Where did I Learn to Hold my Keys?

Do you ever notice how you hold your keys?  I notice, especially because way I hold them changes depending upon circumstance. If I walk with a friend during the day, I’ll usually hold my keys with my middle finger lined up with the largest jagged edge, cracking a smile when I think of the ridiculous bootleg shiv in my pocket. If I walk alone or with another woman at night, I’ll hold my keys by my side, alert position assumed like the way I’ve been inadvertently taught. Suddenly, my everyday-armory seems the furthest thing from absurd. Where did I learn to hold my keys? Certainly, my mother never taught me to hold keys like knife, but I know how to do it so I protect myself to the best of my ability. Let that resonate for a minute: The way I hold my keys is a learned instinct.

What do I hope to achieve by introducing my piece through such seemingly bizarre prelude? Well, at base level, to argue that my question about keys does not speak to my personal traits or irrational fears, but more to the collective experience shared of many women in our society. Secondly, I wish to articulate my feelings on proverbial “men’s issues”.

After Mother Gaia, the audacity of tampon tax, and the shrine I crafted to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, discourse on the issues that specifically target men— emasculation chief amongst them— are my top interests. Though my scathing introduction to emasculation may seem a little harsh, allow me explanation: those who claim emasculation as a definitive reason for impetus behaviors essentially blame everyone else for the fault of male-dominated society. I mean really, Patriarchy— with all the years spent pedaling falsely constructed ideals of what constitutes “masculine” and “feminine” in our society, what else could we expect?

While I do empathize with my male friends for the unreasonable, unachievable expectations of what strictly dictates binary “maleness” in our society, my instinct overwhelmingly shouts a bitter “welcome to the party”. We can trace the roots of “emasculation,” or the “depriving of force, vigour, or manliness” (OED) to the patriarchal structures that continue to suppress women today. When we discuss emasculation as the comparable equivalent to other oppressive structures in society, we ignore the root cause of emasculation as it stems from the subjugation of another: women. For any discussion of emasculation in absence of a larger dialogue surrounding the hyper- feminization of women proves inadequate to undoing the patriarchal structures of its creation. It’s a cyclical experience that systematically channels back to a history of male domination, female subordination. Think of a dam about to blow— instead of focusing on the centuries-old pressure that threatens imminent destruction to the dam wall, we decide to focus our energy on a small leak. Instead of addressing the pressure steadily building, we hold the leak to the same ranked need for damage control. I employ my metaphor to discuss the danger of equaling the disaster of a rapidly dismantling dam wall to that of a relatively minor leak— while both indicate structural failure, we should not consider them of comparable threat. When we attempt to address the evils of emasculation through the same lens as the hyper-feminization of women, we disregard centuries of patriarchal injustice.

While we have a duty as persons of education to end the cyclical experience of rigid gender norms within a destructive culture, something about the diverse experiences of “male” and “female” in such binary do not equate. In every instance society tells men to squash their emotions and vulnerability, there’s the concurrent  normalization of catcalls that force female vulnerability and sexualization. For every boy who feels he must play sports and exercise, building muscle to look like the men of magazines, we see young women suffering from unhealthy dieting, restrictive habits, and eating disorders.  For every boy told to engage in fistfights, there are girls instructed to remain passive and “ladylike,” for their female physicality renders them weaker in fashion.  With every voice that implores boys to “be a man,” there are twenty calling our girls to leave STEM and heavy lifting “to the men”. If emasculation and hyper-feminization hold the same societal impact, than why are women overwhelmingly predisposed to become the next victims of eating disorders, sexual assaults, lower wages, glass ceilings and domestic abuses? The numbers alone indicate divergent experience with real-world consequences.

I do not seek to disregard the dangerous gender roles that we tack onto both our young men and women, but to emphasize their root cause. Though society imbues “masculinity” and “femininity” with separate roles, there are also drastically different consequences attached: while men are expected to “do more” because of their gender, women are told “not your place”. Anecdotes about keys aside, my primary disregard for many “men’s issues” stands thus: our culture reinforces the notion that his gender holds inherent potential, while hers innately does not.

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