I discovered sociology in my final year of university. It was too late to actually study it, since I was nearly finished my journalism degree, but that didn’t stop me from reading the hell out of Sociological Images. It was there I discovered the term “androcentrism”.
Androcentrism is one of those things I never really noticed, because I thought it was normal. Then, when I became aware of it, I saw how truly pervasive it is.
The term androcentrism (male-centredness) was originally used in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Our Androcentric Culture, and popularised by Sandra Lipsitz Bem in her The Lenses of Gender: Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality. It initially described the fact that the male point of view is considered neutral, whereas the female point of view is an exception. This is similar to the process of othering, where certain attributes are considered normal, and the rest are aberrations. This applies to not just masculinity, but also whiteness, heterosexuality, able-bodiedness, etc.
However, androcentrism as I learned the term had a different meaning. According to this post on SocImages, androcentrism is “a new kind of sexism, one that replaces the favoring of men over women with the favoring of masculinity over femininity.”
This doesn’t really seem like an important distinction, but it is. Androcentrism is the reason boys can’t wear skirts, but girls can wear jeans. Androcentrism is the reason boys can’t play with dolls, but girls can play with cars. And most importantly, androcentrism is the reason “woman” is an insult, and “man” is a compliment.
If someone says “You’ve got balls”, that is generally considered a compliment, meaning you are confident and fearless. Similarly, if you’re told to “man up”, it means to toughen up, and dive headlong into a difficult situation.
Conversely, if someone says someone has a vagina (in a non-factual situation), it’s usually in a disparaging way. No one says “Wow, look how you handled that situation. You sure have a vagina.” No one says “Come on, you can do it. Woman up.” Instead we get “Don’t be such a woman”, as a way to mock someone for being cowardly or soft.
Men are often made to dress like women in some humiliating rite of passage, such as a bachelor’s party, or initiation. Movies where men disguise themselves as women are comedies (Sorority Boys, White Chicks, Some Like It Hot) and the characters are disempowered by their newfound femininity. But often women disguised as men do so to become empowered (Mulan, Pope Joan, Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King).
By that logic, to be a woman is degrading, but to be a man is aspirational.
Look at the flack Rachel Zoe encountered for letting her son’s curls go wild, thus making him “too girly”. Does letting a boy have long curly hair negatively impact his life? Does it impact him in a way that’s not linked to our society’s negative perception of femininity? As a society, we have to investigate exactly why a little boy’s curls make us so uncomfortable.
Similarly, comedian Eddie Izzard has had to field a multitude of questions about his identity as a transvestite. He isn’t free to just be himself without being extensively questioned.
In the process of deriding women and femininity, I believe this particular patriarchal remnant severely limits men as well. Besides the superficial, that men are judged negatively for wearing skirts or high heels, it also robs men of the opportunity to be vulnerable. There is much pressure on men to be tough, and strong, and powerful all the time. That sounds exhausting.
However, on the bright side, I believe things are changing. It’s not uncommon for men in certain subcultures to grow their hair long, wear nail polish or even wear eyeliner. Stay-at-home dads are becoming more visible (though some are still derided).
Maybe, just maybe, someday we’ll find ourselves in a society where we can all do what makes us happy (as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone) without fear of being judged.
– This is another post I did for my rhetorical composing course.