No cinematic endeavor better captured what patriarchy did to women than The Stepford Wives. We still have a ways to go in freeing women from those kinds of constraints, but as the saying goes, “You’ve come a long way baby!”

I would suggest, however, that in order to end patriarchy, men have to change too. In many ways, the myth of the “Stepford Husband” still exists. It’s what Bill Pozzobon calls “the code,” but it pretty much comes down to the idea that, in order to be a man, you have to prove that you are the opposite of the stereotypes we typically associate with feminine. I was reminded of that when I read this commentary recently.

It was always true that women matured faster than men but part of the reason for that is that the transformation from boy to man is much more complete than that from girl to woman. In recent decades, it’s become worse, in that males are increasingly doing jobs where brute strength and physical courage have little value and, to make matters worse, are doing them alongside women. I think a significant percentage of men are naturally going to seethe at the structure of an office environment and they’re going to be especially resentful of having women as their bosses or even colleagues. Basically, it’s harder to actually distinguish oneself as “a man.”

I was never much into gaming and, in any case, it wasn’t a massive social activity in the way that it is now with the Internet. But skill at certain types of video games was a nerd’s equivalent to being a successful hunter or warrior, a way of setting themselves apart and gaining a source of pride in their manliness. Having women and girls demonstrate that they can do it just as well is thus very literally emasculating.

Notice how the author assumes that the only vehicle for pride in manliness is being a successful hunter or warrior (even if it’s only in a game). And to be bested by a woman at these tasks is “emasculating.” I suspect that there are an awful lot of men for whom those expectations are just as troublesome as The Stepford Wives was for women.

Thankfully, there are those who are beginning to say that we need to change all that. Take a look at the trailer for this documentary titled The Mask You Live In.

YouTube video

It’s not that boys/men need to abandon every stereotype they’ve been taught about what it means to be a man. It’s that first of all, they need to know that they have nothing to prove when it comes to being a man. And secondly, that they have choices about how to be a man…the same choices women are fighting to have for themselves.

This is why I often say that feminism isn’t just about women. Men have also been constrained and damaged by patriarchy. If we are ever going to free ourselves of the authoritarian impulses that rely on fear and oppression, we are going to have to free men/boys from the expectation that their manhood is something they have to prove. Our human potential for nurturing, compassion and empathy are no more “feminine” than strength, courage, and toughness are “masculine.”

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Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.