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"Masculinity, Marriage & Freedom" Essay by Lilian Atieno

(Cis-het) Men, by social design, are unkind. Masculinity is traditionally associated with protection, strength and control. Men and masculinity are designed to be the antithesis of women and femininity, which is designed to be maternal, soft, vulnerable and weak. Marriage, for all intents and purposes, is obsolete and a ‘Love Marriage’ is a relatively young and new concept. It’s this conflation of Love for Labour that causes such a strain in society’s understanding of sexuality, gender and the kinds of relationships people have to one another. 


Men & masculinity, and in extension the institutions they wield control over, and which afford them privilege, are also cruel and unkind. For a man to accede to being kind or vulnerable is akin to surrendering himself and all that he is, as if by practicing or agreeing to traditionally feminine qualities he becomes a woman. Women’s existence will always pose a challenge to the validity and existence of masculinity, but at the same time, masculinity cannot exist without a foil, something to compare itself to. Masculinity demands femininity stroke its ego. Always. Misogynoir then becomes not only a manifestation of this deep-rooted fear and insecurity but also evidence of its fragility.


Arguably, there is no such a healthy masculinity since toxicity is so widespread and normalized. The conception of a newer, benevolent masculinity is the responsibility of those who identify as men. 


All institutions of power have an inherent contradiction between the fantasy they hold in social consciousness and the material realities they create. Men are conditioned to believe themselves to be protectors, to be stronger than women, and yet it is men who are more likely to participate in rape culture, harassment and other forms of abuse. Abuse is often conflated with power, when in reality it is just raw, unjustified violence. Power, like masculinity, is also historically and intimately tied with violence although there exists the possibility to practice power kindly. So, if (cishet)men (& masculinity) are convinced that it is destined for control, then it cannot exist without its foot on the neck of femininity. In turn, femininity’s freedom from violence is dependent on the eradication of masculinity, or rather the complete abolition of the gender binary. 


On the subject of marriage, it can never be of benefit to any woman, whether queer or – especially - straight women. Marriage as an institution was designed for women to have no other gateway to economic or social facilities besides men. Marriage is universal and present across all cultures where women were, and still are, considered secondary. Marriage rewards women with social capital due to their proximity to men. This proximity is especially beneficial to classed women who wield their power over more vulnerable women with an obvious cruelty and indifference. Many women nowadays, especially younger women, believe that through their financial independence and feminist convictions that they can successfully evade the trappings of marriage by marrying ‘feminist’ men (who do not exist) who hold more progressive views. It is impossible to modernize an archaic institution like marriage that was designed to constrict women to the domestic sphere – in fact, most modern institutions, including education, economic, legal & justice institutions need to be replaced. Needless to say, what this argument for choice fails to account for is class privilege, and that even in the domestic sphere, women’s labour is consistently expected – be it as a homemaker or baby maker. It is the woman’s body, time, career and ambitions that will be immediately affected. Women in less privileged positions, however, cannot bargain for more progressive husbands. Marriage may still be forced upon them or still be a socio-economic ladder or escape.  Marriage is thus a major hindrance to feminism. 


The idea of marriage in a modern context is obsolete, and yet the myth of companionship and support is what compels people to continue practicing it. Men and women (cis and trans) who uphold this dangerous notion often don’t realize how they diminish the value of other kinds of relationships, and their ability to be just as supportive, loving and nurturing. Championing for marriage is an insidious way of acknowledging and accepting that proximity to men affords social capital and further privilege. In interpersonal relationships, men are deliberately selective with their affection, attention and protection when it comes to women: they prioritize women who are in close proximity to them, be it their partners or relatives. Such discriminate loving not only breeds a culture where women compete for the affection of men, but also reduces the act of loving to an individualistic, self-centred performance rather than collective community work. In perspective, men’s discriminate loving limits them from showing up as vulnerable members of the community and/or limits them from holding space for those who are vulnerable and need support from their communities. This is why it is predominantly Black Women who have earned the (dangerous) stereotype of being strong and resilient while at the forefront of community activism and advocacy. It is women who continue to create and hold spaces for healing, radical joy and care. 


Men, by social design, are cruel and unkind. Straight women receive the rugged kind of love that is self-serving and self-obsessed, for if a man cannot hold love for his community, his people – regardless of orientation, class, religion or ability - his heart will never be able to hold all of you. 




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