Bushmaster and the Cult of Masculinity

Men have some catching up to do with women, in shedding the stigma of gender nonconformity.

A few people have asked me whether I, as a dad of a seven-year old, was going to write anything about the tragedy in Connecticut.  I replied that I had no expertise or anything unique or helpful to say—I’m just as pissed and sad as everyone else, and who wants to read a story about how I embarrassed Nick by hugging him for too long as he got off the school bus.

So, I’m not writing about Newtown. But I did come across this advertisement for the gun used in the mass murder, and it got me thinking about the signals our society still gives men about who they are expected to be.

Over the past generation or so, we’ve seen a huge shift in expectations and opportunities for women. While they still face stereotypes and discrimination, for the large part women have been freed from the shackles of having to conform to traditional role expectations. The majority of women work outside the home and many are now in positions of leadership, and women represent the majority (55% last I checked) of incoming college students, medical students and law students (see here). Women don’t need to be trapped as caretakers and housewives dependent on their husbands for income. Girls who play sports, are good at math, and are “tomboys” are now lauded for these achievements. These are most welcome developments, and we are all better off for it.

Progress for men has not come as quickly. Men who do not conform to traditional masculine roles still face stigma and invisible barriers. Men are still far more likely to choose careers that require long hours, intense stress, dangerous work, frequent travel, and long commutes in return for being a better provider- no matter that these jobs take a physical and psychic toll, are less satisfying, and crowd out time for prioritizing family (see here and here). Men who don’t earn a good living or work in “women’s professions” have a harder time attracting female attention, getting married or staying married (to say nothing about men who are short, weak or overweight). Divorce often comes on the heels of a man’s unemployment (see here for the 2012 work-family research study of the year that found that while social pressure discouraging women from working outside the home has weakened, pressure on husbands to be breadwinners largely remains).

“Real men” don’t need work-life balance, or so they say. Men fear huge career consequences for even broaching the subject of flexible work or work-family balance, so they need to be strategic about negotiating for it (see here), and will often only avail themselves of informal or hidden ways to address family concerns (see here). To put one’s family on par with one’s career is somehow still too progressive for many organizations and for society as a whole. Often, media portrayal of men could not be more patronizing or relentless in showing men as crude, thoughtless and tough (see here).

Men who take on parenting and household responsibilities also face subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle) discrimination.  See this excellent blog post from a friend of mine who recently transitioned from a corporate career to being a stay at home dad.

Unlike girls who are now encouraged and rewarded by society for athletic achievement, taking on leadership and progressing towards “men’s” professions in the STEM fields, boys who show an interest in girls toys, activities or “women’s careers” are generally not accepted, and the reaction they get from peers and adults can be cruel and harsh. As a result, many boys learn to repress or discard parts of their personality, and choose paths that lead to less satisfying lives.

I’m not sure any of this has anything to do with Newtown, but it is a big problem.

Luckily, the past decade has seen some progress in this area. Many workplaces are far more open to informal, part-time telecommuting. Stay-at-home dads are mobilizing as a group to provide help and social support. As more men demand to take a more equal rile in the home, workplaces and society will slowly shift. There is now media outcry when men are portrayed as unable or unwilling to take care of their own kids. Part of why I write this blog is to help dads struggling with work and family to share ideas, advice and support. And, boy, am I not alone in blogging about fatherhood.

… And, maybe, we as a society are slowly realizing real men don’t need to be tough, violent, or own semi-automatic rifles to get their “man cards”.

What do you think? Let’s discuss in the comments section.


Read more: Bushmaster Rifles Has Been Running The Most Evil Ads I’ve Ever Seen

Image credit: familymwr/Flickr

About Scott Behson

Scott Behson is a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson Scott Behson is a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a busy involved dad, and the author ofThe Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home, the Amazon #1 best-seller helping dads achieve better work-life balance. He runs thewww.FathersWorkandFamily.com blog, writes for Harvard Business Review, The Huffington Post, and Time, and has appeared on MSNBC, Fox, NBC and NPR. Scott was a speaker at the recent White House Summit for Working Families. He lives in Nyack, NY with his wife, Amy, and son, Nick. Contact him @ScottBehson on twitter.


