Friday, June 19, 2015

The Protection Theory of Gender Roles: How the Belief in Oppressive Masculinity Harms Our Daughters and Sons

I've been working on a new way to frame gender roles in light of the work I've been doing recently. The old gender theory I used was based on the idea that masculinity was an oppressive force, and femininity was the recipient of that oppression. It's based on the widely-accepted idea that served as the basis for the gender equality movement that has given females legal, career, and educational equality here in the United States. 

This theory is also used to rationalize an implicit or explicit movement to destroy masculinity, usually by compelling men to adopt androgynous or feminine traits. The idea is pretty simple - masculinity is aggressive and violent and domineering and our world would be safe, secure, and peaceful if only we could slay this vile monster. This is almost always framed as attempts to "redefine" masculinity to save males from the oppressive forces flowing through them. 

Sounds logical, right?

I thought so, too, until I started digging deeper and making some weird observations, including:
  • Women, especially during ovulation, are sexually aroused by masculinity.
  • Androgynous or effeminate males do not sexually arouse most women, especially after the "honeymoon" period of relationships end.
  • Almost all men, even those that supposedly accept the idea that women are strong and capable, have a drive to protect women.
  • When a dangerous situation develops, both men and women look for strong masculine figures for protection and leadership.
  • Suppressing and vilifying masculinity has a tendency to produce emotionally-manipulative "Nice Guys."
  • Suppressing and vilifying masculinity discourages females from engaging in masculine activities or displaying masculine personality traits.
  • Relationships without a strong masculine presence (from males or females) tend to end prematurely because the passion dies out and cannot be rekindled.
That's just a partial list I've encountered recently. The deeper I dug, the more apparent it became that masculine and feminine gender roles were not only complimentary, but necessary. According to my previous belief about gender roles, that saddened me because it meant we'd never really be able to eliminate the oppressive force of masculinity.

But what if masculinity wasn't oppressive? What if it were protective? Once I reframed gender that way, shit started to make a lot more sense. The pieces started to come together when my friend Shane sent me an article from Dave Grossman "On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs." The summary - Sheepdogs are the individuals that protect the masses (the sheep) from the bad people (wolves.) The sheepdogs and wolves are the more masculine members of a society; the sheep are the more feminine members of society. The masculine characteristic, in this application, best refers to a willingness to engage in violent behavior. By definition, the feminine characteristic represents an unwillingness to engage in violent behavior. I adopted this dynamic and placed it on a spectrum. All of us will fall somewhere along this spectrum:

The biggest problem I encountered was differentiating between the protector Sheepdogs and the criminal Wolves. Further, aren't there "bad people" sheep? To rectify this issue, I added a vertical axis measuring the broad concept of "giver" and "taker." This dynamic also added a fourth animal to the mix - The RAT. The rat falls in the lower left quadrant of anti-social feminine gender expression.GIVERS are people that give back to their fellow humans. They do pro-social nonviolent activities like volunteering, donating to charities, and generally try to make other people's lives more fulfilling (sheep), and violent pro-social activities like physically incapacitate and/or kill bad people (sheepdogs.) TAKERS, conversely, are selfish and care more about promoting their own welfare. They're more likely to engage in anti-social nonviolent behaviors like stealing, cheating, relying on others for support if they're capable of self-support, and exploiting the weak (rats.) They also engage in violent anti-social behaviors like assaulting, raping, or killing (wolves.) When graphed, it looks like this:

An important key to this theory - gender roles operate independently of genetic or biological sex. In other words, females can be sheepdogs and wolves; males can be sheep and rats. In practice, most of us fall somewhere on the graph, but our position could change based on the environment, social conditions, or internal mental states. Furthermore, our position on the graph can change as a function of time and/or experience. 

