Dr. Aqualus Gordon wonders if men are being socialized into being afraid to embrace or even admit to traditionally masculine traits—and what the implications of that will be.
There appears to be a trend within online and academic media to reject or diminish the existence of traditionally masculine characteristics among modern men. Indeed, this very web site frequently features articles written by or about men who attest to being deeply in-touch with their “feminine sides,” while often ignoring their relationships with their “masculine sides.” Take for example an article featured on the GMP several weeks ago titled, “The Manliest Thing About Me…” The author, Reesee Zigga Zagga, stopped a random assortment of men at a conference and asked them to complete the phrase: “The manliest thing about me is…” As I was looking through the collection of responses, I was surprised to see that most of them described attributes that are (stereo)typically associated with femininity, such as: “my heart,” “my ability to show emotion,” “I cry,” “my vulnerability.” While I don’t doubt that these men were describing real aspects of their characters, I was left wondering: Are these really the manliest things about these men?
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I think it is fantastic that many men today are able and willing to revel in the softer aspects of their identities. Just a few decades ago, a man’s admission of sympathy or compassion was frequently met with social disapproval and ridicule. Today, many men are quite at ease sharing parts of themselves that may have been disparaged in their fathers’ time—and that is awesome. However, alongside this trend of men embracing their softer side seems to be an omission, dismissal, and (at times even) demonizing of traditionally masculine/male traits, e.g. protectiveness, competitiveness, aggressiveness, assertiveness, sexual appetite, deference to truth over feelings, passion, confidence, independence, and so on.
Of course, these aren’t characteristics necessarily held by all men, nor are they necessarily absent in women. Indeed, I am a firm believer that gender expression is relatively fluid with regard to both sexes—some women are more masculine than some men and vice-versa, and nearly all individuals experience changes in their gender expression during their life or even from one situation to another. Nevertheless, it is also true that the traits listed above (ones typically associated with masculinity) are found in males far more commonly than they are found in females—a distinction which persists across culture, history, and species. Furthermore, most masculine characteristics are directly related to the amount of available testosterone present within any individual. On average, men’s testosterone levels are 10 to 45 times higher than women’s.
This is all to say, no matter how you slice it, men, as a group, embody masculine characteristics more frequently and to a greater degree than do women. While it is arguable that some degree of these traits may be socialized into men at a young age, they are, nonetheless, imbedded aspects of men’s present-day manhood—resistant to change whether they were natured or nurtured into existence. And why should we want to change them?
Whether we are talking about masculinity or femininity, there is nothing inherently good or bad/better or worse about either expression of gender. This notion is as true today as it was fifty years ago.
My concern isn’t just about the re-narrowing of acceptable masculinity within society. What is at stake is men’s ultimate acceptance, understanding, and governance over their own natures as well as an individual and social recognition of what manhood actually entails. When a man can’t admit that the “manliest thing” about him is his insatiable sex drive or a constant yearning to be better than the next guy, then he is left to feel ashamed of these parts of himself or is compelled to deny their existence altogether—only to have them abruptly emerge during times of high stress and/or vulnerability.
Keep in mind that acceptance is not surrender. That is, accepting that you are a highly competitive guy doesn’t mean you must give-in to every felt need to outdo the people around you. On the contrary, by accepting that competitiveness is strong aspect of your character, you can learn when and how to make use of your competitiveness and when and how to reign it in and focus on more important things. By knowing and accepting these aspects of ourselves as men, we can also gain more insight into our lives and our relationships with others, which can be negatively affected by unexamined aspects of our character.
But a man, who is unwilling to admit that he is an aggressive, sexual, protective, or competitive guy (at least to himself), sacrifices his capacity to oversee and make use of those parts of himself that he is too afraid or ashamed of to acknowledge.
Photo: Lizzie279 / flickr