A note on masculinity and self-expression

One characteristically masculine technique of expression is to translate feelings of fear and insecurity into verbal and gestural forms of aggression and bids for power. In other words: not expression at all, but rather the opaque, instrumental action of concretely attempting to remove an irritation by subduing its real or imagined sources. Not depleting or reducing fear and insecurity but simply displacing them onto others. What the average man expects from women, and indeed requires from them, in order to exist with the fears and insecurities he knows no other way to deal with, is the woman’s passive compliance with this masculinist formula of translating felt fears and insecurities into aggression, and many popular tropes about male-female romance only catalog the most traditional and well-known ways in which women have figured out how to cope with these strategic ruses of masculine dissimulation which are intended to pass for expression. Women who are no longer willing to shoulder all of this displaced insecurity and fear are, for obvious reasons, an extremely fearful threat to the traditional man. If such traditional men were simply backward, hopeless fools with whom it’s not even worth bothering, then perhaps we could simply write them off as too far gone. Then those of us with radical interests would have no real reason to be too concerned with the difficulties these men face in coming to terms with the truth of feminism. But it is not so easy because it must be admitted that even we men who are absolutely committed to learning and understanding the nature of patriarchy and are actually committed to changing our practices in a way consistent with the liberation of all people, the truth is that we don’t currently have alternative ways of dealing with the fears and insecurities we all suffer from. And it cannot be treated as a matter of heroism: “I will just deal with it, I have no right to complain, because I’m just a privileged man in a patriarchal society,” without this, too, being itself a patriarchal and masculinist recourse.

In other words, those interested in a radical collective resistance against patriarchy have to develop practices that allow men to deal with their insecurities and fears in a way that does not revert to partaking in ultimately masculinist stances. An opposite strategy is to forego all masculinist techniques, to sort of submit or offer oneself unconditionally, to say “here I am, relinquishing myself of the only techniques I know for dealing with my securities and fears, here I am, nothing but insecurities and fears, and, in my refusal to displace these fears and insecurities onto others but having no other techniques for dealing with them, I will simply show them and reveal them in honesty.” The difficulty here, again, is that the emotional difficulties of such a horrific ordeal of revelation and self-flagellation typically fall onto the shoulders of those who care. Historically, of course, it is on women that the burden of such care labor typically falls, making this strategy of absolutely candid surrender likely to backfire. Another way it backfires is that this sort of practice is truly quite grotesque, monstrous; it is literally inhuman insofar as it is basically the act of relinquishing all of the characteristically human, that is to say dissimulative and instrumental techniques for being in the world and presenting ourselves in the world as subjects. Needless to say, this inhumanity, although perhaps commendable on some ultimate scale, is quite exactly the opposite of what is attractive to humans, and it’s nearly impossible to actually live with. The point worth stressing is that alternatives to the dead-ends of masculine self-expression are not readily available; it’s not clear that anyone knows how to resist and replace them in a way that does not take recourse to some sort of instrumentalism and exploitation at some level.

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Murphy, Justin. 2013. "A note on masculinity and self-expression," http://jmrphy.net/blog/2013/02/17/a-note-on-masculinity-and-self-expression/ (April 24, 2017).