epiphenomenon of misogyny (see my article Primal Misogyny and Ozy’s Law over on /r/GenderEgalitarian for more). Prison rape of smaller, weaker men by larger, stronger men is seen as an epiphenomenon of male-on-female rape. The oppression of socially emasculated males is seen as no more than a consequence of the oppression of females. This attitude, which I call “Primal Misogyny,” is one of the greatest reasons why so many men involved in the gender conversation have come to the conclusion that feminism does not care about men’s issues; most of the time feminism has argued men’s issues are just repackagings of women’s issues (which, ironically enough, compounds the social emasculation of “not-real-men” by turning them into “honorary women” for the purposes of analysis).

So what are the alternative models? If we are to stick with a bigendered model, there are two alternatives; an androcentric (or masculocentric) model (the flaws of which have been admirably critiqued by plenty of feminists, and thus would be fallacious to adopt), or a true methodological dualism which doesn’t center on either side.

But this leaves us with a problem; where would the ‘socially-emasculated’ men, the ‘not-real-men’, or the ‘boys’ fit in such a model? They’re clearly male-bodied individuals, yet socially they aren’t considered “real men.” “Real men” do not identify with them; rather, they usually hold them in contempt and often outright bully them. Nor do the “boys” receive any of the chivalry/benevolent sexism/female privilege that women can have some expectation of receiving; “don’t hit a girl” certainly doesn’t apply to “not real men” (indeed, the opposite is true).

Many feminists would argue in favor of the methodological dualism which reduces the insufficiently-masculine to the feminine by pointing at the insults thrown around various school playgrounds at less “jockish” males. They’d suggest “pussy” and “sissy” and “girl” back up their methodological presumptions, and in that they have a point. However, plenty of other insults and teases applied to the same victims are not gendered; “wimp,” “shrimp,” “loser” (especially indicative since athletic competitions are typically held between members of the same sex), “weakling,” “nerd” (which typically has male connotations) etcetera. And then, we come to a more telling set of insults; “grow a pair!” “Man up!” “You have no balls!”

This last set of insults focuses not on being traditionally feminine but rather on lacking traditional masculinity. According to the typical model, to lack masculinity is to be feminine, however if one uses these specific insults to argue for the traditional methodological dualism, one is making a circular argument. But is it possible to lack traditional masculinity without gaining traditional femininity?

The gender psychologist and androgyny scholar Sandra Bem has argued so. Bem developed a personality measure (the Bem Sex Role Inventory) which was based on the presumption that masculinity and femininity are in fact independent variables. One can be high on both, low on both, or high on one and low on the other. The result is four categories – traditionally masculine, traditionally feminine, androgynous (exhibiting both strongly masculine and strongly feminine traits) and undifferentiated (exhibiting neither strongly masculine nor strongly feminine traits). Insults which revoke masculinity without arguing for an increase in femininity (i.e. “you have no balls” isn’t necessarily saying “you have a pussy”) suddenly make a lot more sense. Insults which degender (emasculate or defeminize) aren’t to be seen as ascribing the traits of the opposite gender but rather as subtracting the traits of the current gender.

The other concept I find illuminating in this regard, apart from Bem’s androgyny model, is the concept of “Apexuality” developed by Typhon Blue. Blue begins by noting that, due to the hierarchical nature of traditional masculinity, men often lack a common social identity with each other – “real men” holding “not-real-men” in contempt, for example. The notion of “men as a class” comes apart at the seams, because many males do not perceive many other males as fundamentally like themselves.

The above two notions lead me to make a radical suggestion. It is not enough to “try harder” at avoiding slipping into gynocentrism or androcentrism; the basic methodological reduction down to two genders is the problem.

Think about it; is a “prison bitch” (clear case of a man who, in his context, is at the (pun intended) bottom of the social hierarchy, socially emasculated and seen as something other than a “man”) treated as a woman? In the western world, most of the time women aren’t shamed if they get raped and an outcry is rightly raised if anyone suggests a rape victim deserved it; the “prison bitch” unfortunately faces a culture which lacks such sensitivities, and indeed rationalizes his rape as something he secretly wanted/deserved on account of his alleged lack of masculinity. Does the prison bitch receive any chivalry or white knighting? Can the prison bitch invoke damselling? Of course not; that would be used as more evidence that his natural place is getting raped. The prison bitch faces all the demands of traditional masculinity (as defined in prison) – his failure to meet these demands is what demotes him to an inferior status. The prison bitch incurs several of the demands of traditional feminity (having to sexually satisfy his protector/provider if he’s “claimed” by a larger/stronger inmate, for instance). Yet the prison bitch cannot access the benefits of either masculinity or femininity. Can we really claim that the prison bitch is socially considered to be of the same “gender” as either females, or the rapists of the prison bitch?

