The Making of a Man: Concepts of Masculinism

By Emma Powell

Masculinity vs Masculism

According to KwaZulu Natal based feminist, Sarojini Nadar, the concept of masculinism differs significantly from that of masculinity. Whilst the notion of what it means to be masculine focuses almost exclusively on the superior status accorded to males as a result of their physical strength and viz the powerful and dominant position they occupy in our societies when compared to the status accorded to women; masculinism is a term coined by feminists which attempts to re-position the ideology of masculinity as neither inherent nor natural but rather constructed and re-entrenched via binary positioning.

Although the academic theorising of these concepts is vital in order for scholars and young women alike to become aware of the operation of these concepts and the manner in which they re-enforce unjust hierarchical placements, what is more important is the nurturing of a dialogue that focuses on the materialisation of masculinism in daily life. For this to take place, questions analysing the manner in which notions of masculinity reinforce the ideology of masculinism need to be asked.

Further to this, an inquisition into more subtle social nuances such as the role of sex, culture, religion and the manner in which gender stereotyping is advanced at the level of basic education must take place. We must become consciously aware that despite the monolithic acceptance of gender roles; the assertion of male dominance in the home, in business, in religion and in politics is in fact what facilitates and enables more brutal forms of power assertion such as gender violence, domestic abuse and rape. The statistics speak for themselves and serve only to heighten the need for dialogue and action.

Where do we locate masculinism in our society?

This said, this week has been a particularly agonising one insofar as the ruffling of my feminist tail feathers are concerned. I began thinking about where one can accurately locate the concept of masculinism in our society. What is its root cause? In what ways does it unwittingly extend into our daily lives? Can it be confined to one quarter of our diverse society, or is it pervasive enough to warrant the need for significant recognition, mobilization and dissent?

Consequently, if women are to collectively reject masculinist ideology, we need to first become adept at recognising its materialisation. Masculinism permeates every area of our social realm, from the pulpit to the pub. It is entrenched as culture, perpetuated as tradition, and it manifested as violence.

Masculinism and religion

Until recently, I had always been of the opinion that a higher education brought with it the ability to discern according to informed opinion, taking into account the danger of fundamentalism, blinding traditional belief systems and religious rhetoric.  That when as students of the sciences we are asked to provide a value judgment or position, we are taught to do so on the basis of logical and factual inference, not baseless assumption or blindly regurgitated belief. Although I understand that human beings may have an intrinsic need to hold belief systems, time and again I am struck by the baseless rhetoric churned out by intelligent, educated and experienced men whom prefer to discharge the lessons of their more learned years in favour of historically positioned ideas.

When we attend church sermons with titles like “Submitting to Biblical Leadership” advocating spousal submission and male head-manship on both domestic and spiritual platforms, our struggle assumes a different dynamic.  We are no longer dissenting against man, but against “the word of God and his ordained apostils”. As religious women we may become trapped in a closed community of puritan belief, where disagreement equates to sin and a lack of spiritual enlightenment. Yet time and again, on entering this debate with men of the church, I am struck by their complete inability to substantiate their positions with concrete scripture and the demonstration of an understanding of the historical position from which the dictate stems. It’s far easier for them to attend a Mighty Men conference and let Angus Buchen remind them what it means to be ‘A Man- a Mighty Man” and return to the nest ‘not sparing the rod’.

Masculinism and women

So the question then requires answering: What consequences exist for a woman who refuses to ‘submit’, to respect and obey her husband as do her children? In this context it then becomes far easier to understand how gender based violence motivated by patriarchal ideology pervades the realm of domestic life; that even where a man is himself non-violent, when he espouses these sorts of belief systems, he is complicit in the problem because he condones the notion of ‘obedience’ and his fellow man’s solution to the problem may differ from his own, especially where religion is teamed with a violent culture.

Conversely, the opposing concept of libertarianism is an area which also seems to require an active deconstruction. This tradition has long sponsored rigorous debate about what it means to live in an egalitarian society where civil rights are premised on notions of racial and sexual freedom. Despite the evolution of our society to its current juncture where our legislated human rights guarantee all human beings the freedom to be self governing entities in line with the law, there has been no substantive relational power shift insofar as sexual relationships are concerned.

