Here is  section of a paper from a Feminist Art and Theory Class taught by Dr. Maria Elena Buszek at the Kansas City Art Institute. Fall. November 2009.

Men? One may be skeptical to think that men, so commonly viewed as the instigators of the oppression that feminism fights, could be the next step in its progression. However, I believe that it is exactly this unconventional perspective that will shed light onto the ways in which men can stop being the enemy of feminism and see how they are equally a part of their effort. But first we must understand how our contemporary society functions. By examining the cultural confusion between sex and gender we can recognize how men, women, and any other gender have been inaccurately defined and categorized based on those falsehoods. These definitions are also harmful for everyone and result in unattainable social ideals.[1] We’ve been living within this type of social system for such a long time that questioning it may seem blasphemous, but questioning is the only way towards change. Once we begin to question not only definitions, but also the categories themselves we can deconstruct this system and lay the groundwork for a new social system based on embracing our multiplicity.[2] In re-building this system, men can take a hint from the history of feminism, specifically Simone de Beauvior’s The Second Sex, as a means of appropriating a pre-existing framework for their own agenda. With a social endeavor of this magnitude, it is important to realize that there isn’t a clear-cut final destination. This type of progression needs to be organic. Hopefully with enough time and effort, we can arrive at a place where people realize and enjoy how we are all gendered beings who simultaneously define and disrupt prescribed social definitions.

Historically, the phenomenon of feminism has been a difficult battle, but one worth fighting. Women have gained the right to vote, choose to have children, and live any type of lifestyle they wish. One factor of feminism that is rarely discussed is it’s exclusive nature, not only among women, but also for men. While it’s true that our history is a history of patriarchy, it is false to assume that this means men are free. We haven’t had the liberty of a manifesto like The Second Sex, because it is assumed that the dominant majority is already liberated. However, recent investigation into masculine studies shows us that men are very much oppressed by prescribed social roles, which mirror those that oppress women.

Examining how we view sex and gender will show how these issues affect us all equally. Judith Butler explains how “gender is not passively scripted on the body […] Gender is what is put on invariably, under constraint, daily and incessantly…”[3] The fluidity of gender, which Butler addresses, is often overlooked because gender is also extremely performative and public in our contemporary society.[4] Therefore, an enormous pressure is put upon us to perform our gender properly. Any change in this system requires a huge amount of courage, because even the slightest change will be visible to society as a whole. Specifically we have placed sex, gender and heterosexuality as conjoined historical products leaving little to no room for any deviating performances that break this binary framework.[5] It is important to note the word ‘we’ in this statement. We as a society are responsible for this system, and we as gendered beings are constantly repressed by our creation. However we are also the potential solution in changing this system. Butler also states that, “it is impossible to separate a theory of gender from a political philosophy of feminism.”[6] However we must realize that any “theory of gender” inherently includes men; because, let us not forget that “men are gendered too.”[7] Simply stated, this theory solidifies a place for men in the political agenda of feminism.

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[1] Jack Kahn, An Introduction to Masculinities, (New York and London:
 Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 50.

[2] Harry Brod “ Studying Masculinities as Superiordinate Studies,” Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory: New
Directions, Judith Kegan Gardiner (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 167.

[3] Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Construction,” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader, edited by Amelia Jones (Oxon: Routledge, 2003), 401.

[4] Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Construction,” 397.

[5] Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Construction,” 396-397.

[6] Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Construction,” 399

[7] Brod “ Studying Masculinities as Superiordinate Studies,” 166.

About Matt Jacobs

Matt Jacobs is an artist and writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. He holds a BFA in Sculpture and Art History from the Kansas City Art Institute. His work has been exhibited internationally in Iceland and Italy as well as throughout the U.S. including Texas, California, and New York. In addition to maintaining a studio practice, Jacobs also pursues critical activities such as writing and curating. He has curated several exhibitions in the Kansas City area including “Twenty Something” at City Arts Project and at the H+R Block Artspace’s Biennial Flatfile exhibition. His writing has appeared in Art Tattler, Review Magazine, and Glasstire.
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