Violent Masculinity as a Cultural Ideal: Both Men and Women are Victims

13 02 2009

A lot of people seem to think that because I am a feminist, I will jump to support women in every context.  This is blatantly not true.  Women participate in patriarchy just as men do.  I do NOT feel that men as a group are holding women down, but that societal definitions of masculinity and femininity are holding men and women down.  Both men and women participate in perpetuating gender stereotypes.  Both men and women participate in gendered hierarchies.  There are aspects of patriarchy that I do think women have very little control over.  But there are also aspects of patriarchy that victimize men.

Violent masculinity has become a cultural ideal.  Violence in society is organized by and also defines gender.  Both men and women live in fear of violence.  Abuse occurs in the workplace, in families, and even between children.  In a media-infused culture that defines acceptable manhood as the “tough guy,” men are encouraged to struggle to fulfill this ideal in order to protect themselves and make themselves physically attractive.  Childhood bullying is just one way in which masculinity is asserted early on, and the “cool” boys are separated from the not-as-tough.  In any context, violence results from a lack of power and an attempt to gain power.  Thus, we are caught in a vicious cycle in which one of the only ways to exercise power comes from intimidating others.

A woman who cannot walk down her own street late at night, attend a frat party, or go on a trip alone may be more conscious of the threat of violence and rape than her male counterparts.  According to some statistics, one in three women will be raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime.  Other statistics give more conservative estimates.  It is impossible to know how many women have been beaten, assaulted, or otherwise victimized because these events are so underreported.  The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network estimates that 1 in 6 women, and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.  RAINN also estimates that at least 60% of assaults are not reported to the police.  

For all of RAINN’s sexual assault and violence statistics click here.    

Many organizations give higher estimates than RAINN, but RAINN’s statistics in themselves are shocking.  1 in 33 men is no small number.  Imagine your largest lecture class.  Divide the men in that class by thirty-three and the women by six.  Chances are you know numerous men AND women who have been sexually assaulted.

Not only women are raped and beaten.  Some sources estimate that about 98% of rapists are male(1), but women are capable of rape as well.  So many rapists are male, not because men are inherently evil, but partially because our society in a sense condones the association of violence with masculinity.  Obviously, violence in the media is not to blame for rape, but the need that many men feel to be tough in order to fit in perpetuates the association of violence with masculinity.  Violent masculinity does not only encourage violence against women, but violence among men as well.

The socialization of violence begins at childhood.  The acceptable toys for boys are often violence-oriented, whereas most girls’ toys have to do with fashion, nurturing, and childcare.  In the media, as in American society, gendered stereotypes are continually portrayed and rewarded.  Characters such as Rambo, Rocky, Conan The Barbarian, and The Terminator depict masculinity as violent and sometimes animalistic.  Our male sex-symbols, such as Ludacris,  Eminem and 50-Cent spew misogyny, and we willingly dance along.  

“Put Anthrax on a Tampax and slap you till you can’t stand,” says one of Eminem’s oh-so-charming tunes, “Superman.”

“And hos never close they open like hallways,” asserts Ludacris in his song “Ho.”

“Nah, I don’t be fuckin wit them fat bitches.  That’s Yayo,” argues 50-Cent’s rap entitled “Fat Bitch.”

Artists such as T.I. are idolized despite histories of violence and weapons charges.  It is astounding how many people have jumped to defend Chris Brown after his recent attack of girlfriend, Rihanna.  When toughness is viewed as sexy, girls are taught to have a masochistic desire to find the good in the “bad boy,” to uncover his secret love for them under his violent exterior.  Attraction can prove dangerous to women in our society.  We are taught that “nice guys” don’t get girls, and in some ways the statement is true.  Women are socialized to be attracted to bad boys, and men are socialized to have to attain a tough ideal in order to be viewed as attractive.

It is my opinion that both men and women must cease to fashion themselves based on stereotypes.  We must refuse to accept the abuse that is normalized in the media.  Our own consumerism drives sexual themes in advertising and television.  Let’s use our fear to rebel, not to conform.


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