Some people today believe that feminism is not necessary anymore, or that it is time for an anti-feminist movement to revaluate masculine values. The Dutch author Jens van Tricht contributes to this discussion by arguing instead (in his recently published book entitled Waarom feminisme goed is voor mannen) that feminism is also relevant for men. Like the female feminists Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Malala Yousafsai, he believes that feminism is not just about improving the position of women, but about correcting the patriarchal imbalance between the sexes, so that we all (women and men) can grow into balanced, mature human beings. In his book, he also deals with the concept of violence, and therefore it might also be of interest to legal scholars and criminologists.
Central to van Tricht’s argument is that we still live in a patriarchal society, in which masculinity and femininity are not only strictly distinguished from one another, but are also hierarchically ordered. The qualities associated with masculinity – like being tough, active, strong, independent, rational and competitive – are considered more important than the qualities associated with femininity – like being gentle, weak, passive, dependent, sensitive, cooperative and caring. In this system, people tend to consider themselves first and foremost as independent and competitive beings and only secondly as interconnected, cooperative beings. The masculine perspective is always the starting point, and considered an unchangeable reality. But in fact, as feminist research has revealed, it is only a partial view – a view open to criticism and change.
One of the ways in which this view has manifested itself is through the use of violence. Van Tricht shows that it is not only states that have been legally permitted to use it, due to their ‘monopoly on violence’, violence is also considered a legitimate means for dealing with conflict in general. And statistics have revealed that most violence is used by men. He notes that researchers investigating the causes of current global problems in which men play a prominent role – including violence, but also, for instance, radicalisation and warfare – have paid a lot of attention to diverse fields like ‘education, upbringing, religion, culture, media and ethnicity’. But why, he wonders, have they hardly ever investigated the role that masculinity might have played?
Male offenders and female victims
Not only is violence most often used by men, women often become the victims (as shown by the #MeToo phenomenon). Van Tricht points out that the different masculine and feminine identities are very much interwoven in this. Due to the dominating ‘masculinity codes’ – which suppose that men are basically active, aggressive and competitive –, men sooner become offenders than women. And due to the existing ‘femininity codes’ – which suppose that women are basically passive, peaceful, caring and understanding –, women are more likely become victims. He also argues that ‘real men’ need constant confirmation of their identity: they must keep on showing other men and the rest of the world that they definitely have no feminine characteristics – which are simultaneously feared and despised. Of course this affects their relationship with women in a negative way as well.
Van Tricht adds, however, that men have also become victims and that the majority of men are not violent at all. Therefore we should not blame them, but acknowledge instead that the real cause must be sought in the very limiting masculine role that men have been taught to play. He believes that we need the so-called ‘feminine’ qualities of care, vulnerability, empathy and compassion to prevent violence or reduce it. (See my previous blog on this theme). That’s why it is so important that men start realising that they possess these as well. According to him, men were also familiar with these qualities long ago, when they were still vulnerable little children.
Becoming mature human beings
Van Tricht thinks that the distinction between masculinity and femininity, and the way these are associated with men and women, has always been quite artificial. Research has made it clear that there are far more differences among individual men and among individual women than between those two groups. Yet this artificial distinction still seems to persist. He considers it very important that men outgrow the ‘masculinity codes’, as they have prevented them from accessing their authentic selves and have blocked their opportunity to grow into mature human beings.
The same, of course, goes for the ‘femininity codes’. But women have already been involved with their own emancipation since the 19th century and have gradually managed to develop their ‘masculine side’ on a large scale. Among men, there has not yet been a comparable development. And because ‘real men’ have consciously kept away from everything considered ‘feminine’ (referred to earlier), they have also left the ‘feminine’ practice of self-reflection to women. Yet, according to van Tricht, this is the very practice men badly need these days, to trigger their own emancipation. He has set an example for this himself, by regularly giving workshops to groups of men over the past few decades. With the same practical goal in mind, he has run the organisation Emancipator since 2014.
Van Tricht is convinced that men’s emancipation would not only help us to better deal with violence, it would also generally improve the relationship of men with themselves, with other men and with women. It would even be beneficial to Western civilisation as a whole. He believes that we must first individually work on ourselves and find an inner balance, before we can properly deal with the larger crises that humanity is facing today – such as ‘climate change, exhaustion of the earth, increasing poverty, the threat of war and other violent conflicts’.
Of course, one could criticise van Tricht for not including evidence of the existence of pre-patriarchal societies to support his message. But even without it, his book is still a very interesting read.
Note for Dutch readers: Jens van Tricht was interviewed about his book in the television programme VPRO boeken.