Women are still by and large swapped between men as commodities, referred to as objects of conquest. I recently heard a man referring to his sexual partner as someone else’s ‘seconds’. This referral to a woman as someone else’s left-over’s is nothing new to those of us who pay attention to the language of masculinism, the language of male heroism. Whilst the term ‘slut’ is thrown around like confetti, there still exists no similar term accorded to masculine impropriety. This is no thoughtless emission, but rather stems from a wide acceptance that men by nature have an intrinsic and natural urge to spread their seed. As a result of this deeply ingrained belief system, a man’s sexual escapades are seldom questioned and even more rarely used as a basis on which to pass a character judgment.

On the contrary, women are privy to a far more stringent set of social mores. Whilst it is accepted that a woman is programmed to receive, her very femininity and righteousness is premised on the basis of her discretion when it comes to receiving.

Whilst it is hugely acceptable for a man to involve himself in frequent, emotionless sex, the very idea of a women whom posses the same ability to distance herself from the emotional in order to enjoy the physical is a concept rejected by the men occupying every quarter. After-all, what man wants to marry a woman with a more than few notches on her belt? Albeit, the dichotomy of sexual emancipation can be as damaging as it is freeing. As women, we are begging for a new kind of heroism amongst men, one that does not seek to continue using us and our social victories as esteem-boosting props and nameless, faceless sexual conquests which re-entrench established patterns of domination. Needless to say, it harms me on a personal level when I see beautiful, intelligent, honourable women reduced to pawns in the game of sexual one-upmanship amongst men.

Who bears the brunt of masculinism?

So beyond education, religion, libertarian tradition and sex, what role does race play in the equation? We are taught from the time we are children that racially based marginalization is tantamount to crime. At the same time we are taught to accept that gender stereotyping and the use of binary opposition to highlight the departures between the masculine and feminine is the natural order of things.

Specifically in the South African context, it can be easily assumed that an awareness of the danger of marginalisation in the racial sphere would permeate the realm of gender and yet it has not been done so to any significant degree. It seems that while it is now rightfully deplorable to socially position a human being as inferior on the basis of their skin colour, it is still widely acceptable to do so on the basis of a person’s gender. This problem becomes particularly more insidious and outrageous when coming from the quarters of ‘previously disenfranchised’ males who spent decades fighting for their characters to not be defined on the basis of physicality.

It is clear then that the masculinist ideology indeed permeates all societal realms, however fundamentally oppositional these are to one another. Whilst religious men will attack male sexual promiscuity, they will defend the concept of submission. Whilst sexually promiscuous men will defend the commodification of women for the purposes of pleasure, they will attack religious dictate.

Yet beyond all of these oppositional nuances, it is women who continue to be the subject. No, we do not want to emasculinate men or negate their many virtuous qualities. What we want is a new type of heroism and for the rest of the cavalry to be led home to a place where peace, justice and equality reign supreme. We want to live in homes, communities and societies where we are valued, treasured, loved and respected as human beings of equal worth. Unfortunately, if true equality is to ever prevail, it is up to us as a collective to recognise the ways in which masculinism is manifested, and hold to account both the idea’s that allow for its manifestation and the very men whom posses them.


5 thoughts on “The Making of a Man: Concepts of Masculinism”

  1. Emma, this is a great article. As a Christian, it makes me so sad that it is the church which so often permeates this injustice. Whereas my Faith is rooted in an understanding of equality of all and the quest to fight for this, for many Christians what needs to be fought is the concept of a strong female and equality. Even some of our close friends will not come to hear Candi preach, as they see this as sinful. I fear sometimes that the church will become the last bastion of inequality, which subverts the core of its message. But apart from identifying, standing up and personally working against this; what else can one do? I don’t have the answers, but remember please remember some of us who believe in God and Equality and will walk the road with you.


  2. Thank you, Jonathan. Its is so encouraging to hear that men of the church , such as yourself, are willing to actively refute these idea’s.


  3. I can’t believe this is written by a man. Thank you Jonathan for a moving and logical piece I understood every word and sentence; before this piece I did not understand what the concepts of masculinity are and what meaning they hold me in my life as a woman. Thank you again for a wonderful piece.


