Reinforcing Gender Hierarchies?

Editor’s Note: Most reaction to tennis great Roger Federer expressing vulnerability and emotion when he retired after his final match in September was positive, including how he and his longtime foe interacted (doubles partner in his farewell contest, Rafael Nadal). “Successful, grown, virile, athletic men who perhaps define masculinity and its physical and emotional virtues, holding hands, breaking down, weeping copiously and supporting each other,” a Facebook post read in part. “Grown men hugging their old parents, like little boys who have lost a match… In an era of toxic masculinity… this picture of human vulnerability and authentic emotions is so beautiful… I hope we don’t label tears as failure and softness as effeminate…”

A professor of sociology at the University of London sees things differently: This passage seems to largely build upon—rather than question—some of the most problematic ways of understanding both masculinity and gender. Consider lines such as “virile…men” and “I hope we don’t label tears as failure and softness as effeminate,” etc. In the last quote, “effeminacy” is presented as the antithesis of being “masculine.” That is, men who cry should not be thought of as “effeminate” since “effeminacy” is, indeed, something to be avoided. These attitudes reinforce and naturalize gender hierarchies as well as those relating to sexual identities.

Sanjay Srivastava

British Academy global professor

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

School of Oriental and African Studies

University of London

“Son, Motherhood Is Risky”

Reading about reproductive rights— or the lack of them—in Voice Male has gotten me thinking about more ways to transform masculinity. Considering that men—inexplicably and outrageously— get to have children that women deliver but often still carry the male’s name, it became clear that I needed to look at things through my maternal lens. When I did, I felt my vision coming from deep inside my womb.

I recognize my power to influence sons to embrace healthy, positive masculinity. Now that my son is in a serious relationship with his girlfriend, I have begun to consider the potential of him one day becoming a father. So I shared these thoughts with him, thoughts that can be shared with all sons:

“Having a child carry your name when it’s the mother who is the one who carried babies in her body is privilege. So son, when you do become a father, instead of ownership and control, choose gratitude and humility. You will never know the sacrifice that mothers make because you do not carry. Motherhood is risky. Very risky. Be grateful. Not entitled. Stay humble and choose the power of love over the love of power. Be kind.” Mom

As I smile at the prospect of becoming grandmother to my son’s future children, I want to make sure the patriarchal programming into which we are all born does not impact my son negatively as a future father.

Francesca Mandeya

Nunavut, Canada

The writer is author of Mother Behold Thy Son: One Woman’s Journey to Dismantle Patriarchy and Live a Life of Equality, Love and Freedom.