I've often described myself as a little gender-queer. Though I very definitely identify as a woman, I'm a masculine one, for sure, and those masculine qualities are part of both my social "uniform"--boy's haircut, little to no make-up, serviceable shoes, jeans and wife-beaters, zero jewelry, trimmed fingernails--and my ability to relate to the male viewpoint on many issues. I have a preference for male company, not because I dislike women, but because they often behave in ways that lie outside my scope of internal experience. I frequently find myself quietly bemused among them, unable to find common ground.
And I can get away with this, enjoy the respect of my male and female coworkers and bosses, and I have never had any trouble finding heterosexual sex partners. The same cannot be said for men.
For men, gender is much more severely enforced. It is enforced by women, in their choice of sexual partners (though I know there is a small subset of women who are attracted to emo-boys and androgynes, and "fag-hags" have existed since long before Oscar Wilde). It is also rigidly and often brutally enforced by other men, as Bill Burr so beautifully and succinctly explores in this bit of stand-up.
Displays of weakness are either ridiculed by friends looking to hold their buddies to a standard of masculinity, or exploited by enemies looking to prove their own masculinity by kicking your ass. And the indoctrination as to what is manly starts in the cradle. I've read some material (though I don't have the studies to hand) that demonstrate that, although boy babies are more likely to be fussy, parents are more quick to console or attend to a girl baby. So men's socialization with respect to becoming physically self-sufficient, emotionally self-contained, and sturdy enough to "tough it out" on their own begins in infancy. Moreover, the socialization that begins through peer groups after infancy steers boys toward risk-taking behaviors, pain-tolerance, competition, projection of strength, and a serious reluctance to ask for help.
Over the last year, I developed an online friendship with a fellow Canadian who's been living and working abroad. We bonded over our bisexuality and our openness to new sexual experiences, and the emotional fall-out that can happen when what was billed as a casual, no-strings-attached encounter becomes complicated by unexpected emotion, manipulation or dishonesty. He's hoping that when he returns to Canada, we'll be able to hang out a little. According to him, I am the only person here to whom he feels comfortable speaking about his sexual adventures and experiences abroad, and he's told me more than once that his friends--"dudes" one and all--would NOT understand any of the things he's felt or done over the last few years. He lives in fear that they'll discover it, or sense it somehow, and punish him accordingly.
And while I find his fears saddening, I know they're justifiable. He told me once it would be easier if he were gay--that if that were the case, there would be a clear line that would distinguish what he is as an issue of sexual orientation rather than one of gender. We still live in a predominantly monosexual, either/or culture, especially with respect to men. While me dallying with the occasional woman does not make me any less of a woman, him experimenting with male/male sexuality--even in the context of three-way sex involving a woman--calls his status as a man into question. It may be acceptable for a man to go with men, but such activity renders him entirely unworthy of playing the man to a woman in the eyes of society.
It's the same way with displays of weakness and emotionality, needing help, being victims, crying, or anything else commonly associated as "female". As much as feminists and "new-age" women insist they'd like men to do more of these things, what they say they want from men, and what leads them to choose a sexual partner (whether long term or for a one-off) are often two completely different things. I can't even imagine the level of frustration involved in being repeatedly "friend-zoned" for embodying all the politically correct attributes that women have been saying, for the last god knows how long, that they desire in a man.
Which brings me to the "why" behind all of this--behind my freedom (both socially and sexually) to express my slightly bent gender orientation and not be penalized for it by being considered "not a woman", while men who do the same are considered "not men".
Most of the feminists I've come across have concluded that this penalization of "girlie men" originates in the relative positions of men and women, and societal views of "maleness" as intrinsically superior or preferable to "femaleness". That women have always been considered "less than" men.
But you know what? I actually believe it's the exact opposite.
I mean, let's look at society as an employer. The employer wants all its employees to be useful and valuable, otherwise, there's no point in paying them. And what does our employer need in order to perpetuate itself and grow? It needs strong backs to do the work of making things happen, and it needs people whose job it is to provide more strong backs to replace the ones that wear out or retire.
Women provide those strong backs by bearing children. This is their primary role, because it's an important one and who the hell else is going to do it? Because this role is so important, and because women's ability to effectively do this job requires safety, support and assistance, women are often pigeonholed into a position where those needs can be efficiently and consistently met. They are "warehoused" in safe little cubicles, and not permitted to engage in work that could put them at serious risk of not being able to perform their primary function. Instead, they are relegated to safe, relatively easy tasks in between their periodic larger, more important projects.
The attributes that are most valuable in a female employee are a willingness to take direction, an ability to make their individual needs known so they can be met, and the physical characteristics considered most helpful in performing that primary function many times over.
What role does that leave for men? It leaves them the job of being the strong backs. They do the heavy lifting, they tinker with the high voltage wiring that services the office complex, they go out into the dangerous world and return with provisions and office supplies.
