The myth of emasculation
By Rebecca Peterson, Humour Editor
Imagine, for a moment, that the person writing this article is a man.
I have, as most people have, had moments where I have been belittled and demeaned. I’ve had coworkers try to undermine me with nicknames attributed to my body parts, had men try to assert their dominance over me, have been objectified and made to feel unsafe, small, and weak. If I were a man, and I described these experiences as “emasculating,” I doubt anyone would argue with me on that. A man working with a boss who calls him “boy,” making him feel weak is emasculated. A man who is told by another man that their only job is to stand still and look pretty is emasculated. A man who feels forced to submit to their partner in a relationship is emasculated.
Except, these are all things that women experience too. And we don’t have a quantifiable word for it.
When you cut right down to it, many men would say that the concept of emasculation is based in the idea of manhood, and the discomfort that comes with losing it. I’ve had men tell me, straight up, that the reason why emasculation makes them uncomfortable is because they don’t want to be treated like a girl.
Well, newsflash: A lot of girls don’t like being treated like that either.
I’m not talking about the discomfort men feel from challenging gender roles, like dating a woman who’s taller than they are, or receiving flowers instead of giving them. That’s rooted in traditional gender bullshit, and another matter entirely. I am strictly speaking of genuine instances where men are treated badly, often in line with the way that women are treated on a near daily basis.
Is it threatening and uncomfortable to receive catcalls from male strangers on the street? Yes, it is, for both genders (I specifically say “male” strangers because there’s an undeniable power imbalance between men and women, and men honestly don’t seem to get it unless put in a hypothetical situation where they’re threatened by other men. It’s really unfortunate because I feel like it feeds into the whole “predatory gay male” stereotype, so I want to make it clear that that’s not my intent, here).
It bothers me because the concept of emasculation shows an incredible lack of self-awareness, and implies that these emasculating actions are perfectly acceptable ways to treat women, but not men. It’s another finicky part of our language that upholds the idea of men as people, and women as not-people. When I’m being pressured to give up a personal sense of power to another party, I don’t call it emasculation. I consider it being denied a right to my own personhood.
Because, subconsciously, we still seem to believe that people are men, it’s not a reach to make the connection between emasculation and the undermining of personhood. But we need to abandon the notion that being treated “like a girl” is a problem only men face. There’s a world of difference between your gender expression being disrespected, and being objectified and belittled by others. The discomfort of emasculation is not limited to men’s experience, and it’s likely that men can find a sympathetic ear in women, as it’s something we grow up knowing as an intrinsic part of our life experience.
The feeling is real. The terminology is a societal construct based on what we find acceptable in regards to how we treat men and women (never mind the plethora of genders in between). It’s time we see it for what it really is, and treat such incidences with the same empathy and justice required for all genders, instead of just the one.