The socially-emasculated men, the ‘boys,’ the ‘failed males,’ the omega males, call them what you will but to lump them into the same analytical category as the socially-approved “real men” when they are (in real life) categorized and treated differently is a fallacy. To lump them into the same analytical category as “women” when they are (in real life) categorized and treated differently is a fallacy.

It seems to me that gender discussion needs to abandon a bigendered model. Members of the male sex do not necessarily become “real men” (socially speaking). It is time that gender analysis adopts models of gender relations which truly separate the “real men” from the “boys” – whilst they are both of the same biological sex, they aren’t socially treated as having the same gender.

To clarify, I am not suggesting there are only three legitimate analytic categories (i.e. “man,” “woman” and “failed man/boy”). What I am suggesting is that there are at least three legitimate analytic categories, and the reduction of “failed men/boys/omega males/whatever” down to “honorary women” (or to “real men” for that matter) is a mistake. Nor am I alleging anything about gender-atypical females; as a male I have more experience with the male side of the equation and I am simply limiting my comments to the field I have more experience with. Certainly the hypothesis proposed in this piece is extremely radical and controversial and thus this piece should be read as a tentative exploration of a future potential angle for the exploration of men’s issues. Nevertheless, it is submitted for your consideration.

Traditional gender analysis often sets up a gynocentric (or femmecentric) situation where the masculine is seen as the rejection and inversion of the feminine default. A consequence of this is the attitude of Primal Misogyny – seeing all disdain for insufficient-machoness as an epiphenomenon of a disdain for the feminine. This attitude marginalizes men’s issues. However, as Sandra Bem’s androgyny model as well as Typhon Blue’s concept of “Apexuality” indicate, it may prove fruitful to move beyond a bi-gendered model of gender relations by embracing a model which differentiates between those males who are socially considered “real men” and those males who are socially emasculated. This could greatly improve the discourse surrounding the experiences of men who experience persecution and prejudice due to being socially considered “not real men.”

Honey Badger Radio: Erotica for me, shame on thee

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Slut shaming is a bad thing. At least when it’s directed at women. I mean, when it’s directed against individual women.

But slut shaming seems to be perfectly valid when directed against an entire sex. I’m referring, of course, to the fact that we see men as sluts. All of them. We see their sexuality as damaging, degrading and degraded.

And, of course, like all sluts men are always asking for it.

Join us at Honey Badger Radio as we discuss the double standard in which women’s sexuality is seen as… well… less nasty than male.

Show time: 9 PM EST/ 8 PM CST/ 6 PM PST

Show date: Thursday 23rd January, 2014

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CULT OF THE MOTHER – The Minoan Great Mother

One lobe of Second Wave feminism was the Goddess Movement. Proponents posited that there had been a stage of historical development, in Europe and the Mediterranean at least, where the dominant image of divinity had been female. It was controversial from the start and the level of intellectual rigor behind the argumentation for it basically doomed it to obscurity. But it is still worth examing for the larger lessons it offers.

A corollary to this assertion of a female overgod was that these societies had been naturally peaceful, because that’s inherent in femininity or something. One example adduced was Minoan civilization, with its Mother Goddess and cities without walls, taken as proof that warfare was so rare as to require no special defensive fortifications. (Yeah, well, Washington DC doesn’t have any walls either….)

This is a standard image of the Minoan Mother Goddess. It’s probably quite familiar by now.

 Along with the Great Mother/Snake Goddess bulls were a very important symbol in Minoan culture and religion, and a form of sport that involved jumping over bulls by grabbing the charging bulls horns. Yee hah, coming to a rodeo near you. Don’t hold your breath. At least that’s what some mural depict; it looks so difficult as to be impossible.
 Minoan culture produced beautiful statuary featuring bulls and stylized bulls horns were a standard decorative form along the tops of walls at the palace at Knossos and they always were a fixture on altars – “the horns of consecration”. Note the connnection between bulls and sacrifice.
The myth of the Minotaur reflects the importance of the bull in that religion.

