This is an entry I’ve wanted to write for a long time and that has been stewing. In order to get this right, I’ve done a lot of reading and traded discussions with several friends, both male and female, to really let my ideas ferment. What I don’t want to talk about is women, although it will come up. I feel that the feminists have a whole host of great literature providing ample arguments for how the design of our social structure and our cultural paradigms have acted to enforce — at a sub-liminal and pervasively quiet manner — a model of masculine superiority and feminine submission. As a man, even a man of a visible ethnic minority, there are certain privileges I enjoy that I cannot even see; it is not in my ability to speak on the female condition in our culture. Plenty of writers before me — male and female — can do a better job of that.
But I can speak on masculinity and manhood.
The issue of masculinity is multi-faceted and this may ultimately become a series, but I’m going to try to present — at a high level — my thoughts on how the social design of traditional masculinity has affected manhood. The discussion of masculinity in gender studies is starting to come to light to a far greater degree than it ever has before, but this is in part to anti-feminist “Men’s Rights Movement” advocating for a reclamation of manhood in the post-feminist world.
Well, they’re right. Manhood is under attack, but it’s not feminism hurting us. It’s them. It’s the patriarchy. We’ve gotten to a point where masculinity has been perverted and rendered into a caricature of what testosterone represents.
The masculine paradigm codifies as follows:
- You must be strong and strong means that you do not show your emotions
- Rage and aggression are the only appropriate negative emotions to display publicly
- There can be no sign of weakness; man up, damn it!
- You must be self-sufficient; asking for help is looked down upon, especially asking for emotional support or advice
- Displays of affection for your significant other are mildly acceptable, but it is far superior to openly regard her as a piece of meat more often to your other male buddies
The take-away is this:
- If you are hurting or troubled, you are alone.
- If you need help, you are weak.
- What you feel does not matter to anyone and you should be ashamed of having them
…and here is where it breaks down. The traditional model of masculinity raises boys in a culture of shame. Can it be any wonder that men are now afraid it is the end-times for manhood? For both men and women, the heteronormative paradigm has reinforced a host of self-image dysmorphia. The thing is that self-image dysmorphia is a type of performance anxiety; it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with how you want to appear to others.
Sexuality is a performance that seeks validation from others. Masculinity is a performance for the approval of other men. Michael Kimmel writes that “masculinity is a homosocial experience.” It is because of this type of competitive sexual performance (each man trying to “out-man” the other in a race for a higher status tier) that we have delineated so far from a model of masculinity that is beneficial to everyone.
Ultimately, maschismo is hurting men.
For evidence, we need look no further than this single Reddit post where men all over the world are chiming in with their frustrations with the current perception of manhood. It is not difficult to see how destructive this model of masculinity has become:
Asking for help means you aren’t “manning up” like everything in culture silently tells you to do. And so everything that isn’t addressed becomes that dark beast inside you, lurking at the edges.
Masculinity is a deeply misunderstood concept, almost as if on purpose. Misunderstood by society as a whole, but also by women and,most offensively, by the men themselves.
we’ve been brainwashed into thinking behavior such as this therefore labels us as a “pussy” when in fact it’s inherent Human behavior to express opinions and talk about how they feel.
In this interview with feminist writer Jessica Valenti, she mentions how Lakshmi Chaudhry wrote of the current “model of masculinity being perpetual adolescence.” It is difficult to not see the point or nod emphatically in agreement. This is a dangerous modality where men no longer know how to be men; we haven’t learned. There has been no one to teach us and we resort like teenagers into petty one-up-manships and view any challenge or criticism to be an affront to our self-image and our very concept of manhood.
Bodybuilding writer T.C. Luoma, in this heart-wrenching article about masculinity (excuse the sexist language, I am absolutely sure he does that because it makes his audience listen), advocates for a distinction between masculinity (which he defines as the characteristics derived from testosterone on a chemical/hormonal level) and manhood (the cultural definition of what it means to be a man) in that manhood should be a tempered version of masculinity:
It’s been my experience that the raw masculine qualities of Testosterone need to be transformed and channeled into manhood, which is largely based on being protective, altruistic, and heroic. Manhood, perhaps counter intuitively, also draws on certain feminine traits like empathy, cooperation, and the ability to support and nurture.
[Manhood] must be tied to responsibility, but maybe we’d better define responsibility: taking care of your body, your health, the people and animals that you love, and showing a caring attitude towards society, the environment, and to life itself.
In short, a model of masculinity that does not take into account the tempering of aggressive qualities through more “feminine” qualities like compassion will ultimately lead us (and has led us) into male behavioral patterns that are destructive. The resolution might be to to pattern a new model of masculinity, although it can be difficult to determine what masculinity should look like, how it might be possible for a model of masculinity to exist that takes into account the deconstructions of the traditional model. Anna North makes a good case for why men don’t need to codify a new model:
[D]o men need, in addition, “a positive, masculine gender identity?” It’s something of a strange concept — few feminists would ever say that women needed “a positive, feminine gender identity.” While plenty of women take pride in being female, “femininity” is so loaded with patriarchal expectation that, for feminists, it’s kind of a dirty word. This may not be a bad thing — in fact, I’d argue that “masculine” should go the same way.
I’m not sure if I agree with her assessment, but it is clear from this and the dozens of articles popping up lately touting the “end of men” and the “decline of masculinity” that something is wrong with our current model of manhood. It cannot stand side-by-side with a model of womanhood that is determined to seek out equal rights; it is by its nature oppressive, juvenile, and harmful.
The dialogue needs to be opened up about the male identity, possibly a new masculinity, a deconstruction of the traditional model and how silently, but grievously, destructive it is. Luckily, there is a New Masculinity movement. Some very intelligent men and women are beginning to write and speak out about the issue of manhood and performing deconstructive analyses on the heteronormative gender roles with respect to how it affects the male identity. This is a discourse in which we must participate, in league with feminism, to usher in an era of equal standing.