Further, your position on the graph is determined by your actions, not your beliefs, morals, or self-perception. Why? Carl Rogers noted this in his explanations of positive psychology - humans, even serial killers, are exceptionally good at rationalizing their behaviors. In other words, we engage in decidedly anti-social behaviors, but convince ourselves that we're actually doing something good for the world. Here's a quick synopsis of each animal's defining characteristics:
  • The Sheepdog - this is the stereotypical police officer, military personnel, or popular leader (think MLK, Gandi, Teddy Roosevelt, etc.) They love their fellow tribe members and will enthusiastically sacrifice their lives to protect others. The farther they fall towards the upper right quadrant, the bigger their tribe they protect. The sheepdog loves the fight and eagerly anticipates the opportunity to defend the tribe. The sheepdog will use violence without hesitation or remorse in order to protect.
  • The Wolf - this is the stereotypical bank robber, rapist, serial killer, or criminal mastermind (think Al Capone, Jeffrey Dahmer, or Ted Bundy.) The wolf is not burdened with a conscience that produces shame, guilt, or remorse. The wolf can exploit, harm, and kill freely. The wolf is also sneaky and ever-vigilant of the sheepdog, which is why the wolf almost always targets the weakest, most vulnerable members of the herd. The wolf, just like the sheepdog, does not hesitate to use violence to get what they want.
  • The Sheep - The sheep are the masses. They're generally peaceful, kind, and go about their lives without too much fanfare. The sheep also engage in pro-social behaviors. Specifically, the sheep help other sheep that need caring for and actively work to make the land more peaceful and accepting for all sheep. The sheep have no inclination for violence, and need extreme provocation to invoke violence (think a mother's child being attacked by a stranger.) The sheep like to feel safe and secure, so they have a tendency to deny the wolves present danger or even exist at all.
  • The Rat - The rats hang around the herd of sheep. They're not going to harm the sheep, but they will take whatever they can get. The rats are scavengers and petty criminals that would rather mooch off others (legally or illegally) than take care of themselves. Rats do not have a propensity for violence, but they may resort to violence if cornered and desperate. Rats CAN take care of themselves, they just choose not to. This is different than a sheep that simply does not have the means to care for itself. 

So back to gender roles. As Grossman pointed out in the linked passage above, the sheep don't really like the sheepdogs all that much because they're kinda scary and look a lot like the wolves. The presence of the sheepdogs interfere with the sheep's denial that the wolves are lurking somewhere around the perimeter. Specifically, the sheepdogs have sharp teeth and sometimes do scary dog stuff like growl and bark and play fight. But the sheepdog are necessary to protect the sheep from the wolves. While the rats don't threaten the safety of the sheep, they can can annoy them by stealing their food and other important shit. The sheepdogs are there to take care of the rats, too. 

Let's take a look at a real-world example. In the last post, I talked about the danger in the "rape culture" idea that's become a bit of a fourth wave feminist fad. Rapists are wolves. The reason they're so dangerous is wolves are really sneaky. They know how to pick out the weakest sheep in the herd and either isolate and attack by surprise -OR- dress up and act like a fellow sheep. The sheepdogs are there to stop the wolf from preying on the weakest of the sheep. 

The problem with believing gender roles are based on the idea that masculinity exists to oppress femininity should be obvious. It gives the herd of sheep a rationale to compel the sheepdog (using Grossman's analogy) to "redefine masculinity" by yanking out his teeth, spray painting herself white, and joining the herd of sheep. And yes, that pronoun was intentional you sexist fucks. ;-)

This theory of gender roles serving a protecting role explains all sorts of weird phenomena, which I'll address in a future post. 


Framing gender roles as masculine = oppression, feminine = oppressed not only is inaccurate, but it actively harms us. It gives people the rationale to destroy redefine masculinity to the detriment of society in general and interpersonal relationships in particular. Further, it robs people of the freedom of self-expression. In a just society, there's absolutely no acceptable rationale to prevent people, regardless of genetic or biological sex, from assuming whatever gender role they wish. The folks that wish to redefine masculinity are robbing us of that freedom of expression. Ironic, considering most rationalize their advocacy on the grounds of giving men the freedom from masculinity. While I wholeheartedly support giving men the freedom from masculinity, it's not really freedom if we don't give men the freedom to be masculine. 

I have two sons. One displays considerably more feminine characteristics; the other displays considerably more masculine characteristics. Am I really supposed to fully accept the former while trying to change the latter? To me, that's as morally repugnant as disowning one of them if they were gay or a trans female. 

And what about women? They deserve that exact same freedom to be masculine if they choose. My daughter is probably the most masculine of all my children. I cannot, in good conscience, look her in the eye and tell her she can't roughhouse with her brothers, assume leadership of a group, or punch a bully to defend a victim on the playground. Odds are good she's going to be a Sheepdog. Interfering with that is as bad as indoctrinating her to believe her place is barefoot in the kitchen serving her man. 

Masculinity and femininity are complimentary, not adversarial. We need them both. More importantly, we need to give all genetic and biological sexes the freedom to express whatever gender they wish in whatever situation they wish. As I mentioned in the rape culture article, as long as we cannot screen the general population and cull the antisocial personality disorder folks, we're going to have wolves preying on the sheep. We need the sheepdogs, and there's no justifiable reason we should prevent anyone, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, age... whatever, from fulfilling that role. 

That, in my book, is what "gender equality" really means.


No comments:

Post a Comment