Social Injustice Social Issues

[Gender Equity] What changes for men if the “gender order” collapses?

The change in relations between the sexes and gender rebalancing are described as a threat to men but can be an opportunity to rethink work, culture and life


The rich comparison promoted by “Letture Lente” offers many stimuli for reflection. I come to know him late. A delay which is a metaphor for the more general delay with which, as men, we come to face critical reflection on the construction of gender roles and models, on power relations between the sexes. For too long this reflection, and this practice of change, has been classified as a “female issue” both in the sense that it concerns the “condition of women” and in the sense of an issue that women deal with and therefore additional, on the sidelines .

The radical criticism brought by feminism to our way of living, thinking and building knowledge and social relationships has a general value: the thinking of women (and not only: their struggles, their social practices, their life choices) It’s not just about women.

The critical gaze of women on a world built “male” has produced powerful tools for reading reality, tools that today are unavoidable for reading the present and being able to think about a future outside the dead end in which our way of life appears.

How can we, as men, relate to this reality, with this point of view? Too often the male relationship with feminism (when it is not one of hostility or paternalistic underestimation) takes the form of an attempt to colonize a “theoretical field”.

Using these tools in a neutral way, making them the object of theoretical disputes actually means not understanding the first foundation of that thought: the denunciation of the false neutrality of the speaking subject, the ideological construction of a disembodied abstract individual, the denunciation of a theory that does not recognizes the partiality of his own point of view.

Taking on the reflection and practice of feminism and dealing with the questions it poses means, first of all for a man, starting from his own partiality, recognizing his own position.

Mine is from a heterosexual man who has always found confirmation in public achievement but who has also felt at a certain point the weight of having to correspond to a social expectation. I felt gratified by my recognized social role but I also painfully perceived how that role distorted my relationships and imposed a public mask on me which, at the same time, represented me and betrayed me. I have often felt the ostentation of a masculinity based on the display of conquests and security as false, which is measured by who eats more spicy, who is more indifferent to feelings, emotions and relationships, always in competition or in that complicit camaraderie and same distant time that characterizes the sociality of the changing rooms or chatting in front of the coffee dispensers.

At the same time I deeply recognized myself in the male model based on “realizing oneself in the world”, on having missions, objectives, projects that too often lead to losing sight of everyday life, caring for relationships in order to go to meetings that are always urgent and decisive.

I lived in a world in which the authority of women grew and asserted itself, in which men who “raised their voices” at large family dinners were looked at with disdain and forbearance. Their role remained tied to a violent gesture but evidently appeared to be an empty fetish.

I have seen male frustration with this authority of women and I have witnessed the “male dance” of simulating lost power, self-pity for one’s own failures attributed to cumbersome mothers, intrusive women, opportunistic or selfish companions. I clearly perceived the deadly risk of being sucked into that vortex of frustration, resentment, inability to deal with one’s own responsibilities, unwillingness to look at others and really put oneself on the line.

It was not a voluntary, ethical or “supportive” choice that led me to try and question the “hegemonic masculinity” that I had known. It was more of a skin discomfort: the perception of misery, of meanness. The impossibility of considering credible an at times pompous and at times poisonously paternalistic display of being male, the perception of the infantile and slightly ridiculous nature of that perennial competition, mixed with gregariousness and challenge, between men to “who has it more long”. Whether it is the academic, professional or political curriculum.

And in politics I perceived as strident the contradiction between the declared criticism of power, of hierarchies, of domination and the search for role and conquest, the reproduction of the exclusionary logic of belonging and homologation, the construction of “turtles” against the shields of police, the search for the exemplary individual gesture, the adrenaline for the clash, the exhilaration for the things “screamed”. That militarization of politics, its ironclad and invisible hierarchies, its unconscious conformism, appeared to me to be closely connected with a “male staging” which precisely when it emphasized its own irreducible otherness showed its own subalternity. I then reviewed this subalternity not only in “radical” politics but also in that presumed reasonableness which paternalistically liquidates any criticism of the existing and smuggles as rational and necessary the resignation to the “real” which renounces thinking of the possible. For about 30 years we have witnessed the somewhat paternalistic lesson of those who opposed the “sentimentalism of beautiful souls” with the necessity and rationality of military interventions, the illusion of control of technology and the scientific nature of the laws of the economy. A rationality that has broken down in the face of the global economic crisis and the failure of military adventures of which the Afghan drama is only the latest example.

For about 30 years I have been involved in a men’s association active in contrasting male violence and the culture that produces and justifies it and therefore the stereotypical representations of roles and attitudes attributed to the two genders. I will therefore try to retrace from my point of view, from my position as a man, the stresses emerging from the debate.


