The Huffington Post has an interesting new article about some research on the changing nature of masculinity for teenage boys in England. My primary reaction to the article? Holy shit, the good guys are winning.
One of the biggest changes is that masculinity no longer automatically equals hatred of women and homosexuality. Slut-shaming and use of misogynistic language was rare. And teen boys (as do most people under thirty) explicitly support gay rights, such as marriage, and disavow homophobia. Even though (gay and straight) they’re likely to use “gay” to refer to things they don’t like, they claim this use of gay is unrelated to homosexuality (…somehow).
My personal experience confirms this trend: as a slutty nonbinary pansexual female-assigned person, I’ve experienced an extraordinary amount of basic human respect from my straight cis male friends. I am aware that my experience is very privileged (I grew up in a liberal area and don’t disclose to people who seem to be assholes) but compared to the amount of support I’d have gotten even twenty years ago (i.e. none), it is an amazing change.
…It’s kind of sad that “basic human respect” is a sign of progress, isn’t it?
Perhaps growing out of the greater acceptance of homosexuality, teen boys’ definitions of masculinity have expanded and grown healthier. Within the schools studied, fighting is no longer considered cool or manly. Guys care about looking good and express their sense of style, which is a positive trend (even though that’s something we ought to be watching for signs of an incipient male Beauty Myth). Most heartening, femmephobia has eroded so much in these schools that one of them has adopted Barbie Girl as an unofficial anthem. (England, I approve, keep it up. America has a long way to go.)
One of the biggest changes has been with friends. Freed from homophobia, teenage boys are encouraged to express their love for each other and to value their friendships. Freed from toxic masculinity, they are willing to express their fears, whether of a breakup or of a snake, and to express support for each other. Given the social support gap between men and women, this is amazing progress.
Many teen boys do what the author of the article calls “ironic heterosexual recuperation”: for instance, they might say “I’m so turned on by you right now,” miming homosexual desire as a means of reaffirming their heterosexuality. (Dear God, I’ve seen that SO many times.) It is certainly less homophobic than “ew, you’re gay,” and it allows teen boys to express love, touch each other, etc. However, it is still somewhat problematic, because it ultimately others homosexuality (like any irony, the joke is “isn’t it hilarious I’m saying this, because I’m definitely NOT like that?”)
Are teen boys wandering off, hand in heterosexual hand, into Gender Liberation Utopia? Unlike the author, I’m not willing to go that far. I believe the whole “that’s so gay isn’t homophobic” thing about as much as I believe that calling a woman a cunt isn’t sexist. While they may be less likely to slut-shame than previous generations, they still do, and other forms of sexism, like rape apologism and normalization, are still endemic among teen boys. Faux-homosexuality as a means of differentiating oneself from gay people is an improvement on homophobia for same, but it’s still not good.