Another aspect of the importance of the bull was the bull sacrifice. The story of Theseus encodes the bull sacrifice under its overlay of human sacrifice. The Athenian youths are sent to Knossos to feed the Minotoaur, yes, but after all it is still the bull that ends up dying. This is the kind of patchy reconstruction we should expect after that story has come through a span of centuries and a dark age as part of the overall Bronze Age Collapse in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Minoans prospered at the heart of a thalassocracy that spanned the Mediterranean. I have heard them credited with spreading cultivation of the olive over the entire region. Perhaps some other aspects of ther culture endure in these far reaches as well.
Oh dear – bullfighting. How barbarous and brutal! Surely the naturally nurturant religion of the Great Mother could have nothing to do with anything like that! And notice how again it’s the bull that always dies.
A much better attested female-oriented religion was the mystery cult of Adonis. Mystery cults in Roman times were the preserve of women. Christianity was a mystery cult in the beginning and this held up its full social acceptability for generations. And what do we find in this cult tailor-made for women? We find the myth of Adonis, whom Aphrodite takes as a lover when she looks down from heaven, and who dies as a result of this connection.
What a treasured teenaged fantasy – the hot young man dying for love! How romantic it all is! And the crucial part is that he has to suffer and die to give the story some juice, to give the listener someone to moon over and pine over. Country Joe and the Fish nailed this one not so long ago.
So these female religions are all nurturant and peaceful, as long as you’re not the one on the receiving end of all the fevered fantasies.
The Goddess Movement is largely forgotten in internet feminism, if it was ever known at all, but it has diffused into the gender discussion. You hear its echoes all over – the way every issue is discussed in terms of how it impacts women, the way female victims are identified as female while males are degendered and borgified into either non-males or non-victims, the way gains for women and girls are gains whereas gains for men and boys somehow always threaten women…If it seems implausible that the Goddess Movement should have such influence despite its short duration the larger feminist movement, it’s not really strange at all. It’s not at all strange because it fits so perfectly with the general gynocentric orientation of the culture, which measures a “Real Man” by how useful he is to women. So examining the Goddess Movement and its narratives is an important part of any gender discussion that hopes to be at all through.
The Goddess Movement and its assertions were controversial from the start and the level of intellectual rigor behind the argumentation for it basically doomed it to obscurity. But it is still worth examing for the larger lessons it offers.

Reddit Repost: “Separating the ‘Boys’ from the ‘Men’ – Male Hierarchy and the Oppression of Men”

This is an article originally published here on Reddit:

As this piece was published at /r/Masculism it tends to take a less vehement tone than the ‘typical’ pro-men’s-rights piece. Upon re-reading I couldn’t find any substantially objectionable material within it and as such I wish to preserve it here.

Part 1: Introduction
In my article on /r/GenderEgalitarian/ A Few Thoughts On Some Feminist Concepts, I pointed out an interesting quirk of language use:

“It is interesting to note how the phrase “real men” is used in a way that contradicts what people typically mean by “real.” You are probably reading this article on a computer or similar electronic device; this device exists and is therefore real. Yet the minute we shift to “real men” we start talking not about men that exist, but men who embody a specific ideal of correct manliness (also called the Hegemonic Masculinity). The word “real” is used to mean “ideal.”"

This sudden shift in the definition of “real,” from “something that exists” to “exemplar of an ideal,” is a process I call a Platonic Inversion (because it is an instance of underlying residual Platonism in people’s thought processes – Plato after all believed that the “ideal” was “more real” than physical stuff).

In the mainstream of our culture, this Platonic Inversion with respect to “men” is nearly unquestioned. When we talk about a real DVD player, using the term to mean a “far better DVD player,” we all know that the term “real” is being used metaphorically.

But, on the other hand, being a “real man” is not a matter of metaphor. It is a matter of personal pride. It is a big deal (socially speaking), not a simple case of a metaphorical invocation of Platonism.


The reason for this is that, according to the cultural mainstream, being a “real man” is an earned social status rather than something innate in physically real men. “Real manhood” must be repeatedly demonstrated, proven, confirmed and defended. Psychological studies have backed this point up.

How did this situation come to pass?

A common theory, one which I think has significant explanatory power, is that women’s signs of biological maturity were relatively obvious; they had their menstural cycle, grew breasts, and (most importantly in societies which were fed through the manual labor of a growing population) bear children. “Girls” simply became “Women” (with the exceptions of infertile females), at which point they could fulfil their expected social role of bearing children.