At the center of the discussion is an unequal opportunity for women and men in roles of responsibility or in authoritative positions in cultural organizations. The decalogue proposes, rightly, to keep together two partially conflicting needs: the need for concreteness, the urgency of identifying measures aimed at reducing existing disparities and the need to go beyond the rules to address this disparity not only on the level of rules but first and foremost on that of representations: those “invisible rules” that determine exclusions, lack of recognition and interdictions.

Maria Paola Orlandini , speaking about violence, but we could propose the reflection more generally, observes how this is “the expression of an indomitable cultural resistance against which laws, sentences and forced removals are of little use. Rather, a radical cultural change is needed.”

It is often everyday gestures, jokes, the raising of eyebrows that call into question the authority and recognition of a woman’s skills in our working contexts: from the more or less vulgar joke about the reasons for nervousness, to the sufficiency with which one they welcome positions and reactions: a man who raises his voice asserts himself, but “what will a woman who raises her voice have to shout about?” And how many men in a graduation session or at the presentation of their research have heard themselves say: “nice and good”? The woman, as Lorella Zanardo recalls , is, in the stereotype, “predominantly body; the woman is irrational and emotional; the woman focuses everything on her physical appearance and her sexual availability; women tend by nature to take care of others and avoid conflicts.”

But, as Orlandini observes, these jokes are not exclusive to men. Patriarchal culture is a pervasive, powerful and rooted “symbolic order” which also involves those who are placed in a condition of oppression and subjection by this. Pierre Bourdieu [1] speaks of “incorporation” by oppressed subjects of a “hegemonic” culture that shapes their desires, their perception of themselves. Recognizing this pervasive power of the patriarchal imagination is not a mere theoretical question but helps us avoid a “trap” that I often encounter in exchanges on the difficulties women encounter in organizations, even in relationships with other women. How many times have we heard that “women are the first to judge others and condemn their ‘ambition’ or professional success” or that “on the other hand, it is mothers who educate their sons and daughters to reproduce stereotyped roles and models”… in short, even in this case “I went looking for it”. Judit Butler addresses these rhetorical arguments by noting that “the insistence that a subject is passionately attached to his or her subordination has been cynically invoked by those who seek to debunk the demands of subordinates.” On the contrary, “attachment to one’s condition is itself a product of power. The operation of power is partially exemplified precisely by this psychic effect, one of the most insidious of its productions” [2]. In short: domination does not “simply” consist in preventing something or denying rights but in making it unthinkable to be able to do and have rights, to think of ourselves as different from how domination represents us.

A necessary commitment to changing rules and norms is therefore not enough, we need a cultural change which, in particular, calls into question a system of values ​​which represents the “masculine” and the “feminine” in a hierarchical way. Ultimately, our perception of reality, our construction of subjectivity, our models of knowledge and ethical authority are based on a dichotomous and hierarchical scheme: rational-emotional, mind-body, objective-subjective, culture-nature, active-passive , …male Female.

This scheme produces a hierarchy between women and men, between “masculine” and “feminine” attitudes, but ends up imprisoning the male experience itself in a scheme that denies its reality: no human being is without a body, without emotions. Perceiving ourselves as strangers to nature, not allowing ourselves space for passivity or failure, continually chasing a myth of power, control and rational domination ends up alienating men’s lives, their sexuality, their relationships, their relationship with themselves.

But how can we question this order?


A risk I see is the temptation to resort to stereotypical representations of the feminine without questioning them but simply inverting the representation of value from a perspective of self-enhancement. The misogynistic and patriarchal culture has represented presumed feminine attitudes such as emotionality, or self-giving as elements that condemn the feminine to an ancillary position and competitiveness, the rational approach, the determination to pursue objectives as the foundations of the masculine mission of leadership of the company. One possibility, certainly fertile, is to recognize that in a complex organization, in a company, in an institution, the mere dimensions of individual competition, of “dedication” to the objective are not enough without the ability to form a group, to listen, to mediate. . It is not, therefore, simply a matter of “including” differences in our organizations, but of re-establishing the way of being of our organizations, the organizational cultures and the evaluation criteria.

Marta Equi Pierazzini observes that “doing (cultural) business can be something far from the muscular and individualistic idea of ​​the courageous entrepreneur that so much literature has perpetuated” or from the “model of the artist totally lost and immersed in his research and creation ” to which Cristina Masturzo and Silvia Simoncelli refer , “but rather a creation and cultivation of a context”.

