What Makes a Man – Rebecca Walker

Posted by EZ

Rebecca Walker is one of our favorite feminist thinkers and questioners.  Reading her blog I came across an interview with The New York Times in which Rebecca comments on her book, What Makes a Man (2004). She says, “For the last 50 years, women have been intensely re-envisioning femininity and what it means to be a woman. I think that same scrutiny should be applied to men…”  and, “I think it’s a cop-out to say that boys are biologically determined to be aggressors. Playing sports should not be the mandatory requirement for masculinity…”

I think this interview is an interesting response to my previous post, Is a book on feminism all it takes?”

(Click here to read the interview with Rebecca Walker)

Question: What is my role in gender construction, deconstruction, and re-construction; in gender oppression, suppression; gender expectation; gender assumption; gender-based violence; gender liberation?

What do you think?

Usually, I can only find more questions to these questions.  I often end up questioning why these questions even matter; why is this important?   And, when these questions are engaged in conversation–when a community collectively questions gender–answers to “why does this even matter?” reveal themselves.  I can confidently say that I always leave dialogues about gender reminded as to why they are important.  Can we question together?

I have not yet read What Makes a Man, so I cannot yet comment on the book’s content.  I offer Rebecca’s words as a platform for discussion.  I can initially say that I am skeptical of the title…Is it implying that “what makes a man” can actually be defined, classified?  Why is this attempt potentially harmful?  My thoughts crawl into underground dens and shoot fireworks into cloudy night skies…

Read the interview and let’s talk!

………. rebecca_walker1 ….. ….. photo-31


3 thoughts on “What Makes a Man – Rebecca Walker

  1. Since God created men (and women) we should probably be asking him. hehe. But seriously, yeah. The main thing is being a good human, aspiring to live up to our potential or as close as we can get to it. I like that men have different thought patterns then women, it makes life interesting. But one isn’t better than the other, we’re meant to complicate each other.

  2. Thanks for the post EZ. A really interesting interview…

    Here are my thoughts… I don’t speak for all men of course, but in trying to speak from myself as a man this is what comes up for me.

    First, from the interview with Rebecca Walker… The interviewer said in response to Rebecca having taken her son out of Little League, “But the point of sports is to help boys channel their innate aggression into something more constructive than punching each other out.” My first thought is, “Is this interviewer for real! INNATE?!” I thought that it sounded really trite. Then I got to thinking about what I really feel inside me. I have aggression but I’m not sure that I would call it anymore innate than my compassion. I feel that both aggression and compassion are somewhere in between innate and cultivated potential. I know how to make myself more aggressive, I know how to feel and act out of compassion too. I don’t however think that men are somehow more aggressive than women. I think the notion is ridiculous. I also don’t think that this can ever be found out… in fact I’ve already spent too much time rambling about it. It is however good fodder for thought for each person about her/himself.

    Rebecca said during the interview, “I am contributing to the work of many men who have been raising these issues.” This I find much more interesting and rich. Though she doesn’t say “I am contributing AS A MAN to the work of many men,” I wonder how well she can contribute. This also comes back to a question for myself, one that I always am grappling with. Can I as a man contribute to and help develop feminist thinking. For me being a man or a woman comes second in feminism. Feminism for me is a humanism. Feminism is a rich and powerful angle into the human conditions of suffering, joy, pain, power, identity, disempowerment, relationship… Sometimes it feels even too powerful for me… it’s a practice that hurts a lot. It’s a process of deconstruction and reconstruction. It’s a fire in which to burn myself up. And, I feel that most of the time I come away burnt, deconstructed, but not reconstructed, and usually not empowered. But I do think a time will come when I can handle it better. When I can be more humble and listen more.

    But… back to Rebecca’s comment. Basically what I’m grappling with is precisely what you posed EZ, “Question: What is my role in gender construction, deconstruction, and re-construction; in gender oppression, suppression; gender expectation; gender assumption; gender-based violence; gender liberation?” For myself I have to also ask, “what CAN my role be?”

    Rebecca said, “The feminist movement came into being because women were fundamentally in pain and unable to develop to their full potential. And men are similarly hampered by this masculine ideal, in which they are expected to repress their emotions.”

    I don’t know if I agree with Rebecca on this point. Were women UNABLE to develop to their full potential? Or, was feminism part of the development of their full potential? In this comment instead of commenting on the sometimes subtle and sometimes acute violent oppression women have and still do undergo at the hands of men she spoke of it as an issue of women developing into their full potential. These of course are not mutually exclusive matters. One needn’t negate the other. But I didn’t find her choice of words interesting. It reminded me what Gandhi said, “The British don’t keep us, we keep them.” To be honest this is always on my mind. In this Gandhi suggested hat it was the Indians who kept themselves oppressed by not realizing swaraj, or self-rule and thus casting off the British Raj.

    Can this be applied to other areas of oppression and power and empowerment?

    I don’t know. It’s a big question for me. It rears its face for me in a particularly strong way when I consider gender oppression. Who keeps who?


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