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.”

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<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="3998">10 comments</span>

  • I like your model a lot more than the feminist one, and I’ve seen variations all around the gendersphere, in particular the concept of “masculosexism” where masculinity is treated better than non-masculinity, not just outright femininity. In the Western world, it falls much more heavily on people assigned male at birth, with harsh punishments for those who rank low on the masculinity hierarchy (although in some cases there are coercive gender roles even for those higher up).

  • Harrow,

    Thank you very much.

    “Masculosexism” at least in my experience can be used to refer to EITHER “masculinity > femininity” OR “masculinity > non-masculinity.” You could fairly define it as “the preferring of masculine-coded norms of behavior above other norms of behavior (because of the masculine coding).” Where the feminist model errs in how it believes that anything other than “the masculine” is “the feminine.”

    Perhaps we could split “masculosexism” up into two concepts… “femmephobic masculosexism” or “external masculosexism” (for “masculinity > femininity”) and “internal masculosexism” (for “more masculinity > less masculinity”).

    But yes, thanks for your reply. This is a very interesting conceptual space to work in!

  • 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.

    Thanks for reposting this. I had not seen it before but it is quite interesting.

    Hmm-and in response to the prior comment I must ask-would the concept of masculosexism have a parallel in something which might be called feminosexism-i.e. the proposition of “feminine greater than masculine” (or “better than”)? It appears to me that much of what I see in current feminist “talking points” (i.e. concepts like “toxic masculinity”) is often based on that proposition.

  • As a feminist, I don’t expect you’ll find many of us disagreeing with you. In fact, this bears a pretty strong resemblance to the solutions we’re looking for — just arrived at from a different angle.

    Seems we’ve finally come full circle. Great article.

  • David Palmer,

    Thanks for your response! I’m glad my article is one you found interesting. I certainly agree that an attitude of feminosexism exists in many feminists, particularly cultural feminists like Carol Gilligan and co. Certainly, traditional masculinity has its flaws and problems, but trying to claim that one sex role is inherently more moral than the other is…. problematic, to say the least.


    I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

    That said, the attitude I critique is widespread amongst the feminists I’ve read and know of. Maybe its a matter of different types of feminist… but the implicit treatment of “not manly enough” as “feminine” is rife in a huge amount of classic feminist arguments (i.e. “the man who gets bullied for not being good at sport is really the target of misogyny, the gay man who gets beaten up is really the target of misogyny” etc.). I’m not suggesting that you necessarily subscribe to these arguments, just that these arguments are accepted by an extremely substantial proportion of feminists (certainly the majority, in my experience).

    But yes, I’m glad you found my article a good read! Thank you.

  • While in my experience there are a few feminists who could be called categorically “feminosexist”, discourses about “toxic masculinity” and the like are entirely aimed at men (and trans women depending on the level of bigotry), sometimes by feminists who believe female masculinity is praiseworthy. So it’s not really the opposite of masculosexism but a criticism of traditional male roles – sometimes the criticism is helpful, more often it’s toxic and indiscriminate.

    What’s infuriating to me is that some of those same feminists will also attack unmasculine men (bronies, the love-shy, cosplayers, drag queens) with thinly disguised masculosexism, showing that they’re just as retrograde as any tradcon.

  • Good article. You are presenting an excellent way of looking at masculinity and the reasons why feminist definitions don’t work. I have been working on a good definition of masculinity for quite some time and currently I see the traditional male role as being productive while the traditional female role is reprodcutive. Females that did not reproduce were not considered fully women and males that did not produce were not fully men. For men, production also includes reprodcution (though it wasn’t always necessary). Men who did not produce more than they consumed were not “real men” and women who did not reproduce were not “real women.” The industrial revolution exposed this as a cultural problem and feminissts exploited it by renaming it “Patriarchy” and defining it as a problem with masculinity using what you call dialectical pseudo-monism. The reality is that we do not and have never lived in the feminist “Patriarchy.”

    Cultural construction of gender roles based on sex differences favored neither the male nor female, but did make it easy for each individual to identify his or her role in society because sex is an easy binary to ascertain and each sex does serve a different reproductive function which exerts a major effect on each person’s ability to function in society. It created a natural, logical structure in which all roles could be filled adequately.

    The industrial revolution and advancement of technology has, in a very short time, rendered much of this structure obsolete. The women’s movement (and the feminism that developed along with it) began to demand changes to the social structure as reproduction became less critical and less risky for women because they were then able to perform additional roles (traditional male roles, i.e. production). One of the biggest problems I see with feminism is that while it has expanded the acceptability of female roles, it seeks greater restriction on male roles especually through the demonization of male sexual identity. What I see emerging from all this are multiple masculinities and femininities where masculinity is acceptable male behavior and femininity being accepable female behavior. I also see plenty of overlap with the biggest difference in some masculnities and some femininities being the sex of the person in the role. I shjould also say that masculinity and femininity are not a dichotomy. Like Bem, I view them as independent variables. however, I do see femininity as being primarily associated with reproduction and masculinity with production.

  • I totally agree about abandoning a bigendered model. I would see that as coming from new voices rather than the ones who dominate the media/blogosphere right now.

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