Do you know what it takes to make a man? I mean a real man. A manly man. A monument to masculinity. A testament to testosterone. A pinnacle of … you get the idea.
I asked people to define masculinity in some kind of useful way. For a definition to be useful, it has to be able to differentiate between groups. So if you have a definition for a man, there should be some point where it will absolutely exclude women. Yes, gender is a spectrum, and there are hazy bits, but at some point, we should be able to take our definition and state with certainty that an individual is a man or a woman.
There is only one definition that works 100% of the time. (Bonus! It also really reduces the number of hazy points on the spectrum.)
A real man is someone who identifies as a man. Masculinity — that is, the characteristics of being a man — is whatever a person decides it is for themselves.
That’s it. That’s the definition.
I don’t want to hear about being aggressive or decisive. I don’t want to hear about hormones. I certainly don’t want to hear about masculine and feminine energy — whatever the fuck those are. None of those determine what makes a man.
Those characteristics might be part of your definition of masculinity, and I can’t do anything about that. You get to define your gender identity however you want. I would say that I’m happy for you, but if your gender identity relies on really sexist definitions, then I’m honestly not happy at all, but here we are.
A man is a man because they identify as a man. It doesn’t matter what they wear, what they do, who they sleep with, or how much they bench.
A trans man is a man because they identify as a man. They might choose to express their gender identity by getting a short haircut or wearing a certain style of clothing, but they don’t have to do any of those things to be a real man. They are already a real man. There are no external criteria that get applied to them to determine if they are a real man.
Yes, it’s a circular definition. But I can’t dictate anyone’s gender identity. The reasons you have for considering yourself to be a man are incoherent, inconsistent, irrational, and formed out of a twisted social construction initially designed to oppress half the population. But they’re your reasons and I can’t take them away from you. You are a man if you identify as a man.
There is one really big implication that I wish everybody would adhere to (but they probably won’t).
Don’t apply your definitions to anyone else.
If you are talking about masculinity and femininity, you can only reasonably talk about what your own personal definitions are for you as an individual. You cannot apply your definition of masculinity to someone else to determine if they are masculine.
No one gets to gatekeep gender. No one gets to come up with a list of rules to determine if someone else is a real man.
We are flooded with messages about this construct. There are countless articles telling us what real men do or what good masculinity looks like. A lot of these are good-faith attempts at correcting the terrible problems of sexism and patriarchy. But too often they veer straight back into adhering to narrowly defined gender roles. They might provide a different definition for what constitutes good behavior, but they are still trapped within the idea that there exists some true definition of masculinity or femininity that can be articulated by external criteria.
It’s not progressive to say that women should be praised for embracing masculine characteristics by being leaders. It’s not progressive to say that men should be praised for embracing feminine characteristics by showing emotion.
Being a leader and showing emotion have nothing to do with gender. Those aren’t masculine or feminine characteristics. Women should be praised for being leaders and men should be praised for showing emotion because those options have been denied to them for so long.
Society doesn’t get to keep women from leadership roles for centuries and then claim today that being a leader is a masculine quality because being a leader is what men do. That’s some Grade A Bullshit. Society doesn’t get to forcibly deny boys from showing emotion and then claim that showing emotion is a feminine quality because showing emotion is not what men do. That’s some more Grade A Bullshit.
If you find yourself doing these things, follow these two steps:
Second, ask yourself why these qualities relate to your gender identity and if you should update your personal definitions.
An optional third step is to call out this kind of behavior when you see it. You’ll have plenty of opportunities because it is everywhere.
This post was previously published on Modern Identities.
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