Men, on the other hand, had less physically obvious signs of biological maturation. This was coupled with the fact that early human societies had reproductive pressures that incentivized protection of the females, as well as the fact that pregnant females were less able to perform hard labor/hunt/fish/farm/etc. The social role of women was something that the vast majority of women would grow into being capable of performing just by the nature of female biology.

The social role performed by men was not as biologically assured. Men had to be protectors and providers; tasks which were physically strenuous, dangerous, and could be performed with different levels of success and/or failure (i.e. men could be “good men” or “bad men” in the sense of being more or less competent at fulfilling their assigned roles; women of course had something similar (infertile women being seen as “bad women” or “barren”) but as a matter of degree the pressure wasn’t as strong since any given man was more likely to be a bad warrior/hunter than any given women was likely to be infertile, and then we have to introduce the matter of levels of skill at performing warrior/hunter tasks relative to breeding tasks (women do have different levels of fertility, but how wide is that scope vs. the scope of competence at warrior/hunter tasks?)).

As such, “proper” femaleness was seen as innate, but “proper” maleness required actions which produced specific outcomes. Barring infertility, a female would always become a “real woman,” but a man would have to continually fulfill his social functions in order to be seen as a “real man.”

It should come as no surprise that this formed our society’s most basic gender role; a role that I’d generally say Feminists and Masculists and Gender Egalitarians of all stripes basically accept as the foundation of our society’s gender system. This is the Subject-Object distinction, often phrased as “men do, women are.” Men are actors, women are acted upon.

Feminists, Gender Egalitarians, and MRA’s have consistently traced out the misogynistic and misandric implications and outcomes of this role system.

So, the above is a brief sketch of how our society came to its basic gender system. During early human history, this system probably had significant utility – human survival was predicated on manual labor, and a steadily-growing supply of manual labor was premised on consistent reproduction (ergo women having to have children and men having to protect/feed the family).

When the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution ushered in modern civilization as we know it, things changed. Manual labor stopped being the engine of human survival and prosperity; a progressively automated, capital-and-enterprise-dependent economy took its place. It is no coincidence that modern gender discourse, kicked off by Classical Liberal Feminism, was a product of the Enlightenment era. Fundamentally, gender discourse is a product of the fact that our technology has developed far more quickly than our received cultural wisdom; now, the “received wisdom” about masculinity and femininity is clearly obsolete.

From this point onward, I wish to focus on masculinity, or more correctly our society’s understanding of “correct” masculinity, and how it has constructed a system which oppresses men

Part 2: The Machismo Economy
So how does our society’s “masculinity system” (whatever you want to call it) operate?

As stated above, the casual acceptance of “real men” to be used to refer to men who meet some ideal standard gives us an important clue; under this system, not all physically real men are “real men.” Manhood (in the “real man” sense) is a socially-earned status. It is conferred. Because it can be conferred, it can also be revoked.

This means that the system has a binary component, where a man either is a “real man” or is not a “real man.” They either “pass” or “fail.” They are “real men” or they are socially emasculated.

This binary component is one of “separating the men from the boys.” Degrees do not exist within this component of the system. Note the use of “boys” here; the implication being that insufficiently masculine (by social standards) men are not fully mature (i.e. they are child males rather than adult males). This further validates the hypothesis expressed in Part 1; “real manhood” is a socially-earned status because a man’s full maturity isn’t as biologically obvious as a woman’s, and that the male social role wasn’t as connected to innate biological capabilities as the female’s.

It is often noted that various institutions mediate the conferral of social manhood; sports teams, the military, fraternities, etc. Again, the need for institutional validation of social manhood seems to back up the hypothesis that the relative understatedness of male biological maturation is an important reason for the nature of the current gender system (also note how real-world tribal societies frequently have rituals which initiate “boys” into “manhood”).

Thus, within the “manhood” system developed by our society, you will typically find an underclass of “not real men.” Call them “boys,” “beta males” or “omega males,” “the socially emasculated” or whatever; if being a “real man” is like being in a nightclub, these men are outside of the club.

But then we move into the second component of the “manhood” system; inter-male heirarchialism. Once someone has been admitted into the category of “real man” there is competition amongst the men inside to establish an order of rank. As explained earlier, there are differences in degree of how well men can fulfill the social role of “real man,” and whilst there is the aforementioned binary distinction between “those that can’t” (“boys”) and “those that can” (“real men”), some “real men” can do it better than others.

