This is a feature I wrote and which was selected for publication for the series ‘Behind the Mask of Masculinity’ hosted by Gender Across Borders at

The orthodoxy of masculinity was encapsulated by Thomas Hobbes, the British philosopher, who wrote of it in his famous political book called ‘Leviathan’. Within his work, he coined the phrase the ‘natural state of man’. According to Hobbes the natural state of man is one of war and strife. By this he means that man is naturally competitive and gives in to a primeval instinct to conquer and rule in a manner that is devoid of consideration for others. Domination, aggression and bullying are the words that come to my mind in interpreting the ‘natural state of man’.

It may seem far too general to define masculinity in these terms because we all know men who don’t fit description. Yet, it describes the contemporary world of boardroom politics, dictatorships and autocratic states which are dominated by men. Viewed in this pervasive context masculinity comes across as being a negative trait.

Hobbes himself alludes to this negativity in his mitigating theory against the ‘natural state of man.’ He says that a ‘covenant’ needs to be established to prevent against man becoming solitary, poor and brutish. The covenant must stop man from falling back into his natural state. Hobbes views this as a social contract, with its central tenet designed to ensure that man takes into consideration the good of others. Hobbes says that the Covenant stops the ‘war of every man against every man’. This is an overt call, as I see it, to withdraw from the natural state.This then begs the question as to whether masculinity has evolved to become a social construction? In present day masculinity has retained the age old trait of physicality but has picked up an emotional dimension too. A man with muscles and a flat board stomach is a visual display of masculinity. A man who writes poetry and cries openly over sad films is seen as being in touch with his feminine side but will be viewed by many as still being masculine. A man who never cries and is always in charge of himself is also seen as being masculine. James Bond as played by Daniel Craig, the ultimate show of masculinity, came close to crying when his beloved drowned herself.

With so many variations on masculinity I think it is logical to assume that it has, indeed, become a subjective social construction. Dictators, ruthless male CEOs and despots like the African rulers aren’t viewed as being masculine anymore. What is missing with these men is an ability to distribute consideration for others – the Hobbes ‘Covenant’.

My theory is that the ‘natural state of man’ has evolved to become more socially acceptable and that those who refuse to buy in to the ‘Covenant’ are the miscreants of our world. The global social ills of rape, wars, drug and alcohol abuse, sport hooliganism, child abuse and domestic violence are mainly perpetrated by men. The fight back against this has come from feminism, the gay movement and the considerations of social justice which demand a need to think of others.

The ‘natural state of man’ is the number one enemy of women. Yet, many women aid and abet this state for example wives of dictators and women who enjoy the wealth created by their ruthless businessman husbands. It may have been an ideology that created a male ideal of masculinity but now it is reviled and rightly so.

Any form of masculinity that rejects women in its power structures is facing a backlash. We see this with the demonstrations in the Arab world where women are leading the way. The women who continue to support the traditional state are vilified. This modern narrative is rewriting the participatory principles of masculinity- ‘if you are not with us women we don’t want you’. Only with a greater amount of cohesion between the genders can a truly acceptable philosophy of masculinity be unmasked.

About the author

Jane Chelliah lives in London, UK where she works for the public sector as a senior policy manager. She read law and philosophy, which serve her on the two national committees she sits on and an Age Diversity Group which she chairs. Her interests include gender politics, social justice issues and blogging on motherhood and feminist issues.

The title is not a question on whether he is guilty of the crimes which he has been charged with. The presumption of innocent until proven guilty and all that. Rather, the title heading is a question on whether DSK is guilty of the age old crime of seeing his gender as justification enough to prey on women.

In other words I am talking about the conducive culture of alpha maleness which contains, as an important tenet, the ‘right’ to let loose one’s sexual predilection towards the weaker sex because , allegedly, men just cannot control themselves. My theory is, sadly, greatly substantiated by the plethora of words that have been written in support of DSK. Not many have spared a thought for the maid, the victim in all this.

Readers, it is still a man’s world and the politics of rape still weigh heavily against the female victim. The process of justice may have moved away from asking rape victims what they were wearing that night but the attitudes of some factions of society (witness the French women who have come out in support of DSK) stand against the victim. In fact, the whole of the woman’s movement has been caught up in the self-denying net of DSK’s supporters. Blame has been thrown at the IMF itself for funding feminism which in turn, apparently, breeds promiscuity.

DSK is French and the French have famously always held themselves up as models of propiety on preserving privacy, especially the privacy of the ruling elite. Note, this notion of privacy is solely attached to the sexual exploits of their rulers and manifests itself by omission – not being reported about in the media. There is another word for this type of selective privacy and it is called silence. Silence is a powerful and dangerous weapon when used to cover up immoral or illegal activity. ‘Silence’ is what is said by perpetrators to the children they are abusing so that the abuser can get away with his/her actions. You see, silence is a blanket of oppression which covers a multitude of sins.

The French establishment has wrongly maintained a silence over DSK’s actions for many years. When the journalist Tristane Banon accused DSK of attacking her she was ignored. She said, ‘We fought on the ground…I kicked him, he opened my bra, tried to open my jeans.’ When she appeared on a talk show the host, Thierry Ardisson, made a reference to 14 other women who had suffered similarly at DSK’s hands. It is reported that even President Nicolas Sarkozy had spoken of DSK’s predatory nature. Yet, the culture of complacency continued at the expense of female safety.

