In search of a definition of masculinity

I’ve been searching for a definition of masculinity. It seems that everywhere you turn someone has a problem with men and masculinity. Its either men are not sensitive, men don’t make enough money, they don’t care, men are dogs, dishonest, toxic, sexist, under-performing, potential rapists etc. All while being told it’s a man’s world.

Masculinity is a two part story

Now I’m going on the premise that masculinity is the set of traits considered typical of males. I also assume that these traits are determined by what males biologically gravitate toward and also what they are socialised to be. My final assumption is that the socially constructed part of the equation is dependent on the needs and “wants” of society at the time whereas the biological portion is pretty much fixed in time. I say “wants” because our socially constructed portion of masculinity may be influenced by social movements that are not needed but may be the subjective world view of the powerful and influential among us (e.g. media and politicians).

I’d like to add that in my view, masculinity and femininity should be defined and followed in a manner that is beneficial to the common good of society.

So, it seems to me that the definition of masculinity is dynamic to some extent and I am keen on exploring what that definition is in today’s world. Of course, different cultures will have different influences on what traits are considered typical of men but with the ubiquity of mass media and social networking, differences may be shrinking. Furthermore, I can’t help but wonder whether the socially engineered part of masculinity is undermining the common good in today’s society.

Masculinity then and now

We all know the quintessential prince charming who risks life and limb to save the princess and the kingdom at large from the fire-breathing dragon. We’ve heard the tales of Greek heroism. Our hero Hercules, fought and stood up to any challenge to liberate others at great risk to his own life albeit to complete his many labors. In ancient India, Lord Rama overcame numerous obstacles and dangers to retrieve his consort Sita from the evil demon Ravana.

Shifting to this millennia, how about the heroes of world war one and two who sacrificed life and limb to bring about peace and betterment for the common good of humanity? Or the farmer who toils all day in strenuous labor all to provide for his wife and children at home. And let’s not forget the everyday man who works on tasks that we tend to take for granted but is essential; the brick layers, garbage collectors etc.

It seems to me that masculinity has always been defined by self-sacrifice for some purpose higher than oneself. It seems that regardless of the time, there is always a need for self-sacrifice from which masculinity is defined and dare I say it, from which men feel a sense of worth.

Is masculinity and femininity based on the same fundamental thing?

But hold on. You might be thinking that self-sacrifice is not common to males. And that is a fact. Traditionally, women in the household raising children and making sure the home is made for her family is also the definition of self-sacrifice for a higher purpose than oneself. So what then is the differentiating point between the self-sacrifice defining a man’s masculinity and that defining a woman’s femininity?

I think that it is linked to gender roles. Yeah we’re going there. For example, when a woman sacrifices herself to jobs and duties that are typical of women, that self-sacrifice defines her femininity. When a man sacrifices himself to jobs and duties that are typical of men, that self-sacrifice defines his masculinity.

The resultant auxiliary traits that men and women require to undertake their duties also gets attached to the definition of masculinity and femininity. For example, in traditional male roles, strength, valor, discipline and wisdom may have been required for them to perform their duties well in addition to that primal drive to sacrifice themselves to a higher purpose. So masculinity was also defined by those traits.

I don’t think that the underlying principle of self-sacrifice changes. But it is redirected depending on the circumstances of the time. And this brings my mind to the males of today.

How about our males of today?

What is the higher purpose of today that drives men to give of their time? Men seem to be confused about their roles and therefore by extension what traits are supposed to be typical of males. AS I see it, part of this is the deconstruction of gender roles in society so that women are encouraged to do the same things or at least have no expectations of following any traditional role. Men on the other hand are told to make room for that change to take place.

From the female perspective, since men and women can now do the same thing their roles are going to basically be the same. The old, “anything you can do I can do better” as the saying goes. Women and girls are far more encouraged by the media, corporations and society at large to pursue dreams and take up leadership roles in the workplace and jobs in technology etc. and break glass ceilings.

If masculinity and femininity is defined by sacrificing oneself for a higher purpose defined by gender roles and gender roles are now merged, then masculinity and femininity start to merge also in the eyes of women and so we are steadily going down the woken road of gender neutrality.

So where does the modern male fit into this. His story is much different. He is told that the traditional gender roles are no longer a reality and he is told that if he holds on to traditional masculine roles, he is displaying toxic masculinity and needs to be fixed. He is told that he has to move over and make way for the females. After all “#TheFutureIsFemale”.

Males are told what they should not be. Ok, so then what should they be? This results in a gap in the male sense of identity. For the radical anti-males among us, males have been in a patriarchal position of advantage for centuries and their time is over.

So where do our males find their identity or define traits that will typically be considered male? Is there a unique space for them anymore (by the way I hear the boys scouts in some places are accepting girls now. No word as to whether the girls guide are reciprocating)? Or is it men simply accept their roles as being the same as those of women and also accept that they will be faced with systemic disadvantages in schools and in the workplace as we set up institutions to disproportionately help females and alienate males.

There is no wonder that the modern man faces a crisis about masculinity and what it means. Does he feel motivated to sacrifice of his time and self for a society that is filled with anti-male rhetoric and institutional disadvantages? All the while telling him to shut up and accept it since he has been privileged?

I think not.

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