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What It Means To Be Masculine

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When people think about gender, they often think about a continuum with masculinity on one extreme and femininity on the other. Masculinity is a set of characteristics that are associated with maleness while femininity is a set of characteristics that are associated with femaleness. Despite this historical view, little is known about manhood and masculinity. Little research focuses on the male experience. The women’s movement helped make people more gender conscious, but its focus was on women. More recently, gender research has extended to men.

Gender roles are the set of expectations a society has about males and females. These include expectations about appearance, personality traits, emotions, interests, abilities, and occupations. In Western societies, men are generally expected to be stoic and less emotional than women. Women are expected to be more nurturing and less aggressive than men. Men are often assumed to be financially responsible for their families, whereas women are assumed to be homemakers who care for the children. These beliefs define what behaviors are considered appropriate or inappropriate for each gender. It’s obvious that gender roles do more than describe the way things are; they describe how society thinks things should be. A person who conforms to the appropriate gender role is likely to be evaluated positively, whereas deviation from that role may result in avoidance, disapproval, or even hostility. Gender roles help people to define themselves as individuals and to guide their behavior. It is important to note that people do vary in the extent to which they identify with a given gender role. Not all men view themselves in traditionally masculine terms, nor do all women identify with a traditionally feminine image.

The masculine ideal is “taught” at an early age. Boys are told not to cry and to keep a stiff upper lip. They are steered toward traditional masculine toys like trucks. Their G.I. Joes are action figures, not dolls. If G.I. Joe was transformed from an action figure to an actual person, he would have a 55 inch chest and 27 inch biceps. This is as unrealistic as Barbie dolls are for girls.

Most psychologists who study gender agree that biology and socialization likely work together to shape behavior. It is no longer necessary to decide between nature or nurture – masculinity is more than likely influenced by both. There are several other aspects of masculinity to understand. It is important to note that historical context shapes masculinity whether it is internal, external, or a combination of both. Masculinity varies and transforms over time. Masculinity is constantly created and recreated through changes in institutions, such as work, economy, politics, family, and culture. These changes have both social and psychological impacts. Historical context must be taken into account in order to understand masculinity. Another important point is that masculinity varies as it interacts with other individual differences, such as social class, occupation, race, sexual orientation, and religion. Masculinity may mean something different to an upper class white male than to a lower-class minority male.

Every culture has different norms for women and men. These norms are not the same among all cultures. In the United States, males are expected to be masculine: strong (physically and emotionally), competent, rational, independent, and to be able to provide. Individuals who do not conform to the accepted and expected gender norms in a particular culture are socially condemned, informally, by their social groups, or formally, by law. There are some behaviors that are acceptable in one situation but not in another. Men are allowed to cry at funerals but not upon losing at golf.

Many men feel pressured to act masculine. To appear weak, emotional, or sexually inefficient is a major threat to their self-esteem. To be content, these men must feel that they are decisive, self-assured, and rational. Stress may develop if a man feels that he has acted ‘unmanly’. Acting ‘manly’ among peers often results in increased social validation or a competitive advantage. In a study of masculinity, four mechanisms were found to result in emotional stress. They include:

  • the emphasis on prevailing in situations requiring fitness and strength
  • being perceived as emotional and thereby effeminate
  • the need to feel conquering in regard to sexual matters and work
  • the need to repress tender emotions such as showing emotions restricted according to traditional masculine customs

Mainstream media representations play a role in reinforcing ideas about what it means to be a “real” man in our society. In most media portrayals, male characters are rewarded for self-control and the control of others, aggression and violence, financial independence, and physical desirability. Men are often seen working or playing hard or in a situation of risk or adventure. Male characters are often represented as isolated and not needing to rely on others – the lone hero. This can be a lot to live up to.

Research shows that we all have masculine and feminine characteristics. Women, in particular, have challenged the norms expected of them. In the United States, gender expectations for boys are much more severe than for girls. This means that boys are more severely criticized for violating gender norms than are girls. This may be evidence that there is a higher social value placed on masculine characteristics than on feminine ones. It remains acceptable for women to be like men, but unacceptable for men to be like women.

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bBall about 8 years ago bBall

I'd be willing to bet Gayla isn't attracted to feminized men ... Biology trumps social engineering. Let men be men, and women be women. Stuff screwing things up. It's disgusting that western men have become feminized and western women have become masculine. Gross!

snitch12 over 8 years ago snitch12

that was a really thoughtful article..thank you

joe uveges over 9 years ago joe uveges

Gayla, I visited the Santa Fe School site with the intention of contacting someone who might know something of the music scene there. I know, it sounds like a stretch but my wife is an acupuncturist in Colorado Springs and has attended a few classes at the Santa Fe school. I am a touring singer/songwriter and I'm passing through Santa Fe in early June on tour and wanted to find a show in the area. The bizarre thing is that I came upon your blog by accident and read it and loved it. I myself am one of those "outside the role model" men. It took years of struggle as well as relocation to the West from the N.E. which has finally afforded me the freedom to live fully this interesting and counter-cultural life I am leading. I should say "We" for my wife Kristen is living it as much as I. Even more strange is that I actually have an entire CD that is dedicated to just this topic. It is called "Promise of Portage" and it is an album dedicated to taking a look at masculinity and femininity in song form. The album begins with a song called "Still Climbin" which is about the best of the masculine. It ends with a song called "Take Her In, Boy" which is the reclamation of the feminine soul which every man must do in order not to project his soul onto his wife/lover. TOO much info I know, so I'll stop. . . anyway, great blog and if you have any ideas about a show possibility for me down there let me know. Blessings. Joe Uveges www.joeuveges.com