But doesn’t this call, this need to change our reference models also question men? Our way of distinguishing between life and work, between individual fulfillment and the valorization of relationships, between performance and correspondence to oneself? We have built a model based on performance, on competition, on emancipation from the body and emotions, on emancipation from relationships, on “being self-sufficient” and on mastery of oneself and one’s future. We have largely discovered that this construction is a fiction, shattered by the economic crisis, by the end of the world of work we had known, by the crisis of the promise of the society of “opportunities” and, last but not least, by the pandemic itself. We discovered our vulnerability, our interdependence and our non-omnipotence. But as men we do not have the tools and symbolic references to process this new condition without falling into destructive and self-destructive frustration.

Change cannot be represented as a mere “dosage” of aptitudes attributed to the two genders: if for the woman who asserts herself in the profession the image is of being one with “the attributes”, for a man representing the change as feminization risks to be perceived as a loss of identity. This applies to what we can propose to girls and boys but more generally to the representations of change that are conveyed by the media.

Valeria Ferrero recalls the opportunity to enhance “collaboration, sharing, the exercise of delegation, trust, authority, social and emotional intelligence, adaptability and creativity. All very feminine characteristics.” It is a perspective that, in fact, also speaks to men, but at the same time it is risky to remain in the scheme that “sexualizes” these attitudes without recognizing how much they are the result of a socialization to gender models that channels the abilities and skills of men and women.

Likewise, when I go to schools I see many teachers praising the girls for their ability to listen, introspection, caring and collaboration and “reproaching” the boys (often with a poorly concealed satisfaction for this natural exuberance) for their propensity towards vulgarity. , superficiality and aggressiveness. That reproach and that praise, in reality, risk reconfirming everyone in the roles assigned to them socially.

The role of the school is evidently decisive in offering boys and girls, boys and girls, the tools to critically elaborate the models and attitudes proposed as “natural”, to think that belonging to a sex does not mean a pre-written destiny. The discussion that we can propose to young women tends to show that the prospects for personal fulfillment are open, to encourage the recognition of their potential, to broaden their desires. Maria Paola Orlandini recalls how proposing the stories of “exemplary” women to young women in training can “represent concrete proof of how stereotypes and prejudices are fought and overcome” and how one can broaden their “professional frontiers”. Similarly, Barbara Berruti and Matteo D’Ambrosio observe how “giving women back a place in history” puts “female figures at the centre, not only to celebrate their successes, but to testify to the importance of the processes of transformation and change that women have been able to activate.


This recognition of the role and authority of women in history also has fertility for the education of young men who discover that they are not in a gallery inhabited only by males but in a wider world in which it is possible, and enriching for themselves, encounter the subjectivity, desire, intelligence and autonomy of women.

But what example can we offer to young men in training? What different perspective can we offer him? We can encourage in a little girl the desire to emulate Samantha Cristoforetti and become an astronaut or introduce her to Rosalind Franklin’s decisive and for too long overlooked contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA. We can encourage girls to undertake traditionally male study and professional paths, for example, as Valeria Ferrero proposes, by encouraging “access to scientific faculties, perhaps also by providing for the elimination of enrollment fees for scientific faculties for girls for the first year ”.

Also in this case the male path is controversial because it cannot be based on an “enhancement” of the history of one’s gender and on the prospect of a future that is linearly “expansive” compared to one’s current condition.

An interesting example is the boys in care project in which I had the opportunity to participate, aimed at encouraging boys to undertake study and professional paths in sectors such as pedagogy, traditionally labeled as feminine. This work requires, however, a general reversal of symbols and values ​​that is capable of recognizing the social value and authority of the commitment to educating children.

What figures can you propose to a boy to encourage his education less caged in the “gender destinies” already marked?

Carola Carazzone notes that “in our country today there are – finally! – many ways of raising a girl, but still too massively one way of raising a boy” and that instead it is “unthinkable to face a change of narrative without going into the specifics of the male imagination and the stereotypes that limit its space of meaning” . […] it is as if the pieces of the male world were missing from the process of deconstruction of traditional gender models and, consequently, we were depriving not only boys but also girls of this half of social imagination”. And you recall the need for a male contribution in this necessary work of changing the cultural paradigm of “systematic contrast of toxic masculinity and the promotion of new male models”.

The problem we face today is the absence of words, images, symbolic references to be able to represent and therefore imagine a possible male change, to offer a boy, or a man, the possibility of thinking of himself in a different order. The patriarchal symbolic references show their cracks and their destructive results but recognizable words, shared to tell a different way of being in the world for men, struggle to emerge. Elena Giannini Belotti wrote over thirty years ago:

“What positive thing can a male get from the arrogant presumption of belonging to a higher caste just because he was born male? Her mutilation is just as catastrophic as that of the little girl convinced of her inferiority by the very fact of belonging to her sex. His development as an individual is distorted and his personality impoverished, to the detriment of their life together. No one can say how much energy must be destroyed in the process of forcing children of both sexes into male-female patterns as they are conceived by our culture” [3].