  4. I dont know if anyone is still monitoring this article but here it goes.

    Maybe I don’t posses the vocabulary or experiences on this topic to completely understand so a few issues need clarifying for me.

    “I am struck by the baseless rhetoric churned out by intelligent, educated and experienced men whom prefer to discharge the lessons of their more learned years in favour of historically positioned ideas.” This confused me slightly when viewed under the heading of ‘Masculinism and Religion’.
    Are you referring to all educated men, educated men of an older generation or just those educated religious men? Im holding back from the discussion in terms of educated men and religion as that is better reserved for another type of forum.
    If it’s a comment on all educated men, how does this change from those of a younger generation? I think we are of a similar age and when I think of my peer group at varsity they were very skeptical of this ‘historical’ thinking.

    “As women, we are begging for a new kind of heroism amongst men, one that does not seek to continue using us and our social victories as esteem-boosting props and nameless, faceless sexual conquests which re-entrench established patterns of domination.” This seems a very sweeping statement. It’s always convenient to argue the extremes when the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Do you really believe that the majority of men and their relationships are characterized with the above qualities? Maybe I’m wrong and I’m the one the living on the fringe?

    “Needless to say, it harms me on a personal level when I see beautiful, intelligent, honourable women reduced to pawns in the game of sexual one-upmanship amongst men.” I find this a very provocative assertion. What superpower do men posses so as to reduce intelligent women to pawns? Surely an intelligent woman takes part in the initiation of a relationship as an equal partner with both eyes open? Are all men just masters of deception and generally underhanded? Bad people exist and you will find they lack respect for all and not just women.

    You write with emotion and attack your subject from a very personal position. The danger is that the piece becomes about you and not the topic (the Mavericks piece was straying into such territory). I wish I had your writing skills and look forward to your future work. I think you have some important things to say.


    1. Hi Matthew, thanks for the comment. I wrote this article a long time ago but I’ll try to respond as best as possible. In terms of your first question about history, I can distinctintly remember what had motivated this comment: I was dating a guy at the time who had a social science degree, an LLB and was in the middle of his Masters of Law. He was by all extents and purposes highly educated and we had taken sociology classes together at varsity. He had recently attended an Angus Buchen Mighty Men conference and on return had confessed to me that he now believed that the failure of modern couples to conform to “biblical” lessons about gender roles eg submission by women to the authority of their husbands, was responsible for the breakdown of society. It had taken a mere weekend of historical religious rhetoric positioned in the favour of male interests (eg the resumption of control of the household) for him to completely disregard everything he had been taught about equality in modern university classes over 6 years.
      I am therefore referring to any educated men of our generation who possess ancient ideas relating to gender binaries that relegate women to the position of the lesser. This is most often motivated by religious persuasions hence the heading.

      Regarding the next two statements and questions, my answer would be to simply pay attention to the way (some) men/guys/bros talk about women in their absense over drinks at braais etc. My concern was the language of masculanism, not the act of hooking up – consentually – that I found problematic. Guys congratulate one another in the same way they talk about sports goals when someone hooks up with a hot girl, they often talk about girls being sluts, bicycles, sloppy seconds, tight, loose…..whatever other smut you’d like to fill in the gaps with. Those types of male discussions often remove the very real person from the frame of reference in a way that commodifies on the basis of conquest or defeat amongst men. There, the language of sexual conquest is often positioned from a “scoring, winning, losing” position…hitting a home run, etc which does reduce women to pawns in games of one upmanship.

      I definitely do not refer to all men, nor do I believe all men behave this way or speak like this…but where they do I think we should essentially start calling bullshit. Because those ideas about women feed into more violent forms of domination where they are left unchecked. Just look at SAs rape stats.

      Lastly, in terms of your comments about my writing verging on being personal ……the slogan for the second wave feminists was just that “the personal is political”. Gender, sex and the contested terrain of the female body will always be personal to me. There is no objectivity to be found in body politics.

      Most men I known personally do not fit into the above category, but societally, we have some major problems we need to talk about and while making it personal is provokative its also effective at facilitating discussion.

      Thanks for the comment and compliment.



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