The New York chambermaid victim whose identity we do not know has been accused of baiting DSK. The conspiracy theorists speak of this women being a ‘honey trap’. There are holes in this theory. Honeytraps involve two consenting adults with one having an ulterior motive of espionage. The process of Honeytrapping does not involve violence and illegal wrongdoing as has been alleged against DSK nor a criminal trial that will attract global attention. Honeytrappers are willing women and slip away quietly with whatever evidence they have acquired.

Another conspiracy theory questions whether DSK would have thrown away his career for a moment of sexual gratification. Well, because of the culture which tolerated his behaviour and which, perhaps, even egged him on DSK would not have had cause to think that his behaviour would result in his resignation from the IMF. The French notion of ‘cherchez la femme’ reprimands the woman for complaining.

The victim has also been tarred with the brush which, rightly, tars women who ‘kiss and tell’ for money. The latter brigade are responsible for some of the anti-women tirade which accompanies serious crimes committed against women. Sexual victims of rich, famous and powerful men must not be confused with women who sleep willingly with rich, famous and powerful men for monetary gain. The former need protecting. The latter do not unless they are under age.

For as long as privacy is used as a shield, for as long as women remain the underdog and for as long as bad male behaviour is tolerated purely for gender purposes then the rape debate will weigh against the victim in cases such as this.

The scale of patriarchal ideological domination never fails to astound me but this reached new heights when I read about a communique delivered by the Punjab State Commission for Women, India, advising newly married women on their code of conduct. Ms Gurdev Kaur Sangha, the Commissioner, said that new wives ‘should focus on their domestic life instead of having long conversations on mobile phones’.

We now have discovered the Holy Grail of Marriage thanks to Ms Sangha, the answer that we have all been waiting for to the question of ‘what makes for a happy marriage?’. Apparently the Commission discovered that 40% of women who sought divorce did so on the grounds that their husbands and in-laws did not like them spending time talking on the mobile phone. The husbands were suspicious of whom their wives were talking to and concluded that the listener on the other end was an ex-boyfriend. Ms Sangha has defended her advice on the grounds that it was designed to avoid suspicion arising between new couples as they adjusted to their new life together. Sangha said that a large number of complaints from wives who had suffered domestic violence, sexual abuse and harassment were due to the large amounts of time they had spent on their mobile phones.

In fact, evidence had shown that most new brides were talking to their mothers and discussing the difficulties of married life (any wonder!). The Commissioner, not to be outdone, has told women to stop complaining and to stop talking to their respective mothers and concentrate more on the family they are in. The report further adds that newly wed brides ought to ‘make small adjustments and quit long conversations for at least two years to win over the husband and the family’.

Indian women have long suffered from gender oppression which permeates all levels of the Indian social structure. The middle class are just as guilty of the working classes of demanding subordination from daughters and daughter-in-laws alike. What makes this communique shocking are the following two reasons:
1. An official body set up to look after the social interests of women has taken the side of the unjust and unreasonable patriarchal attitudes of the society it operates in rather than attempting to change attitudes; and
2. The Commission believes that domestic violence, sexual abuse and harrassment are actually the fault of the women concerned. There’s no recognition of the severity of these offences nor that these are criminal offences. Instead, the Commission views these offences as moral acts and bestows the husbands with an implied authority to carry on doing these things whenever a wife is seen as behaving out of turn.

Amnesty International reports that more than 7,000 women in India will be murdered by their in-laws and families. Rape is the fastest growing crime in India against women. Are mobile phones to blame for all this too?

I am a Motherhood Activist and spoke at an international conference (see previous blog) about the subjectivity of Motherhood. The traits of a good mother are always named as: being a good nurturer, being always there for your child, being supportive, endlessly patient, being loving all the time, always putting your child first over everything else and providing an environment of constant activity and fun.

The world we live in puts so much pressure on Mothers: mothers who don’t work are expected to be constantly sacrificial towards the needs of their children because if mothers don’t work then they must have all the time in the world to tend to their children; and mothers who do work must suffer the guilt of being away from the family home and never be bold enough to proclaim that work is an important part of her life.

With such an onslaught of prescriptive information and advice on motherhood I think a push back is needed to stop us going mad. Shake off the shackles of strait jacketed mothering. Be subjective in your approach to mothering but without faltering from the paramount role of giving love and providing a level of parental control that sets boundaries for your children. Weave your own motherhood story out of this and throw away the ‘how to’ books on what you should and shouldn’t be doing.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Osama Bin Laden is dead but I fear that Al Qaeda’s mistreatment of women will still continue. Evidence in the past week seems to suggest that Al Qaeda will carry on the legacy of death and destruction despite the leader’s death because history has shown that such malevolent acts became a trade mark of the organisation practising it for as long as the organisation continues to exist. The abuse of women was long part of the subversive culture of the organisation.

In 2007 it was discovered in Iraq that Al Qaeda had been using rape as a weapon of terror against those women who had been deemed to have transgressed their ‘laws’ or, purely, for the pleasure of executing an act of violence. Members would break into houses and gang rape women and then take the women back to an Al Qaeda cell to be gang raped by the others. Often young girls were kidnapped because there was a high chance that these girls were virgins.

Quite ludicrously, to put it mildly, women’s basic freedoms were curtailed to the extent that a ban was imposed on them buying cucumbers because of a cucumber’s resemblance to being a phallic symbol. More seriously, women haven’t been allowed to work, be educated and move around freely in society. Al Qaeda is rightly seen as an enemy of the west but many acts of cruelty are conducted against Muslim women too as this shows.

I hope that the abuse of women by Al Qaeda will form a part of Western considerations when dealing with those countries or organisations who are sympathetic to Al Qaeda’s aims. Women’s rights is an international issue and a global approach is needed to address women’s plight in the face of religious fundamentalism