Making this amputation visible requires excavation, research but also creative work.

Can we, for example, look in history and literature for male figures who have chosen to “step aside” from the competition for power, who have chosen to live an existence more true to themselves? For me it was enlightening to read Crista Wolf’s Cassandra saying goodbye to an Aeneas “condemned” to a destiny of “city founder”:

“You, Aeneas, had no choice: you had to save a few hundred men from death. You were their leader. But soon, very soon you will have to become a hero. Yes! You exclaimed. So? – I saw in your eyes that you understood me. I can’t love a hero. I don’t want to experience your transformation into a monument. … You had to go far. Far away, and you didn’t know what would happen. I’m staying” [4].

Wolf’s reading of the figure of Cassandra offers us a different idea of ​​the relationship with the future of that “prophetic attitude” of women, which Manna speaks of and which “leads them to worry about the future”. For my male history, the future has too often been an obligation, an abstract projection that removed present relationships, that transformed lives into heroic missions, that distracted from relationships. Always being “elsewhere” following priorities other than those linked to relationships, listening, recognition of one’s interdependence. Cassandra/Wolf’s “I remain” is a call to remain “faithful” and ourselves without getting lost in the “mission” that society imposes on us.


Precisely this always being elsewhere, dragged by urgencies, priorities, projects, strategies brings us back to the theme of training and training spaces. In fact, it is not a question of changing “only” the contents that we offer to girls and boys: the narratives proposed in books, in fairy tales, in games. Often, absences and presences alone already represent a powerful message and can modify models, languages ​​and imagery. If Silvia Garambois talks about how her “invasion” of the male space of crime news induced a change in a solidly male environment (“Meanwhile, I kept my feet off the desks when I arrived, and then officials and colleagues who magically abandoned the barracks language that they had exchanged until then”), we could ask ourselves what implicit message we transmit to girls and boys who enter nursery schools and “nursery” schools inhabited almost exclusively by female educators and what change in their imagination the entry into these spaces of men who are not “elsewhere” but there to take care of them.

Likewise, recognizing the social value of care and promoting the male experience of care is a powerful tool for change. It is not only a question of pursuing a rebalancing of the burdens between women and men in care and therefore of “reconciling” it with female professional commitment, but of also opening up spaces for change to the male experience.

Even in this case, the proposal we can make to men is not to take charge of women’s right to fulfillment beyond caring for children but to discover and recognize this dimension for themselves. An experience that the drive for professional fulfillment had often marginalized and the correspondence to the role of the “pater familias” or the “bread winner” had crippled its potential for affection and intimacy. Discovering the relationship with one’s sons and daughters as an opportunity for the fullness of one’s life is discovering, for men, that the change in stereotyped roles and models is not, as the dominant rhetoric proposes, a threat or a renunciation, but rather otherwise an opportunity.

But here comes the need to propose new narratives that are accompanied by new concrete tools and new rules. This is the case of the initiatives to grant men parental leave to take care of family needs and, more generally, of a better gender balance in taking care of tasks. Is it possible to think of a male role in change outside of the false alternative between resentful victimhood and paternalistic concession of space to women? Precisely on the topic of care work, the pandemic has allowed many men to “see” the private dimension of care which was hidden by the complementarity of roles. We saw the invisible work that takes place in homes but we were able, as in my case, to discover the space of relationship with our newborn children. A space that society relegated until recently to three days of parental leave. The lockdown has paradoxically opened up a space for relationships and presence between fathers and children. This desire for a relationship with one’s children should not, in my opinion, be left to the misogynistic recrimination of some associations that exploit the discomfort of many separated fathers but, on the contrary, it should be understood in its depth and must find an answer precisely in the questioning of roles stereotyped and complementary for women and men. The two separate destinies between family and career turn out to be a cage for everyone. Yet even today, the timid attempts at regulatory innovation, such as the extension of parental leave for men mentioned in the “decalogue” are dismissed by many newspapers as the reduction of fathers to “mothers”. Without a change on the symbolic ground, even this novelty cannot find a way to give meaning to men’s lives and their desires.


At the center of this reflection, therefore, is the problem of how we represent and perceive change, how we name it and therefore how we manage to recognize it.

