We’ve all seen it one way or another. Whether it’s a Gillette ad telling men to “be better” or a government campaign to build a “healthier masculinity,” there are countless examples of people and large organizations trying to define or redefine what a “man” is. Despite the blatant sexism and unequal treatment of the genders in these attempts at social engineering, proponents claim this is “progressive,” a dismantling of the “patriarchy,” a step towards gender equality, etc.
It’s not. In fact, society has been gatekeeping masculinity in this way since the beginning of time. The exact definition has varied greatly depending on the time and culture, but its purpose has always been the same: to manipulate men into working for a collective social purpose rather than their own self-fulfillment.
What Is Gatekeeping Masculinity?
Gatekeeping masculinity is when society or some subset of society creates a definition of “masculinity” or “manhood” that doesn’t automatically include all males. Instead, males must fulfill a certain set of requirements to be “real men.”
This has long been society’s way of controlling men for greater social cohesion. But how is this enforced? Unlike the myth of “patriarchy” would suggest, it’s women who do it.
To give you an example, I grew up Mormon, a very tight-knit and conservative subculture. In this subculture, women usually only agree to marry “worthy,” “honorable,” “righteous,” or whatever-other-adjective men. This gets men to sacrifice quite a bit for the community, including paying to go on two-year missions to proselytize for the church.
To make men more malleable to this manipulation, they’re broken down on a regular basis. In fact, Mormon polygamy doctrine is justified by the idea that women are inherently more moral than men. Basically, there are more marry-able women than men, and more women will go to heaven than men, so men have to have multiple wives.
Does this dynamic sound familiar?
Any feminist would be quick to call Mormonism a conservative culture, yet they do the same thing and call it progressive. After all, what is a program to build a “healthier masculinity”?
First of all, it breaks men down and instills in them an idea that there is a “correct” way to be a man, one that most men don’t achieve. And these programs never pull any punches about why. It’s always about making a better “society,” often for women, with helping men as an afterthought at best.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that these programs use women to enforce them as well. Aside from the regular feminist call for a “sex strike” or recommendations to date feminist men, these programs are almost entirely run by women. Consider that even the Procter & Gamble executives in charge of the infamous Gillette ad were women.
No Reinventing Femininity?
Usually when I criticize feminist dogma, I point out that gender roles have restricted both men and women, sacrificing individuals’ personal fulfillment for the common good of society. Men do not oppress women through “patriarchy,” but rather both genders have had their roles and associated advantages and disadvantages.
Feminists usually try to counter this criticism by saying that’s what a “real feminist” believes and this is merely what “patriarchy” refers to, the obvious etymological roots of that word notwithstanding. In other words, they try to claim that feminism exists to free both genders from their gender roles in favor of personal fulfillment.
However, this gatekeeping is proof that isn’t the case. While feminists may claim they’re reinventing the male gender role, they’re still enforcing one nonetheless. One that inevitably and necessarily makes most men feel inadequate.
Plus, even if they wanted to claim that this reinvention of masculinity was about freeing men from their previous gender roles, that begs the question of why they aren’t building a “healthier femininity.” After all, they readily admit that the past female gender role was oppressive, so wouldn’t they want to reinvent it if this is the strategy?
The reason there are no campaigns to build healthier femininity is that feminists know that the way to free women from the female gender role isn’t to give them a new gender role. It’s to let them do whatever fulfills them individually without being restricted by a gender role at all.
Men deserve the same thing. Gatekeeping masculinity isn’t helping them. It’s actually the same conservative social control that has existed for centuries but is no longer necessary in our modern world. Let men be free to follow their own individual paths.