Androcentrism: It’s Still a Man’s World

Sociologists use the term “androcentrism” to refer to a new kind of sexism, one that replaces the favoring of men over women with the favoring of masculinity over femininity. According to the rules of androcentrism, men and women alike are rewarded, but only insofar as they are masculine (e.g., they play sports, drink whiskey, and are lawyers or surgeons w00t!). Meanwhile, men are punished for doing femininity and women… well, women are required to do femininity and simultaneously punished for it.

The above quote is from Sociological Images, a great site which specializes in social commentary based on visual information (posters, advertisements, magazine covers, billboards and so on). The article the quote is from also refers the reader to the image to the right which a reader sent in (the source is unknown):

Originally intended for the cover of “Candy,” a magazine about transversal fashion, the model is none other than James Franco, but it is the message that is important.

Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots, because it’s okay to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading. Because you think being a girl is degrading.

In my intro to women’s studies course we were taught that male characteristics are the standard against which female characteristics are measured. Men are stoic, women are emotional. Men are aggressive, women are passive. We don’t turn it the other way around and say that women are empathetic, men are insensitive. Well, we can, but if we do, we’re accused of being feminists (which usually means that we hate men). We’re not allowed to criticize men or masculinity, but it’s all right to criticize women and femininity.

Masculinity is the ideal. When a girl likes to do masculine activities, she’s called a tomboy, when a boy likes to do feminine activities, he’s called a girl. As if that’s the worst epithet that can be thrown at a man. “You’re such a boy” doesn’t carry the same sting as “You’re such a girl.” We don’t usually think that a little girl who wears pants is a butch or a dyke, but a little boy who wears pink is a faggot or a queer.

It’s actually men who are the losers according to this mindset. Women are relatively free to express their “masculine” side (as long as they don’t go overboard), but the reverse is definitely not true. It’s no wonder that boys and men hide their “feminine” side. So in a way women have more emotional freedom than men do.

Except for one thing: men like women to be feminine, but when they are too feminine, men just don’t take them seriously. (Think of Reese Witherspoon’s character in “Legally Blonde.”) That’s because overt femininity is devalued in our society. We want women to be feminine and then, as the quote at the beginning of this post points out, we punish them for it.

That’s one reason why it’s so dangerous to allow ourselves to be seen as sex objects. When men sexualize women, they don’t do it because they respect them. They do it to cut women down to size, to reduce them to their narrowest role, so that they can take over the important roles and retain their power.

Women are usually more accepting of feminine men than men are, because we see it almost as a form of flattery. We’re comfortable around them precisely because they’re not always trying to put down our female characteristics. On the contrary, they embrace them.

And yet women usually pick masculine men as partners. That could be because a masculine man makes them feel more feminine. The catch is, he doesn’t necessarily value their feminine characteristics. So women and men are constantly at odds with each other.

I’ve heard it said that men who are raised with sisters make better husbands. That’s probably a sweeping generalization; I’m sure it depends on whether or not they were taught to respect them. But a man who is raised in a “man’s” world is conditioned to devalue and disrespect the females in their lives.

The battle between the sexes will never be resolved until men and women learn to respect each other for who they are, whether they are masculine or feminine or a mixture of both. Men need to learn that their masculine qualities don’t make them kings of the hill and women need to learn that their feminine qualities are not weaknesses.




The Men In My Life: My Grandfather

When I decided to write on this topic, I realized something: men have had far more influence in my life than women have (unless you count my four daughters). But maybe that’s to be expected: we form our identities partly by bouncing off of opposites: women/men, masculine/feminine, young/old, introvert/extrovert, and so on. It could be that our personalities are shaped by the tensions and conflicts in our lives more than by the relationships and events that go smoothly.

And what more basic opposing pair than men versus women? Don’t get me wrong: my mother influenced me more than I’d like to admit (as did our difficult relationship), but when I think of the people who have meant the most to me, it has been the men in my life.

You’d think that the first man I’d name would be my father, but the truth is, I loved my grandfather more than anyone else in the world until the day he died (and even for years afterwards). He died when I was 17 and I don’t think it’s an accident that I got married a scant three years later. I married my first husband partly because he was going to be a minister like my grandfather had been. I even thought it was a sign that we were supposed to get married because his youngest brother’s name was exactly the same as my grandfather’s: Daniel Bruce! [quote]

I was a quiet child and my grandfather was the only one who could draw me out. I also had self-esteem issues and my grandfather made me feel special. He encouraged my writing—he was the only one who did; when I was in grade school, he used to pay me one quarter for poems and two for stories.  He also answered all my questions about God and religion. He was a scholar, loved to read, had his doctorate of Divinity and knew several languages. When I was little I used to climb on the top of his rolltop desk and watch him write his sermons. I wanted to be just like him.

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