This is the familiar battle for “Alpha Maleness.” With it comes power over one’s underlings and, crucially, the ability to socially emasculate them (kick them out of the “real man” club and reduce them to a “boy”). The battle for Alpha status is not pleasant, it is endless and must be repeatedly fought, yet the alternative to being “one of the real men” is social emasculation.

In brief, you could say the social system of “real manhood” operates with three basic “tiers.” At the top, the Alpha who can bestow or revoke “real man” status. In the middle, those “real men” who are attempting to continually acquire more “real man” status and outcompete their opponents. At the very bottom, the “boys” or “not real men,” the socially emasculated, the outcasts.

We might describe these tiers with the labels “Alpha,” “Beta” and “Omega” but those would just be shorthand, plus I wouldn’t want to get the above confused with PUA terminology (PUA terminology refers to frequency of sexual success, which is related to but certainly not the same thing as status amongst fellow males).

Part 3: Some Effects Of This System
1) GENDER POLICING: A simple truth of economics is that people respond to incentives – if conduct X confers a benefit, and conduct Y bears a cost, then ceteris paribus people will be more likely to engage in X and less likely to engage in Y.

The “real manhood” system operates in such a way as to incentivize gender policing; by outperforming another man at a specific masculine-coded task, one gains more “real man” credit whilst at the same time diminishing the social masculinity of the outperformed men. The incentive isn’t to be good or competent at these specific tasks, but rather to be better than others at these specific tasks. Thus, men are motivated not to view other men’s strengths as good, but as threats. Men are motivated to view other men’s weaknesses as opportunities to be exploited.

Let’s put aside the strange moral inversion (resenting the admired, wishing to see more of the disdained) that this system implies for now; the obvious effect is gender policing. Make one slip and your “fellow men” will be right there to tear you apart and degrade you for it; it is the only way for them to increase their own status.

Obviously, this makes authentic self-expression and pursuit of one’s own happiness into a minefield for men, particularly those with some preferences that fall outside of traditional gender boundaries (in fact it is fair to say that almost all men have at least one interest which transgresses gender boundaries). Even those that, to their knowledge, have purely gender-typical interests, are socially penalized by this gender policing to some degree; they are discouraged from exploring things which may end up potentially enhancing their lives.

2) HERD CONFORMITY/GROUP IDENTITY: Significant neurological evidence exists to indicate that one’s gender identity (innate feeling of being male or female) is a result of neuroanatomy (for instance, transgender persons have been shown to have neuroanatomy of the opposite sex to the anatomy of the rest of their bodies; transgender conditions are arguably the neurological version of intersex conditions). When one’s gender identity is attacked or questioned, it can be distressing.

But, as stated before, being a “real man” is a social status rather than something innate, and the mechanism for acquiring and reinforcing this status is interpersonal. Basically, it is conferred by group insociation.

As a result, males have a portion of their innate identity subject to social approval and validation.

Now, most readers of this piece would accept the proposition that there is a mind-independent reality, and that facts aren’t the same thing as group consensus. And yet, this is precisely what “real manhood” requires – subjective acceptance of someone as a “real man.” So not only does “real manhood” refer to a Platonic ideal rather than physical reality, it also refers to a socially subjective status, as if the World Of Forms and the Consensus Reality were one and the same.

Leaving aside the utterly crackbrained metaphysics and epistemology that seem to be entailed here, the psychological effects of such an attitude are pretty obvious; if a critical part of one’s identity is dependent on the group, then one is far less likely to be fully individuated. One is far less likely to go against the grain, to think for oneself, to live with authenticity and integrity, when critical components of one’s identity are heavily invested in a group membership that is granted by mass consensus.

This goes far beyond gender policing. The damage that can be caused is fundamentally cognitive; if someone’s primary reference point for facts of reality is social rather than empirical, then that someone has basically abandoned any pretense at rationality.

This group-granted, group-dependent “real man” identity does nothing less than encourage complete cognitive dependence in males, crush unorthodox thinking, and incentivize “fitting in” and being “one of the guys” over being one’s authentic self.

3) PARALLEL HIERARCHIES: As stated above, having one’s innate gender identity questioned or attacked is a distressing experience (as many transgender people will attest). And, as stated before, plenty of males are not granted the status of “real men,” rather they are seen as failed men, as “boys” or some other emasculated label. Thus, many real men (physically real men, not “real men”) unfortunately live in a state where they commonly are inflicted with the distress of having their innate gender identity socially denied.

