America’s Insufficient Definition Of Masculinity
February 13, 2017
Filed under Opinions
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In the wake of National Men’s Day, I felt compelled to write an article on a problem that has played a significant role in suicide’s climb to the position as a top killer of teen and adult men: hyper-masculinity. Although we do live in a century where we are increasingly encouraged to defy gender norms and binaries, hyper-masculinity and its counterpart, hyper-femininity, still plague modern society and cause serious damage.
Hyper-masculinity is a psychological term for the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior and emphasis on physical strength, aggression, dominance, and sexuality. The phrases “be a man,” “man up,” “stop acting like a p*ssy,” and “that’s so gay” epitomize this social phenomena. An Austin College sophomore said, “My earliest memory was my father yelling at me after I fell off my bike for the first time and telling me to ‘be a man.’ My dad said, ‘If you’re going to be a man in this world you better learn how to dominate and control people and circumstances.’ I’ve never felt like enough of a man” We, as a society, have made the bar impossibly high. Men do not have many ways to feel secure in their masculinity. Many feel the need to constantly prove it. Whether that be through the sport they play, the music they listen to, the girls they are with, the amount of money they have, or how many hours they spend at the gym. I ask every man reading this to ask yourself when you were first told to “be a man”, because it was probably the first time you questioned your identity and felt you came up short.
Many studies have identified “be a man” as the most destructive phrase in modern culture, and not just to men. Research indicates that the superiority complex this mindset breeds has heightened levels of misogyny, male deaths due to intense hazing, rape, and homophobia, male suicide rates, bullying, and gun violence. Society and the media silence boys’ emotions and encourage violent tendencies as an outlet. For instance, Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old student at Santa Barbara City College, killed six people and wounded 13 others in a stabbing and shooting spree before shooting himself. If you are surprised by the statistic that 97% of mass shooters are male, you haven’t been paying attention. The bottling up of so many intense emotions can be incredibly toxic. Men’s emotions and needs are silenced due to the fear of being seen as girly, a sissy, or gay. This causes a build up of needing love and support and needing to prove oneself and one’s masculinity which often leads to violence towards a world men feel have wronged them.
Another lie boys learn is their masculinity is dependent upon economics and sex, and they are entitled to these things. The extent to which young men are programmed to value themselves based upon how much money they make or how many women they have sex with inevitably leads to an unfulfilling and self-destructive lifestyle, and that does not even take into account how dehumanizing this mindset is to females. The entitlement aspect of this is the most disturbing. Society has seen again and again when entitled men are denied the money or women they feel they have a right to, the repercussions are often tragic. If we teach boys they have a right to women, that women exist for men to have sex with, that it is an insult to be feminine, what are we teaching boys about females? The same goes for effeminate boys, who are bullied and harassed at an alarming rate. There is a reason the stereotypical effeminate homosexual male is constantly so belittled and stigmatized. I know we’ve all heard this a thousand times, but hate is taught. Additionally, we hate what we are most afraid of in ourselves, which here, is femininity.
Throughout human history, there has been an underlying idea men and women are fundamentally different. Now, let’s take a moment to differentiate between sex and gender. Sex is a biological term referring to which chromosomes you were born with. Gender is a social construct and is determined socially and culturally. Many scientists have begun explaining gender as a spectrum. There is the hyper-masculine side and the hyper-feminine side and everything in between, not just two categories. The truth of the matter is, boys and girls are far more similar than they are different.
It’s important to note being masculine or feminine is not inherently bad. “Masculine” and “feminine” are just adjectives. Being feminine does not make one any less of a man or any more of a woman. Simply put, identifying as a man makes one a man. One does not need to be hyper-sexual to be a man. One does not need to be aggressive to be a man. One does not need to be stoic and devoid of emotion to be a man.
Everyone deserves to feel loved and appreciated for exactly who he/she is. No one should be confined to a box or label, and each of us can and should do our part to expand what it means to be a man for ourselves and the boys in our lives. There is freedom outside the rigid definitions we have placed upon men, and not just for men, but for everyone involved. As Emma Watson said in her UN HeForShe speech, “If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.” It’s not about teaching boys something new or turning them into something that they’re not. It’s about helping them return to what they already know but many feel they have to hide to be accepted: compassion, sensitivity, self-love, and empathy.