And too often change is described as a source of frustration for men, a loss of rights, a threat to their identity. The “Glass Ceiling” that hinders the professional and public progression of women is represented as the floor whose crack could cause us who by “right of nature” access the upper floor to fall. The same “positive actions” are described by male revanchism associations as discriminatory towards men. The cited example of the Swedish Ministry of Culture and Democracy, which promotes female candidates if they have the same CV as their male colleagues, recalls a very significant case in Canada where a boy became an example cited by male movements “for men’s rights” by breaking into the campus where he had not been admitted and killing dozens of female students to denounce the discrimination he had suffered. The correction with explicit rules of those invisible rules that discriminated against women are thus denounced by the growing “male reaction” as new discriminations suffered by men. And so the denunciation of harassment at work launched by the me too movement is represented as the result of an anti-male prejudice, as a desire to cage relationships, courtship and seduction in hypocritical and artificial rules.

These male reactions should not be underestimated. First of all because they are at the basis of many broader political phenomena of involution of our societies, but also because they reveal a problem: that of producing a different representation of change. A task largely borne by those who create culture, education and entertainment, but also by each and every one of us.

At the center of this dispute is the issue of power which, as a man I believe cannot be easily liquidated. I know well and understand Pinzuti ‘s call to grasp the meaning not exclusively of “domination” but of “being able to do”. Power is necessary to be able to “enact change”: Because “without power there is no possibility of transformation”. Being in the world, wanting to transform it also means wanting the strength to be able to do it, but, as a man, I know the seductive power of power and I tend to distrust Yourcenar’s statement, quoted by Eleonora Pinzuti, according to which every tool “depends on how it’s used”. In reality the tools we use are not neutral, we use them but they act on us.

Power is a form of relationship, a language, an institutional construction that transforms subjects and relationships. It is not a question of affirming that power is male and that women contaminate themselves in exercising it, as Pinzuti rightly observes, but of recognizing the history of this construction. Pinzuti always asks himself “can you be a feminist and aspire to power”? She herself reminds us how it was “queer studies, to which feminism owes the concept of gender performativity, that deconstructed philosophical and argumentative dualism by inviting us to find other solutions”: there is, therefore, no natural essence of masculine connected to power. But there is the sedimentation of a history that has left its traces.

For me the question is: is power constitutively a male identity reference? As a man I know that my gender has followed a strategy for millennia to give meaning to its being in the world, to “compete” with the generative and regenerative potential of women, based on power. Power as dominion, but also as control over oneself and over nature, as self-sufficiency, as a projection into history outside oneself, as a mission that betrays our singularity, as a role, perhaps a protective one, that hides our interdependence.

After millennia we realize that this strategy has turned out to be a dead end that not only produces violence on others and on the nature that surrounds us, but produces misery in our lives. It is also up to us to find a reference of meaning outside the imagination of power.


[1] P. Bourdieu, Male dominion, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1998[2] Judit Butler The psychic life of power Meltemi publisher Rome, 2005[3] E. Giannini Belotti “On the side of the girls”[4] Christa Wolf, Cassandra, why did I want the gift of clairvoyance at all costs?, Rome, Edizioni e/o, 1986, pp. 152-153.

Stefano Ciccone founded Maschile Plurale: a network of men committed against male violence towards women and against gender stereotypes. He has a bachelor’s degree in biology and a doctorate in sociology. He designed and then coordinated the Roman Science Park and his knowledge-based business incubator. He was an expert national evaluator of innovation activities and relations with university citizens and coordinated many European projects in the field of innovation. In 2019 he published the volume “Maschi in crisis? Beyond frustration and resentment.” He is the author of numerous articles and contributions in choral volumes on the topics of the social construction of gender roles and models and violence against women.


Overcoming the inequalities of power and opportunities between women and men in professions, work and culture is not a question that concerns women but it calls into question our way of thinking about work, our systems of recognition of authority and our same idea of ​​subjectivity. The model of neutral citizen, self-possessed, author of linearly rational choices, self-sufficient has entered into crisis by showing its abstractness and unsustainability, even for men. Due to the crisis of this model, we have not yet been able to produce a new enhancement of relationships, interdependence, integration between corporeality, emotions and rationality. As men we cannot limit ourselves to “granting” more or less paternalistically “spaces and rights” to women, much less take the impasse of victimhood and resentment that characterize many male attitudes. Media rhetoric, clichés often even expert knowledge represent the change in the relationships between the sexes and in gender models as a threat to the identity of men. The dominant image is of depressed, confused men, unable to give themselves a new rule in relationships with women. It is necessary to produce new words to describe the place of men in change and above all to think of men as actors of this change. Power has been at the center of the relationship of men with the world, with women and with themselves, today this power is not only destructive and a source of violence and oppression but is incapable of giving an answer to the questions of meaning of men.

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