  1. It’s true! Women can wear pants, play sports, be “tomboys,” go off to college and have lesbian experiences, but are still considered regular, healthy, heterosexual women. On the other hand, if a man even only ONCE wears a skirt, plays house, has “girly” interests, or sucks one cock in college, then he’s branded a “fag” for life. Worse, this is mostly perpetrated by men on other men. Sad.

    I would, however, like to call bullshit on the claim that men who follow “women’s” professions don’t get female attention. You’re going to have to provide some real, unmanipulated, double blind evidence for that one.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Lots of info on “Hooking Up Smart”. The comments get prolix and off-point, but the proprietor does a pretty good job with evidence, such as it is, regarding the sexual marketplace and so forth.
      If I recall some of the points, women’s professions don’t pay as much, generally speaking, and so the alphaness provided by money is reduced and thus attractiveness.
      It’s a matter of degree, not an on/off switch.
      But, according to some, men in el ed get women’s attention; They’re always being watched as potential molesters.

    • Great comment KT-

      I’ll do some digging on that one. I’m a buisness dude, so I’m not really talking about my life (no sour grapes), but was commenting on some of what I saw when I was on the NYC dating scene.

      In general women’s professions pay less than men’s- and according to studies on match.com profiles, number of female clicks on men’s profiles goes up almost logarithmically with income- those making $100k get far more than double the clicks of those making $75k. Also, in terms of height- for every inch below 5’10” men see about a 1/2 drop in the number of clicks.

  2. Carl Menger says:

    I want to clarify, I don’t think gay men are not “Real Men”, but I do feel this is what the accusation is intended to imply. I’ve never seen a woman claim another woman, even an out lesbian, wasn’t a “Real Woman”. What is about men and what is this elusive status of “Real Man”? Where did our “Man Cards” go? And how on earth did we get the idea that they can be return through ownership of ANY object?

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    My father, approaching ninety-three, is pretty much still altogether.
    It pleases him to Google Earth and drive down two streets in Holland named after his division–Timberwolfstraat–and one after the division commander–Generaalallenweg.
    Some guys with the old man card did manage to do something useful. Or at least the Dutch think so. But they’re not enlightened.
    Or you could look up “Meyerode” “wood”.

  4. Carl Menger says:

    There is a lot of finger pointing, particularly among younger men at who is not a “Real Man”. lets be honest, not real man equals gay. Young men are desperate to validate their masculinity/sexuality. With masculinity so poorly defined in our society, action movies and advertisements have a large hole they can fill with very dangerous messages.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Two issues. You have, imo, a false contradiction.
    Besides, if nobody is doing the first, what do the rest of the folks do when the barbarians come over the marches? Or into the schools? “Hey. Don’t look at me. I have a different man card. Somebody call the cops. They have the old one.”
    Nobody is suggesting giving up the old man card, except feminists except when the bad guys are in the parking lot, and the promoters of the New Man. And they have all taken an oath not to request help from the guys with the old man card, right? Right?

    • I don’t understand your comment- seems a bit off topic and somewhat paranoid “barbarians coming over the marches”???

      The article is about how society pushes men to conform to a single idea of masculinity, even if all men wouldn’t otherwise want to act that way. The only gun reference was the idea in the ad that buying a bushmaster rifle renews your mancard- the rest of the article is about work, family, dating etc. Also, this piece says NOTHING about gun policy.

      In no way am I saying we shouldn’t have cops or soldiers- you are reading that into the article (and if you think I am saying that you have no idea about me or my family)

  6. Its interesting to observe the narrations in the Testosterone commercials (e.g: Androgel). More gender-qualification crap.