While men are necessary as project contributors to assist in the primary function of the female employees, when it comes to this particular contribution, one man can do the work of many, if need be. Since there are always going to be men employed by the company, those men vary in their capacity to be useful to the company, and men pass on their attributes to the new strong backs they help to provide, it is in the company's best interest that only the most valuable men perform this particular function. It is of no value to the company if a man who is a slacker or otherwise unfit is allowed to contribute in this way, since the new backs he helps provide will not be as strong as others. And it is in the women's best interest, to be selective in choosing their project partners, since women's value to the company improves if the new strong backs they provide are exceptionally strong.
Can women fill those primary "male" jobs? Of course they can. And they have, at points all through history, where and when it's been necessary. While performing these tasks may put them at risk (which is to be avoided, if possible), and often puts a double burden on them in that they may be expected to do the work of two people, it's entirely possible for them to do it and still be of value to the company.
A woman can provide more strong backs while doing some of the heavy lifting and some of the more risky jobs, when that is required. And a woman can also fill her primary female job just by lying around doing not much at all. Even if she does next to nothing else, if she is performing, or potentially can perform, that function for her employer, she has value. She likely won't be paid that much if she's not being productive in other ways, but she's still entitled to a salary if she does her primary duty, or a retainer if she has the potential to do so. If she can't perform this primary duty, there are other tasks she can perform that have value, either in the male department or in the female one, and there's still the off chance of her managing to provide at least one future strong back. That primary function is SO important, that the company has policies in place to provide pensions for its female hirees, even if they've been unproductive in any way.
Can a man fill that single, primarily "female" job? Well, no. No he can't. Like not at all. His entire value to the company is in his ability to perform the more difficult, risky, strenuous jobs so that women can enjoy light duty while they contribute in more important ways. To perform these jobs, he requires certain attributes--physical strength, sanguinity in the face of danger, a willingness to take risks, a sense of putting others before himself, and a drive to perform. The more of these attributes he has, the more valuable he is to the company. The fewer he has, the more likely he is to get fired. He won't be placed on retainer or earn a pension if it looks like the company can't use him for anything, because if the company does that, he'll only be a burden on their payroll.
Men have to earn their value to the company. They can't earn their value through being good at secondary female tasks--there are tons of females in the company, and they can perform those secondary tasks while also performing their primary one. He's not going to get hired to do half a job, and he's not qualified to do the entire thing. The only role he can fill, while retaining enough individual value to the company to remain on the payroll, is the male role.
So in my opinion, men suffer more strict enforcement of their gender roles not because they are considered more valuable than, or preferable to, women, or because women are considered less than men. It is because women are and always have been more valuable, on an individual and inherent basis, to the company than men are. A woman retained that inherent value no matter how useful she was, because women as a group were considered so valuable that it was in the company's interest to keep the entire group on the payroll. A woman who could step outside her assigned duties and perform other ones when need be--that is, a woman who sometimes behaved like a man--was, to a point, more valuable to the company for her ability to do so. She was Woman Plus. She could do her job that only she could do, and then some. Conversely, she was Man Plus. She could do a man's job, and then some. She can be the strong back and the provider of strong backs, the most versatile and valuable employee there is.
Men, on the other hand, had to provide value in order to maintain their employment. Their value to the company lay in performing specific tasks so that females wouldn't have to, and in being valued project contributors who had to earn their entitlement to work with females in this way. Men who did not act "like men" were Less Than Men. Likewise, they were Less Than Women. They were incapable of doing a complete job either way, so there was no added value in them demonstrating female characteristics without having a womb to go along with it.
And at that point, the company, for the sake of its own solvency, would either vigorously "retrain" them, or give them their pink slips. It is not that maleness is "better than" femaleness. It is that maleness has always been extremely limited in its useful and productive permutations, while femaleness is simply less so. The essential feminine can only be added to and gain value, while the essential masculine can only be subtracted from and lose it.
Many women have been able to completely abandon their essential feminine--their primary function--and still retain status as whole human beings with value to society, but men simply cannot do the same. When they abandon masculinity, they throw away all that makes their lives worthwhile to anyone but themselves.
Is it possible to change this? Perhaps. The same social, biological and economic progress that has allowed women to set aside their essential feminine and still retain some value to our evolving society should certainly work the same way for men. There are more roles available to everyone--meaningful ones--now that the old "primary" roles are becoming less important to the "corporation", and men are a part of that "everyone". But as long as women are not willing to fully embody these new roles, they're going to want to hold men to their old ones. And the dynamic, all through history, has been about men putting women--their safety, provision and comfort--before themselves. Because of this, the ride to true liberation for men from their gender roles is gonna be a hell of a lot more bumpy than the one for women has been.