A few months ago, I said the following in a comment:
For example, I like Fight Club because as *I* read the story, it breaks down the myth that the cult of masculinity is where a man finds his identity and value. Doesn’t say a damn thing about women or our journey, but the obsession with manhood (and lack of corresponding value put on “womanhood”) is definitely part of why we need feminism…
A few days later, I used the phrase “cult of masculinity” in my post The myth of the woman who craves abuse:
Unfortunately, men are less likely than women to fully recover from childhood abuse, mostly because the cult of masculinity insists they can overcome anything simply by “being a man”, which apparently does not include the very emotional work required for full recovery.
I should explain what I mean by “cult of masculinity.”
No one ever says “You need to grow up and be a woman.” Or “Time to separate the women from the girls.” Or “Are you a woman or a mouse?” That’s because a woman is not a construct in the patriarchy’s eyes; it is viewed as simply the inevitable outcome of a human being born female, as opposed to something to strive for.
What our culture means by “a man”, however, is a construct. It is something that does not occur in nature. It is a supernatural creature of extraordinary emotional, physical and mental resilience. It can withstand enemy torture for years on end without ever giving out the codes; it can somehow magically love its family, God and country without actually being distracted by normal human feelings (though if it must let down one of these things, it had better be family, who is supposed to be willing to “take one for God and country” so to speak); it has no moods and is always perfectly even-tempered, except when roused to fight for good. It can get over abuses and wrongs done against it, even in its most vulnerable formative years, without sorting or processing its feelings and experiences.
No one can be all these things. No one should try. Manhood is a pretense to be acted, a mask to be donned, not a potential to be realized. The cult of masculinity wants men to be superhuman, and to that end, it places women beneath men (and various men beneath other men) to act as support units in this ridiculous struggle to create Supermen. Superman hasn’t got time to do his own household chores or menial tasks or parent his kids – women must do that for him. Even with all that off his plate, not even Superman can really run a country/run a huge corporation/find the cure for a disease all on his lonesome – he needs women (and “lesser” men) doing 90% of the work for him without expecting shared credit. Superman hasn’t got time to sort through his emotional baggage from his abusive mom/dad/grade school bullies – he needs a wife who accepts that sometimes being a punching bag is a woman’s job so he can work out all that frustration and appear to be a Good Man to the outside world… where it counts.
To get everyone else to accept this ridiculous imbalance, we have to be brainwashed into the cult of masculinity. We all have to believe that just being a Man is such a glorious achievement that we should all be honored to help build Men. We must forgive fathers and husbands for lashing out at us occasionally: they work so hard! We must forgive our male religious leaders for occasionally committing the very sins they damn us to hell for – their path is so difficult! We must know our place and stay in it, for if we venture forth into Man’s world and Man’s work and prove that we’re just as good at the pretense of manhood as men are, what’s the point of being a man?
What’s the point, indeed? This, not women’s quest for equality, is what men need to unshackle themselves from. Men and women alike should strive to be good people who take personal responsibility for their happiness, but refuse to harm others in the pursuit of it. Our phrases should be “Time to grow up and be an adult.” “Time to separate the grown-ups from the kiddies.” That would be equality.
Fight Club demonstrates how “being a man” doesn’t solve anything. Jack (Edward Norton) is a struggling human being, trying to figure out who he is. His job – helping an auto manufacturer determine if a car’s lethal flaw will lose them enough money in court to merit a recall before people die – effectively makes him a button-down serial killer (this, I believe, is the real trigger for his mental illness). He’s done everything his culture told him to do and it’s led him to this. So he tries some new-fangled solutions – the support groups – and that doesn’t work either, because they don’t address the fundamental problem. He meets Tyler, who acts independently of the system, living by his own rules. This quickly becomes the ideal of manhood Jack wants to emulate. But that doesn’t work for him either, because Tyler’s not only independent – he’s disconnected. At the end of the day, what Jack really wants to be is a human being who has meaningful connections with other human beings. He needs passion.
That’s not a “man.” That’s… a woman! At least according to our warped culture. But really, it’s just plain human.
So many men are realizing they don’t want to be the distant, uninvolved, but successful fathers and husbands past generations idealized. They don’t want to be measured by their incomes, their sexual prowess or their conformity to arbitrary social ideals. They’re realizing they can’t live without love or passion for someone or something – for their families, for a cause, for art, for a job they love whether or not it’s the most lucrative career they could have chosen. They should never have been asked to become superhuman; it is enough just to be a good human. That’s the lesson I get from Fight Club, and that’s why I love the film.
I must caution casual readers: this article is not a “Men’s Rights Activist” platform. The form of feminism I grew up taking seriously was the kind that believed the current patriarchal system was hurting both women and men, and wanted to replace it with something that would establish equal opportunity and equal responsibility for all adults (and legal protection for children and for adults unable to care for themselves). Men’s Rights Activism has a fatal flaw of interpreting natural consequences for male behavior – so long suppressed and suffered by innocents instead – as infringements of their rights, and this makes most MRA arguments illogical to the point of hilarity, if they weren’t so frightening in their blindness. Therefore, comments spewing bile about how Womenz Is Ruining Menz (which I always get on Fight Club posts) will not make it through moderation. This article is not about women hurting men; it’s about how something that’s sold by men to other men as a boon for them is actually a ticking timebomb that destroys everyone in its path, regardless of gender. You need to learn the difference.