  7. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    I’m not sure that the weapon is key, but men are ultimately responsible for the defense of women and children and sometimes other men. I’m not sure that this is something that can be behaviorally conditioned out of most men, and I hope it can’t. Some of women’s hypergamy (when it’s not directed toward sociopathic men) recognizes that men have the biological ability to protect them, or to try, at least, to do so. What facilitates this in a prosocial way is a sense of honor. We do badly if we encourage men to be less direct and more passive-aggressive, which could be a result for some men of gender neutral shaping. We may not need men’s protective skills everywhere right at this moment, but it’s nice that they are there. Who knows what tomorrow brings.

    • Hi Hank. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I largely agree.

      Sense of honor, taking care of those who depend on us, being direct and forthright, defending those who are weaker = man card
      Being funnelled into only some professions, expressing only part of one’s personality, buying semis =/= man card

      The world could really use more male elementary school teachers, nurses, etc.

  8. I think this is a great piece, and there is no question that Scott’s heart is in the right place.

    I would just like to add that I think Scott may have inadvertently overlooked the role our education system plays in shaping the kinds of outcomes he’s talked about here.

    There is ample evidence that, at very young ages, girls tend to do better at verbal tasks, and boys tend to do better at math problems. These are macro trends, and they do not hold true for every individual, but they are nevertheless observable.

    When I was in school in the late 90s and early 2000s, it was not unusual for funding to be cut from advanced math programs, under the argument that said programs “only helped boys who didn’t really need and help.” Meanwhile, funding was made available to help and encourage girls who wanted to go into math and science. There has been no similar nationwide effort to help boys to improve their verbal skills, and funding to advanced science and math programs (at least where I grew up) has never been restored.

    We need to see the same massive efforts that were once applied to women and girls when it came to school achievement now applied to men and boys.

    • Hi Mike- You make an excellent point. From what I understand, the crisis point for girls in school is middle-school- mostly based on peer and esteem issues. The crisis point for boys is K-2, because school generally promotes such behavior as sitting still, being quiet, and fine-motor skills- all of which boys are physically less able at than girls of that age.

      I make sure to talk with my son’s teachers about this, and they have all been awesome about making sure they build in a lot of movement into the school day- switching between individual and group work, the ability to stretch out or roll o the floor while reading, getting wiggles out on a mat in the back of the room. As a dad, it is my repsonsibility to make sure these conversations happen.

  9. I’m sorry but “Cult of Masculinity”?

    Are you seriously implying that masculinity in general is some sort of cult men are brainwashed into?

    While I agree there is an insidious side to masculinity, I don’t use that to judge masculanity as a whole. Which, according to the title of this article, the author has set out from the beginning.

    I just think there has to be a distinction here between masculinity and the problematic aspects of it. A seperation.

    • “cult” was probably too strong a word- you are correct. The emotionality I feel post-Newtown probably led to that hyperbolic term.

      However, I think the rest of the piece is a much nore reasoned take on how reinforces certain behaviors as manly- even if they are stifling, harmful or counterproductive

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    If I get your thinking, we need some different kind of man card.
    Presumably, you think guns are the only one left. Could be, but it wasn’t men’s idea.
    It isn’t men who are not attracted to men who work in women’s professions or who don’t make a lot of money. The lesson is pretty clear from, say, jr. hi. Female hypergamy doesn’t give a guy much credit for being a miner, lumberjack, construction worker. This wasn’t men’s idea.
    Fortunately, due to the hard work of men in the last, say, hundred thousand years, men can now not have killing jobs–no, no, don’t thank me, it was a privilege–and the ones who do are probably just unreconstructed patriarchs or something.
    I know, knew, guys who needed something to feel adequate as men. Maybe they’re a big enough market to be worth the advertising bucks. Probably not. IOW, this is a losing proposition for the ad department. But the general growth in gun purchases will cover for it.
    Guns are not phallic symbols. Guns are tools and men who think the situation may require that tool feel better when they have it.
    Then, of course, we have to figure out why so many women are buying guns.
    And, worse, trying to figure out why the Pink Pistols are a going group is a puzzlement.

    • Hi Richard. Thanks for the comment. You are correct that my larger point is that society reinforces certain behaviors as manly- even if they are stifling or counterproductive. The gun issue was just my entry point into thinking about this broader societal issue.


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