Denial of an individual’s innate gender identity – in effect a claim that this individual doesn’t really know their own mind and that the denier knows that individual better than that individual knows themselves – is offensive. It is offensive when it happens to trans people, and it is offensive when it happens to cisgender people, including cisgender men.

Given how social sanction and reinforcement has always been a crucial component of “real manhood” (a component which, it can be plausibly argued, is more important to “real manhood” than “real womanhood”), social emasculation can cause a remarkable amount of distress to men.

So, how do those men that have had their “real man” status revoked react? Sure, there are some that simply reject the whole enterprise of proving themselves to others, but this reaction isn’t as common as we’d all like. Indeed, the more common reaction is to form a parallel institution – in this case to simply create a different kind of heirarchical masculinity with its own cultural standards of “real manhood.”

The pattern of traditional masculinity is taken; there’s an heirarchically-structured “in group” led by the person that most exemplifies the group’s standards, with subordinate members competing with each other in an attempt to outdo each other at compliance with the group’s standards; unsurprisingly there is also an “out-group” composed of those that are not considered the “in-group” and who’s masculinity is held as fundamentally deficient/failed.

Why would some of the socially emasculated react by reproducing a variant of the same system that humiliated them? The answer is simple – those that are socially emasculated and respond by forming a parallel masculinity do so out of a desire to be accepted by the “real man” group that rejected them, and create their own as a substitute. They don’t reject the underlying premises of the system, they simply alter the standards to ones more favorable to their own traits.

Those familiar with the theory of Hegemonic Masculinity should see the parallels here; there is a socially normative model of “real manhood,” but not all can practice it successfully. Those who are heavily dependent on such group validation for their gender identity, yet find themselves socially emasculated, will desire to have their “real manhood” reinstated through insociation. In order to cater to this need, they will seek out or set up a parallel institution more likely to accept them.

4) DESTRUCTION OF PEER BONDS AND TRUE BROTHERHOOD: And we finally come to the most ironic and arguably most pernicious effect that the traditional system of “real manhood” has inflicted upon actual men: the poisoning of male relationships.

The “real manhood” system is hierarchically structured and incentivizes competition with and subjugation of one’s fellow man. After all, if one begins a gender system by positing a Platonic ideal then the moral imperative is to refashion oneself into that ideal as much as possible; if one defines the process of moving closer to this ideal as defeating others, then defeating others becomes a duty.

A peer relationship, i.e. a relationship of equals, cannot exist in this framework. Benefit can only come from a violation of the peership. If one posits hierarchical behavior as a proper component of “real manhood,” then peer relationships become emasculated (hence accusations of “those two men are getting too friendly/buddyish, obviously they must be gay” etcetera).

And yet, is not true brotherhood inherently about an ultimate sense of peership? Is it not about admiring and respecting the competencies and virtues of another, rather than conspiring to defeat or lessen those competencies and virtues? Aristotle famously described a true friend as another self – does one attempt to diminish, demean, defeat, humiliate and subjugate oneself?

Human beings relate to those that are like themselves – birds of a feather flock together is more than just a saying. This is why women like their “girl’s nights out” and men like their “boy’s nights out.” Same-gender social bonding is normal and healthy; it is almost certainly a human need (arguably this is another reason for the phenomenon of Parallel Heirarchies discussed above). To make this bonding into an adversarial exercise and a threat to one’s gender identity is a cruel joke at the very least.

Part 4: Conclusion
Traditional concepts of gender were Gender Essentialist, but the type of Essentialism differed between men and women (due to the different roles men and women had to play in pre-modern societies and the differences in the obviousness of their physical maturation). Femininity was typically treated as innate, i.e. as an immanent essence (Aristotelian/Moderate Essentialism) which women possessed by virtue of birth.

Men, on the other hand, were saddled with a Platonic Essentialist concept of masculinity. As such, identity as a “real man” was always a less sure thing than identity as a “real woman.” Women were beings and men were doings. This basic Subject-Object separation ultimately underpins our society’s traditional gender roles, and provides both men and women with various different advantages and disadvantages relative to each other.

One specific disadvantage the traditional conception of the “proper” way to be a “real man” has is that, by virtue of its Platonic nature, it emasculates many men. It compels men to be unsure of their identity, to rely on social verification, to conform and be “one of the guys” at any cost. It encourages men to police other men’s gender expression, to capitalize on each other’s “weakness” and resent each other’s capabilities and skills. Ultimately, it generates a toxic hierarchical environment where even the basic human need of same-gender camaraderie becomes a veritable battleground.

