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Peter Higgin's Application of Intersectionality to Masculinity

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Peter Higgins offers ways in which men can be just as oppressed as women in Three Hypotheses for Explaining the So-Called Oppression of Men. By doing so, Higgins’ goal is to explain how the expectations imposed on men being directly linked to their masculinity is not a form of oppression by offering three hypotheses. In the first part of this paper, I will explain Higgins’ noncompliance penalty hypothesis, and why I find it to be important. In the second part of this paper, I will discuss the intersectionality hypothesis, and why I find it to be insightful. Lastly, in the third part of this paper, I will discuss the homophobic contempt hypothesis, and why I find it to be interesting. Given this, Higgins explains how men are oppressed, and the harms or limitations that masculinity imposes on men by analyzing the noncompliance penalties hypothesis, the intersectionality hypothesis, and the homophobic contempt hypothesis.

Higgins provides the noncompliance penalties hypothesis to further discuss the oppression men experience. It is important to note that Higgins describes oppression as a severe and special form of injustice (Higgins 8). As for this hypothesis, Higgins states that with noncompliance penalties, violating one’s masculinity is sufficient grounds for necessitating harm to someone. Further, the harms and limitations masculinity impose on men is a proof of oppression against women, and other social groups (17). More specifically, men being oppressed is equivalent to saying that men fail to express their masculinity either intentionally or unintentionally. In response to this, Higgins presents the idea of biologism to support how women are also oppressed. More specially, biologism argues that women face more systematic social inequalities than men do due their natural/biological differences (7). I find Higgins’ use of biologism to be an important contribution to this hypothesis, because biological differences are not something women or men have control over and should therefore be an equal oppression both men and women experience. Further, people can choose how much oppression they welcome into their life depending on how much they express want to express their femininity or masculinity. Given this, Higgins believes that one’s oppression due to their own sex should not be considered as a special form of injustice. In response to this, I believe that there are different levels to injustice and oppression that can be considered special, and I think instead of asserting oppression with a single social group, we should instead consider it at an individualistic level.

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Higgins also uses the intersectionality hypothesis to help explain how men are oppressed. This hypothesis states that violating one’s masculinity is sufficient grounds to impose harm because one’s social location. The harms and limitations experienced by some men are a prime example of oppression being experienced from other social groups such as people of colour, poor or working class, or even sexual minorities (17). It is also important to note how Higgins uses the term intersectionality, in which it is described as ways in which oppression is experienced by members associated to a certain social group (12). For example, in cases of sexism, there is more pressure put on males than females to join the military, and in cases of racism, the oppression and racialization of black women is not equivalent to the oppression and racialization of black men. All things considered, the above examples use the intersections of one’s race, class, and sex to determine how one experiences oppression. This is where Higgins generates the term masculism, in which it is described as simply men being oppressed as men. I find this term to be quite insightful, because Higgins provides ways in which men don’t fit into just one social group, due to the use of intersectionality and the prevalence of masculism. Given this, Higgins uses intersectionality to allow us to see how men are subdivided and made up of different races, class, socio-economic status’, in which some men are privileged, and some men are oppressed. For instance, in society, we have the upper-class, white, elite men, such as politicians, using the money generated from the hard work and labour of poor/lower-class, people of colour, who are underprivileged. Therefore, Higgins uses intersectionality quite insightfully, because not only is the term masculism called into question, but intersectionality shows how not all men are oppressed.

Lastly, Higgins provides the homophobic contempt hypothesis. This hypothesis states that the harms and limitations men impose on other men is the evidence of oppression on another group, specifically sexual minorities (17). What I find quite interesting about this hypothesis is that empirical research shows a lack of evidence explaining that gay men are more oppressed than lesbian women, and therefore there is lack of evidence to prove any one individual is actually oppressed or harmed (15). It’s also quite interesting to see how the oppression of gay men is not an oppression of men in general, seeing as there are subdivisions between men specifically depending on their sexual preference. Higgins also goes back to the idea that men face equal amounts of oppression as women do seeing as men have the choice to conform or resist masculine norms being put upon them (6). Likewise, men are always rewarded for choosing their masculine side, but for women there is no reward for choosing a feminine side, seeing as it’s always presumed. This is where Higgins develops the idea of masculine expectations, in which masculinity imposes barriers on men, and these barriers can either be a privilege or a limitation that could harm one. With the homophobic contempt hypothesis, Higgins presents both pros and cons of how homosexuality can generate both privilege and oppression for some, and how social inequalities can develop.

In conclusion, the harms and limitations generated from the oppression of men either directly or indirectly creates oppression for another social group whether this be from aspects of racism, sexism, socio-economic status or other forms of oppression due to one’s social location, and this is explained through Higgins hypotheses on noncompliance penalties, intersectionality, and homophobic contempt.

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