Feminist, trans and lesbian activist, Daisy Letourneur writes about masculinities on the blog “la Mecxpliqueuse”, which she created in 2017. In her book We are not born man. Short feminist treatise on masculinitieswhich has just been published by Éditions la Découverte, it documents the behavior of men and the systemic relationships they have with women, but also with each other and with the world around them.
What triggered your desire to dissect masculinities?
Initially, my blog was called “the Mecxplicator”, since I am a trans woman and had not yet started my transition. The idea was to explain feminism to other men, since it was a subject to which I was sensitive and that I had noticed that people listened to me more on this subject than if I had been a woman. Very quickly, this blog had a small success which reflected a big demand, especially at the time of #MeToo, for words from “deconstructed” men who could give advice to others to be compatible with the so-called “new feminist order”. “. Many men find a certain prestige in being seen as feminists, I felt uncomfortable in this role.
Did you become a woman for “political” reasons, to prove the sincerity of your feminist commitment?
Obviously, becoming a woman is a decision motivated by very intimate reasons. But I am also a very politicized person, so my transition is also a political act. It is true that I found a form of personal coherence by becoming a woman. I often say in a somewhat provocative way that I went as far as possible in misandre feminism by deleting a guy. This man was me and no one was hurt in this story.
The title of your book suggests the idea that masculinity is not only biological, what is it?
Masculinity is above all a social construction, very little determined by anatomy or biology. When you meet a person in the street, you don’t see their genitals and even less their chromosomes and their level of testosterone or estrogen. What we notice are the secondary sexual signs such as the beard or build, but above all the way a person is dressed, their gait and the way they stand or behave. This is what leads us to mentally classify people according to the criterion “man” or “woman”. We can see that a man generally moves more confidently, sits with his legs apart… Especially when they are in a group, men make more noise in the public space, no doubt because they have the feeling that belongs to them. None of these attitudes are “natural”. No more than hugging your knees or crossing your legs for women.
Are these gender norms instilled in children from an early age?
Yes, implicitly. You can see it in cartoons. This is the case in Wall-E, by Walt Disney. This is a story of robots falling in love. One, cubic, all-terrain, therefore often smeared with mud, is considered to be the boy. The other, curvaceous and flying gracefully through the air, is referred to as a girl. Young children are conditioned by these arbitrary representations of highly “coded” heterosexual love. The gendered education of children is not without consequences. While little boys are instructed to “not cry like a girl” and inhibit their emotional intelligence, adult men are very often prone to alexithymia, i.e. the inability to identify and express their emotions. The only socially permitted to them is anger. More than girls, little boys are also trained to be more competitive, which pushes them, when they become adults, to keep this type of relationship with each other, their friendship being based on the practice of a sport or video games for example. . They are thus cut off from the sweetness that makes the beauty of human relationships.
You also point to the fact that the boys socialize almost exclusively with each other…
Yes, even though they go to mixed schools, the boys grow up together. This homosociality is in tension with the rejection of homosexuality. For them, it is a question of escaping the inferiorization that identification with the feminine gender would constitute. We can thus observe groups of men who spend their time making homophobic jokes. In fact, they are prisoners of a paradoxical injunction: they must love men, but above all not desire them. In his work alpha male, the anthropologist specializing in gender issues Mélanie Gourarier shows that one of the motivations of men to seduce a woman is often to prove their power to other men and thus win stripes in their eyes. These communities of men, the “artists of seduction”, compete with each other to obtain as many women’s phone numbers as possible at a party. They exchange advice to capture their prey. Their flirting techniques are extremely misogynistic, assuming that women are attracted to being ignored or devalued. What counts for these men is therefore the number of conquests and in no case the fact of living a fulfilling relationship with a person of the opposite sex.
Men mostly pair up with younger women, is it to compensate for their legendary lack of maturity?