If gender policing, sabotage of individuation and individuality, and the corruption of the process of fulfilling a natural human need, are correctly called “oppressive,” then the current sex/gender system is oppressive of men.

In my earlier article, A Few Thoughts On Some Feminist Concepts, I argued that “Platocracy” is a better term than “Patriarchy” to describe the traditional gender system. It is in traditional ideas of “real manhood” that we find the clearest evidence for the Platonic basis of this gender system.

Sources for “Men’s Rights Versus Feminism”

The psychological phenomenon in which we divide people into “actors” and “acted upon” is called “moral typecasting”.

We tend to judge male characters by their actions; female characters by their reactions.

Girls view their abilities as passive and unchanging.

We view equally violent female criminals as less violent over time.

An initiative to close down a woman’s prison due to our beliefs that female criminals are less violent.

‘Women and Children’ first indicates both gender-specific care for women and the association of women with vulnerability and weakness.

‘Benevolent sexism’ or ‘chivalry’ is the tendency for people to regard women as both weak and more moral than men.

When we focus on someone’s body–which is what feminists call “objectification”–we care more about their safety and have concern for their wellbeing.


Prison Rape:

Summary: Men are more likely to be raped in prison than women are in the general community.

Community Rape:

Summary: If you control for memory errors by asking men and women about sexual violence in the last twelve months, you get parity in victimization in physically forced sex(aka. rape.)

The reason why some studies find 90%+ rates of male perpetration and female victimization is that they rely on statistics that aren’t even measuring the rate of rape in the general population, they’re statistics regarding _who feels empowered to report their rape to the police_. Using them to say anything about rape prevalence is a flat out lie.

Other statistics vary based on the time window they’re using. A twelve month time window finds parity in male and female rape victimization. A five month window finds that men have dropped to 30% of the victims from 50% and a lifetime window sees an even greater drop to 20% of the victims. All because men make their memories conform with the social narrative that female-on-male sexual violence doesn’t exist over time.

According to the CDC’s 12-month statistics (Table 2.0 and 2.1) on sexual violence(the most accurate statistic on prevalence, 50% of the rape victims were male. According to the CDC’s lifetime statistics(the most accurate statistic regarding who is raping who) on who is perpetuating sexual violence, 80% of the men were raped by women.

The studies on relationship sexual violence using the CST or CST2 methodologies find parity between men and women in terms of being forced into sex by the opposite gender.

Here’s a recent world wide survey that found that 3% of men reported forced sex in their heterosexual relationships and 2.3% of women reported forced sex in their heterosexual relationships.

Also recent results on sexual exploitation in corectional facility finds extremely high rates of female on male abuse.

“Approximately 95% of all youth reporting staff sexual misconduct said they had been victimized by female staff. In 2008, 42% of staff in state juvenile facilities were female.”

From “Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2008-09″

“Most victims of staff sexual misconduct were males; most perpetrators were females. Among male victims of staff sexual misconduct, 69% of those in prison and 64% of those in jails reported sexual activity with female staff. An additional 16% of prison inmates and 18% of jail inmates reported sexual activity with both female and male staff.”

From “Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2008-09″

Here’s something from a survey of homeless youths:

“Males were just as likely to be sexually exploited as females. Among younger street-involved youth (ages 12-18), a greater percentage of males were exploited (34% vs. 27% of females in 2006). Among older street-involved youth (ages 19-25), a higher percentage of females reported sexual exploitation (53% females vs. 32% males).”

“Although the majority of youth (70%) had been exploited by males, half of youth (50%) had also been exploited by females.”

From “It’s Not What You Think: Sexually Exploited Youth in British Columbia”

Domestic Violence:

Summary: 50% of violent relationships are characterized by mutual violence, more often initiated and sustained by the woman as she is the one who hits first and more frequently. In the 50% of relationships that are characterized by unilateral violence, 70% is a woman beating a man.

Fiebert Bibliography:  This bibliography examines 286 scholarly investigations: 221 empirical studies and 65 reviews and/or analyses, which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners.  The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 371,600.

The main feminist criticisms of this bibliography are that the CST and CST-2 survey instruments used don’t “contextualize” violence. Proponents of women’s victimhood believe that when violence is “contextualized” we’ll find that women act defensively and that men are the real aggressors.

