Friday, July 6, 2012

Masculinity Is Not Revolutionary

Revolutionaries of many types maintain that resistance by any means necessary is required to stop momentous social injustice and environmental degradation. These activists recognize that those in power are the enemy and that the enemy will stop at nothing unless forced to do otherwise. Following this understanding, militancy is understood to be appropriate given the situation.

Applied appropriately, militancy is an approach to activism that pledges a steadfast dedication to physically intervene, when necessary, in the violation of living beings and the destruction of communities. This militancy is often rooted in healthy communal norms and an allegiance to the bodily integrity of all beings.

Applied inappropriately, militancy is a reinforcement of men’s machismo. It’s a too easy jump given the hallmark militarized psychology and violation imperative of masculinity. To learn more about why militancy is applied inappropriately, we have to talk about gender. 

Gender serves the purpose of arranging power between human beings based on their sex, categorizing them as feminine or masculine. In the succinct words of author and anti-porn activist Gail Dines, femininity can be characterized as an attitude of fuck me, while masculinity is an attitude of fuck you.

To be masculine, “to be a man,” says writer Robert Jensen in his phenomenal book, Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity, “…is a bad trade. When we become men—when we accept the idea that there is something called masculinity to which we could conform—we exchange those aspects of ourselves that make life worth living for an endless struggle for power that, in the end, is illusory and destructive not only to others but to ourselves.”1 Masculinity’s destructiveness manifests in men’s violence against women and men’s violence against the world. Feminist writer and activist Lierre Keith notes, “Men become ‘real men’ by breaking boundaries, whether it’s the sexual boundaries of women, the cultural boundaries of other peoples, the political boundaries of other nations, the genetic boundaries of species, the biological boundaries of living communities, or the physical boundaries of the atom itself.”2

Too often, politically radical communities or subcultures that, in most cases, rigorously challenge the legitimacy of systems of power, somehow can’t find room in their analysis for the system of gender. Beyond that, many of these groups actively embrace male domination—patriarchy, the ruling religion of the dominant culture—though they may not say this forthright, with claims of “anti-sexism.” Or sexism may simply not ever be a topic of conversation at all. Either way, male privilege goes unchallenged, while public celebrations of the sadism and boundary-breaking inherent in masculinity remain the norm. 

This framework allows men the rebellious “fuck you” to be aimed not only at those who run the system, but anyone in their vicinity who has boundaries to be broken, power to be struggled for. It should be obvious that acting by any means necessary for justice is not the same as breaking boundaries of those you perceive as enemies, which, in the case of masculinity, means most everyone.

But, it’s not obvious. Thus, a group of male self-proclaimed radicals I once knew could tape a picture of a local woman who disagreed with their politics to the inside of a toilet bowl. Thus, levels of rape have seen a rise in anarchist circles and punk music scenes. Thus, most men in the culture continue to consume extremely debasing pornography and attempt to practice that type of sex on women in their lives. By any means necessary, to these men, ends with a particular sadistic self-fulfillment, one that is fueled by dangerous self-hatred. 

Given that most militant groups have taken this type of approach as a given, we must actively work to combat it in favor of a real politics of justice. The answer is feminism, which Andrea Dworkin defines as a war on masculinity. 

Alongside challenging systems of power such as racism, capitalism, and civilization, we need to learn to challenge male supremacy as well, including when it is found within facets of our activism. 

This is especially important in direct confrontations with power. Says Lierre Keith: “[W]e need to examine calls for violence through a feminist lens critical of norms of masculinity. Many militant groups are an excuse for men to wallow in the cheap thrill of the male ego unleashed from social constraints through bigger and better firepower: real men use guns.”3

To begin to reject this mentality, radical men should practice stepping aside while women assume roles in leadership. Masculinity needs challenging, which men must do themselves. However, men also need to learn to listen more, taking direction from the women around them and learning to be better allies. The world cannot handle any more broken boundaries; men have breached so many already, be they communal, biotic, or personal. We need a real culture of resistance, which includes an appropriate militancy. And, if anyone should be armed, it’s feminists.


1.       Jensen, Robert. Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity, p. 5.
2.       Keith, Lierre. “Why We Are Feminists: The Feminist Framework of DGR,” Deep Green Resistance movement Frequently Asked Questions page,
3.       Keith, McBay, and Jensen. Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet, p. 75.


  1. Hi!
    If I may ask: how do you feel about traditional indigenous, or even non-indigenous social organizations where men and women collaborate in egalitarian ways?

  2. Misko,

    I of course feel great about that!

    Thank you,

  3. Thank you, Ben. Glad to know you feel this way. I feel the same, too.

    - Misko

  4. This is a truly exceptional essay. Enjoyed it very much and learned a lot. Thank you.
    Dr. Glen Barry

  5. Would it be okay to reproduce this on my blog, with appropriate credit given?

  6. Yes, you can absolutely reproduce this. Thank you for asking.

  7. As a trans woman, I'm not really sure where I fall in your black and white narrative of gender roles. It seems there is no room for me within it; and this seems to be compounded by the fact that you use Lierre Keith as a reference point in your analysis, who has long history of transphobia.

  8. Dear Alicia,

    I'm not talking about gender roles. I'm talking about gender as a socially-created system of control.

    Thank you,

  9. beautifully written, my friend. glad i took the extra five minutes to read!;)

  10. Ben, much here to chew over. Excuse my doing it gradually :-)

    I really appreciated this.

    A thought on your final para - I think there is a tension between "To begin to reject this mentality, radical men should practice stepping aside while women assume roles in leadership"
    "However, men also need to learn to listen more, taking direction from the women around them and learning to be better allies."

    The problem is that in order to be a leader, people need to respect your contribution and be willing to learn from, often emulate, it. My observation is that increasingly in radical circles, men refuse to respect or follow women. They tend not to listen. They go out of their way to acknowledge men for making similar or lesser contributions than women have made. They can sometimes promote token women who they think can be used to police the other women, to stop other women from criticising sexism too much.

    Men can actively push women out. They can actively engage in bonding with other men with the aim of boosting their own group power. Often, this bonding takes the form of putting women down (perhaps subtly, say by deploring the sadness of those women's personal problems, and hoping that they can help provide political inspiration for those women).

    So in this sense, I would not characterise men as being leaders who need to "step aside". For those men who truly are leading (which involves being willing to learn from all others, including women), I would rather they not step aside. They are important.

    But the other men are not, in reality, *leading*, but jostling to improve their own status, in a misogynist manner.

    Thanks :-)

  11. Dear liberationislife,

    Thank you for writing.

    I think you make a great point and I hadn't thought of that. You're right: Men actively make it impossible for women to have voices by refusing to respect them. I agree with what you say about men not being leaders who need to step aside, but (I would say) rather simply stopping their masculine quests for dominance within groups.

    I appreciate your pointing this out to me.

    Thank you,