I find that many people have opinions on what masculinity is for others. Too often today people trash the idea of masculinity. In the rush to dispense with stereotypes there is a tendency to lose the concept of what masculinity is. What is it, though, for men themselves? How do ordinary men see themselves and how do others see them?
I wrote about my masculinity in ‘I am Proud Of My Masculinity’. I said,
I find that I am happy in my personal definition of masculinity. I enjoy my strength, whether it is physical, mental or emotional. I enjoy leading and I see that it is role I am meant to embody. This involves me creating a vision for myself and other people. I do that with enthusiasm. I do not seek to suppress my sense of masculinity in case I upset people, I live my life as a man to the full. I live it without domination but with my innate power.
A female commenter to the article said:
Graham I loved every word of this. Thank you, thank you! Your masculinity is beautiful. I hope more men come to recognize how they can create the terms of their masculinity in a way that aligns with their personal values. The same inner sense you feel about your masculinity is the same inner sense I feel about my femininity.
It pleased me to find someone understanding what masculinity can be to a man, without tearing it open.
But what is masculinity more generally for men? Brené Brown, in ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’, said,
When looking at the attributes associated with masculinity, researchers identified these as important attributes for men: emotional control, primacy of work, control over women and pursuit of status. That means that if men want to play it safe, they need to stop feeling, start earning, and give up on meaningful connection.
I find this pretty depressing although I must say I am not surprised. For generations men have learned to contain themselves in a prison of control, striving to conform to what they see as masculinity in others. Rarely do men break out of this prison to be what they are inside.
Brené Brown was talking about authenticity when she made this statement. She says:
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re suppose to be and embracing who we are.
Authenticity is word often thrown around but rarely defined adequately. I think Brené has hit the nail on the head—especially the masculine nail!
Men play it safe and do what they think others expect of them. This, in my view, is the exact opposite of being a man, of being masculine.
Quora is a fascinating resource of opinions and ideas. A question from a couple of years ago asked, ‘What is masculinity?’. It received some interesting answers.
My personal definition of masculinity is a perfect combination of fearlessness, empathy, and confidence. I think a lot of men’s idea of masculinity stems from their fathers. This is what my father has taught me.
This answer wcame from a man. It seems to encapsulate a balance between strength and compassion. He is right about the influence of a man’s father. This is the case with most men, even the one’s who did not know their father.
A female speaker on gender bias said,
For me, the essence of masculinity is strength—someone who embodies strength with all their being. It is about not being afraid to be vulnerable. It is about presenting your authentic self to the world. It is a strength that comes from within, and does not necessarily have anything to do with the physical. And it has nothing whatever to do with the gender of the person, as every human on this planet has both masculine and feminine traits.
I do not agree that everyone has masculine and feminine traits. If they do, this does not connect to the gender of a person. Gender is an ill-defined concept that does not relate to a person’s sex. Masculinity connects to being of the male sex, not with the concept of a masculine gender. This is a complex area that needs a great deal of unpacking.
Another man said,
I conceptualize ‘masculinity’ as the the set of physical/behavioral features which generally distinguish archetypal members of the male gender from archetypal members of the female gender, to some degree individually but to a far larger degree when combined.
This is an attempt at a simple definition which makes some sense. I would, however, substitute ‘sex’ for ‘gender’. The problem is that it tends to lead towards a standard definition that becomes a stereotype. Men are different from each other and any approach to the term ‘masculinity’ needs to encompass this.
A genderfluid person said,
In humans, masculinity generally involves a higher concentration of testoterone, broad shoulders, an adam’s apple, and plenty more. Masculinity is not only confined to physical traits, however. Females can have masculine physical features and perform masculine activities in all species, by the way. Femininity and masculinity is real, but it is always changing.
This goes further than the previous definition and attempts to encapsulate the physical characteristics of masculinity. They rightly point out out that they need not be exclusive to males.
An interesting female perspective is:
Masculine is simply what a man does. Currently there are unnecessary rumblings about how men ‘should’ behave because of the current pressure to be traditionally masculine in the face of a changing world. Men, don’t worry about it. You are a man! Just try to be a good one.
We get away from the physical traits and back to the idea of what it means to be masculine. Being a man is different for each man and the important piece of this for men to find their own way of being a good one.
A researcher in the concept of masculinity said:
The trouble with defining ‘masculinity’ is that our definition either ends up being irrelevant to gender entirely, or we end up with a set of arbitrary manners or mannerisms which seem limited to the culture which presents them. The thing is, if you strive to be masculine, you will only end up with a parody of masculinity. Strive to be strong, skillful and compassionate to others and set all your strength and skill to serving your compassion.
When you strive to be something it is common not to achieve it. So when it comes to masculinity it works better to be the best person you can be. Build strength with compassion. It is likely, then, that you will have the qualities of being masculine, without trying to be masculine.
Masculinity, for me, is not about outward displays of power, control and strength. It is about displays of inner power, inner control and inner strength. A man’s ability to be who he is, who he wants to be, is the greatest display of masculinity.
So, men, if you want to explore your masculinity you need to look at starting to feel, and starting to explore meaningful connection. It’s OK on the work thing, though, we all need to do that!
—Photo Credit: Flickr/Herb Neufeld