Murray Strauss responds to the criticisms of the CST and CST-2 here.

Two recent surveys, the 2007 Harvard survey and the CDC’s 2010 NISPSVS suggest otherwise.The Harvard survey found that 50% of couples were mutually violent. In these couples women hit first and more often. it also found that in 70% of unilaterally violent couples, it was the wife who was the violent partner.The CDC’s 2010 NIPSVS found that men are more likely to experience controlling and coercive abuse than men. In the last twelve months(again 12 months is the most accurate window to control for memory errors) 15.2% of men and 10.7% of women said they were victims of “coercive control.” (Tables 4.9 and 4.10)

Finally DV researchers cite the rate of spousal homicide as “evidence” that women are greater victims. However the rate was at near parity in the 1970s—men and women were almost equally likely to kill each other. Since then the rate at which women have been killed by their male partners has declined 7% while the rate that men have been killed by their partners has declined 40% in the same time period. Feminists have managed to cast an improvement in the situation for murdered men over the last forty years as evidence of women’s greater victimhood!

Men Serve More time for the same crime:

“This paper assesses gender disparities in federal criminal cases. It finds large gender gaps favoring women throughout the sentence length distribution (averaging over 60%), conditional on arrest offense, criminal history, and other pre-charge observables. Female arrestees are also significantly likelier to avoid charges and convictions entirely, and twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted. Prior studies have reported much smaller sentence gaps because they have ignored the role of charging, plea-bargaining, and sentencing fact-finding in producing sentences. Most studies control for endogenous severity measures that result from these earlier discretionary processes and use samples that have been winnowed by them. I avoid these problems by using a linked dataset tracing cases from arrest through sentencing. Using decomposition methods, I show that most sentence disparity arises from decisions at the earlier stages, and use the rich data to investigate causal theories for these gender gaps.”

Male versus female Suicide Rates.

Male versus female deaths on the Job. 

A Question For Discussion: Are Female MRAs The Ultimate Gender Rebels?


I’m YetAnotherCommenter from Reddit. After posting this question to /r/LadyMRAs, Typhonblue extended an invitation for me to join this fine blog as a contributor. Needless to say I consider this an honor and for my first post I will simply copy the post which led to this opportunity.

In the future, I will be uploading my theoretical articles from Reddit (they were mostly posted on /r/Masculism) and place them here. Another work – a basic summary of my gender theories (which of course have been influenced by the work of Typhonblue and GirlWritesWhat as well as other thinkers like Sandra Bem, Roy Baumeister, Warren Farrel and other thinkers in the alternative gendersphere.

Anyway, on to the post!


I just wanted to float the idea – are female MRA’s the ultimate expression of rebellion against the gender system?

The gender system sees men as actors and women as acted upon. The gender system sees men as inherently expendable and women as inherently cherishable.

A female feminist, at least one who is theoretically radical-second-wave or third-wave, demands the government or other people change themselves for her benefit. She argues she’s a victim of the system, that the system was imposed upon her, and that it was created by men. She argues that the State or some other authority needs to fix things on her behalf. She’s just like a woman who says she needs a man to fix her lightbulb – she embodies hypoagency and the enlistment of male agency. Look at the Redstockings Manifesto – it claimed that the solution was for men to change.

A male feminist, of the radical-second-wave or third-wave variety, takes the role of white knight and protector of women. He wins female approval through the deployment of his agency in the service of the interests of women. He rescues his women from the cruelty of internet trolls and thus lives up to the traditional male gender role. Through his agency he protects the innately precious-yet-vulnerable females and thus demonstrates his status as a real man.

A male MRA is a man who employs his agency to advance his own interests. That’s pretty much in line with gender stereotypes (not that there’s anything automatically wrong with that).

A female MRA?

She employs her own agency. She treats men as having an innate value which society is denying. She acts for their interests. She rejects the feminine role of passivity and acts on premises which contradict male disposability. She doesn’t accept that she’s more innately worthy than anyone else. She willingly assumes agency and responsibility and pursues teleological action for the benefit of someone else (primarily, although arguably she herself benefits as a consequence by weakening the gender system).

In short, female MRAs act against pretty much the entirety of the traditional gender system. Compare this to the neo-traditionalists of today’s “official” feminist movement – Karen Straughan certainly comes off as far less gender-conformist than Anita Sarkeesian after all.