As men, we are constantly bombarded with the message that the traditional norms of masculinity are bad, wrong and toxic. The woke social justice gurus among us say that we somehow need to be fixed and the systemic sexism is so ingrained in us that we do not realize how bad we are. You are privileged as a man so feel guilty, they tell us. Meanwhile, people like myself look on in disbelief at the propaganda machine at work. So it got me wondering; what exactly is the traditional view of masculinity?
Have we warped the definition of masculinity?
Is traditional masculinity really this toxic mix of misogyny and negativity that we so often hear about? Or is the current world view simply a distortion of what traditional masculinity really is? Furthermore, can we really pin down masculinity to a rigid definition? And even if we can, is it really a trait exclusive to males or are we as human beings an amalgamation of both masculine and feminine components?
Of course, another important point to note is this; we are all human beings and will inevitably fall short of reaching for ideal masculine (and feminine) perfection. Does this mean then that we simply associate the inevitable fallacies of human beings to masculinity and deliberately erode the concept altogether? Is that ok? I’ll have to say no to that. How could it be?
In search of the definition of masculinity
In search of traditional definitions of masculinity, I decided to take examples that shaped our reality from a religious perspective. The aim is to look briefly at various definitions of masculinity in some of the world’s major religions. I hope to add to this list in the future including historical figures but here’s a start.
In Hinduism, Lord Rama is the definition of the ideal man. Narada described him to sage Valmiki as patient, generous, truthful, benevolent, dedicated to the welfare of every living being, physically strong, well learned, courteous, eloquent, true to his promises, renowned for his good deeds, pure and brave and versed in warfare. He honored his duties toward parents, teachers, consort and his people. He fought when it was necessary and applied judgement masterfully. The Ramayana itself is an epic poem and illustrates the feats and traits of Lord Rama through its pages. A very traditional definition of the masculine. Rama was also described as someone who remembered the good that people did. He was very far removed from the toxicity with which we paint the definition of masculinity today. A seemingly anti-male agenda.
In the Christian New Testament, Christ was defined as the ideal man; a beacon to which we aspire. The many admirable attributes of Jesus Christ are well told in the Christian Bible. He was kind and forgiving, even at the time of his crucifixion. He saw the good of humanity. He lived a life of compassion; disciplined and resolute in the face of temptation. A man of great conviction in his message and a true leader.
In the old testament, Moses was also a great man; ever faithful to God. Despite the challenges facing the unknown wilderness, he pushed forward to lead his people into what must have seemed uncertainty and possible death. He did it because it was the right thing to do, freedom from the fetters of bondage. Even if one is not religious, Moses’ demonstration of the need to go forward and explore, pushing boundaries with faith, sacrificing certainty and embracing the uncertain as a stepping-stone to freedom is a lesson we can all aspire to.
Many more examples exist throughout history in which great men have laid the foundation for thriving civilizations and human achievement; from the everyday laborer, steadily and humbly going about his daily work without recognition but quietly contributing to something much greater, to the leaders, musicians, artists, soldiers, explorers etc. All possessing some amazing masculine traits, pushing their own personal boundaries with courage and faith, all with that competitive masculine fire.
Celebrating the masculine
Masculinity is something to be celebrated, not torn down. If a man displays some trait that is deemed negative, that does not mean that it is a negative trait of masculinity. Also, we as men, in all our necessary diversity will possess our own strengths and weaknesses. And of course, just because some puffed up moralist declares a particular trait of masculinity to be negative doesn’t mean that it actually is. I believe that as a society, we have a responsibility to show compassion. We should be encouraging our males to strive for positive characteristics so that they reach their potential and embrace who they are with honesty passionately seeking to be themselves and express themselves truthfully and fully.
It benefits no one when we decry males and masculinity..so instead let us celebrate it!