In the book, I indeed evoke the supposed immaturity of men, who very often do not know how to prepare a meal or use a washing machine at the age when women already do. Of course, this reluctance to take responsibility for domestic chores does not depend on biological factors but on the cultural bath in which boys have lived from an early age. What is assimilated to immaturity also leads them to put themselves in danger more often than women. They smoke and drink more, use more drugs, take more risks and therefore have more accidents. All of these factors reduce their life expectancy. Statistically, a man is a bit older than his wife when they get married. He was able to take advantage of an average of three years longer than his companion to have a life without constraint and to advance in his professional career, which gives him an economic advantage over her. We know that the birth of children is professionally penalizing for her, this further reinforces the income gap between the two. Finally, in general, the man dies before the woman. When she was younger, she still had the strength to take care of him in his last moments… before languishing alone in a retirement home.
Does claiming one’s misogyny or anti-feminism remain acceptable today for a large number of men?
One only has to observe the way in which far-right figures like Zemmour or Soral express themselves to be convinced that there is not really any self-censorship regarding the most aggressive masculinism. But we have also seen the appearance on social networks of other misogynistic currents such as that of incels, involuntary celibates convinced that it is because of feminism that they cannot have access to women, who now have the freedom to choose their guys. It might make you smile if in the United States mass killings had not been perpetrated by this kind of individuals. I also mention in my book the associations for the rights of fathers, which represent very few people but nevertheless have the ear of the ministries. The representatives of these associations present themselves as fathers who simply want to take care of their children as much as mothers and would be discriminated against by a justice system that entrusts childcare to women as a matter of priority. However, if children are most often entrusted to women, it is because, in almost all judgments, both parents agree that the children should live with their mother. Therefore, fathers do not experience any structural discrimination. What these associations try to conceal is that, in many cases, their members are suspected of violence against their ex-spouse and/or use the children to put pressure on her.
However, there are men who call themselves feminists…
There are men who actually claim to be “deconstructed”. But, while doing research, I discovered that the “toxic masculinity” that these men want to get rid of refers to the mythopoietic current, which notably offers men immersive courses in nature in order to get rid of their aggressiveness and to have more peaceful relations with women. In reality, these individual approaches, which do not approach domination in a political and systemic way, have nothing feminist about them. What makes individuals toxic is the system as it is. There is a lot of emphasis at the moment on the masculinist character of Putin, which is a reality, but when women come to power, as was the case for Hillary Clinton or Margaret Thatcher, they do not hesitate to provoke wars either. . It is therefore the system that must be destroyed.
What are the levers to change things?
We often talk about the need to educate children differently. It is important but it is not enough. We must shake up the material conditions of domination that keep women in a situation of economic weakness. The opening of nurseries, the maintenance of public services are very important feminist issues. Similarly, the recent reform of unemployment insurance, that to come of pensions are not necessarily perceived as anti-feminist, but in reality these policies have a negative impact on the most precarious and a fortiori on women. It will be women, particularly in single-parent families, who will be disproportionately penalized by these measures. Moreover, in my opinion, it is time to create solidarity between women. If we consider the feminist struggle as a class struggle, joining forces becomes essential.
Have these gendered representations always existed?
Humanity has long been divided into two genders, but it is unclear exactly what is the origin of male dominance. One of the oldest theories on the subject is that of Friedrich Engels, who evokes an original matriarchy before men took power. This is now challenged by historians and anthropologists. The theory that seems to me the most interesting is the materialist feminist one, which indicates that the biological categories are not those that pre-existed male domination, but that they have been instrumentalized and rigidified by male domination as is the case for the proletarian and bourgeois categories in Marxist theory. Indeed, there will always be people who will have a penis and others will not, people who will give birth and others will not. But does this justify dividing humanity in two according to these criteria? Nothing is less sure. One could just as well imagine a society where differentiation is based on the criterion of size, for example. There would be toilets for children and others for adults. Professions reserved primarily for each other, etc. This may seem absurd to us, but isn’t differentiation on the basis of sex just as absurd?
Patriarchy is therefore an invention intended to justify the domination, especially economic, of women?
It is the “system of exploitation”, similar to that which has allowed, throughout history, to assign certain populations to criteria of inferiority because of their supposed “race” in order to reduce them to slavery. . Moreover, there are strong reactionary pushes against any idea of procreation ex utero, against the fact that a trans man can carry a child or even that same-sex couples can have access to PMA. Those who say they fear the end of a civilization actually fear the possibility of escaping the traditional family model and the ancestral system of domination that it perpetuates.