The early 1990s was a heyday of curiosity about masculinity and what makes males tick – and no one was more intrigued than the men themselves, at least the minority trying gently to nudge aside their macho chauvinist alter ego to find the egalitarian him inside.
In the autumn of 1991, for instance, Achilles Heel, “the radical men’s magazine”, asked: “Male strippers, who’s teasing who?”. There was also a piece entitled “Bettering batterers?” on counselling for violent men and a meditation on the “The Wild Man: gospel or gobshite?” (Achilles Heel published by the Changing Men Publishing Collective had a northern bluntness; new man in a flat cap). The wild man, you might remember, was the creation of Robert Bly. In the book Iron John, he advocated that men should take to the woods, bang drums, sweat and rediscover their primitive masculinity. It featured in the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year.
An alleged male identity crisis was explored in a stream of books such as The End of Manhood by John Stoltenberg, Adam Jukes’s Why Men Hate Women and Lynne Segal’s Slow Motion, Changing Masculinities, Changing Men. All asked what it means to be a man in a time of great change for women. (Instead of one burden they were taking on two – home and paid work). In the mid 1990s, Richard Olivier, son of Laurence, declared: “We can’t see where we need to be until we’ve acknowledged where we are – in the middle of a huge cultural shift.” Michael Roper and John Tosh decided: “Masculinity is something that is never fully possessed but must be perpetually achieved, asserted and renegotiated.” And then, silence fell.
I am not actually being (entirely) sarcastic here; one small patch of the earth has been found where men are not getting paid as much as women for equivalent work, and an employment tribunal will hopefully fix that, so equality and justice will be served.
Radical feminists are not actually against equality, we just recognise it as a limited concept that doesn’t cover most of the causes of women’s oppression, and that liberation is a far more useful focus for radical feminist analysis and activity.
For example, we will have achieved equality when just as many men have eating disorders as women, but nobody will have been liberated from body-tyranny.
Also the fact that women can’t be equal with men in any meaningful way when women are not free from male violence. We have equality on paper, and sometimes that results in justice, but liberation is bigger than that.