Men are the number one perpetrators of gender-based violence towards…themselves. In a society (and I’m using the term quite broadly here) which places the utmost value on the display of ultra masculine traits such as being aggressive and being in control of one’s non-existent emotions (read apathetic) at all times, men are constantly policing their behaviours in an attempt to avoid the revocation of their social statuses as “real men”.
I describe being a “man” as a social status as it appears to be a privilege (or is it really?) to be bestowed upon us by others, as opposed to womanhood, which girls more naturally attain upon physical maturity. The theories from various psychological studies surrounding men and our precarious statuses as such, have made for quite interesting reading this week. Also, the #MasculinitySoFragile hash tag on Twitter could not have appeared at a better time, neither could the #CisgenderSoFragile hash tag have been a more suitable counterpart (the Universe was once more in agreement with my choice of topic 🙂 ).
I would like to share with you what I have garnered about hegemonic masculinity from reading approximately half a dozen articles and research papers. Some of the samples were predominantly white men, so I took them with a grain of salt, but the general findings were replicated across studies which included men of colour, thus providing them with some validity.
“In the modern technoindustrial culture, it is possible to proceed from infancy into senility without ever knowing manhood.” – Edward Abby
Being a “man” is something one earns, as opposed to who one IS
Manhood has been described as a set of ideals that no-one could ever live up to much less maintain. It includes an appropriately masculine identity in addition to three fundamental roles of providing, protecting and procreating. Being a man is, at it’s core, action-based apparently, so one has to place their manhood on public display in order to obtain society’s “manhood stamp of approval”. Evidence of this was given by one study which asked participants to describe the degree to which the transition from either “boyhood to manhood” or “girlhood to womanhood” could be attributed to physical or social factors.
Consistent with the theory that manhood is “earned”, persons attributed the transition from boyhood to manhood to social factors more than physical ones. The transition from girlhood to womanhood however, was equally attributed to both. Perhaps this is a remnant of earlier civilizations where boys were require to undergo rites of passage which marked their entry into manhood. Many of these rituals were savage in nature and required boys on the cusp of manhood to perform certain feats such as killing a large, wild animal or undergo some brutal physical alteration quite stoically. In modern civilizations we no longer have such rigorous rituals so men are left without such an avenue to cross the threshold from boyhood into manhood.
Being a man is both a temporary and tenuously held status
Once you have, by societal standards at least, become a “man”, then there is an unspoken requirement to continuously declare it lest one ever forgets; god forbid. This highlights men’s need to incessantly re-achieve this status and the respect of others; also known as the manhood “norm of status”. This constant need to prove one’s manhood, especially in situations where it is “threatened”, results in a state of perpetual anxiety for men as they have to ensure that they are always projecting the right image. To this end men display more aggression, engage in risky behaviour and resort to violence when there is a perceived gender threat. Correlating a man’s role to be the provider and sustaining his prestige as a “real” man, it was found that actual or anticipated job loss resulted in a perceived “loss of manhood”; and it proved to be one of the chronic stressors associated with said gender role. Sorry lads, if you’re unemployed, you’re just not a “real” man.
Manhood is contradistinctive
Manhood is also defined in terms of what it’s not: femininity. It has an anti-femininity principle which men are more than painfully aware of, as the slightest indication of femininity in one’s behaviour results in a compulsory revocation of one’s “man card”. Thus, men are exceedingly cautious not to participate in activities or find themselves in situations which would be perilous to their manhood. Such activities include expressing one’s emotions, as that is seen as being a trait only women possess. And god forbid they be referred to as a woman; it’s worse than emasculation honestly. Also, the desire to possess, or actual possession of a rose gold iPhone is a manifestation of your feminine ways, which also effectively extinguishes your manly existence. This aversion to femininity also sheds light on the roots of homophobia and transphobia as gay and trans men challenge the concepts of traditional manhood and redefine it in their own terms. This apparently is another stressor and gender threat to which men must resort to violence in order to resolve.
It is this kind of dichotomous thinking which ensnares persons in gender roles and punishes them for gender variant behaviour. It successfully cripples society as no longer are individuals free to be themselves, but must conform to a set of ideals they neither fully identify nor are comfortable with. But where does this policing of gender behaviour begin? Some studies argue that as early as birth are boys treated with masculinity-promoting disregard.
We leave our boys to self-soothe while being doting parents towards our little girls. According to studies (which I cannot cite because they were only mentioned in articles), from birth, we comfort, nurture and interact with our boys less than we do our girls. We also scold them more harshly for “feminine” behaviour than we do their counterparts for “masculine” behaviour. Given this information, it would appear that we begin to emotionally incapacitate our boys from an early age by restricting their self-expression, then proceed to postulate that girls naturally emotionally mature faster than boys. But do they really, or is this phenomenon as a result of differences in socialization?
This topic of manhood and masculinity intrigues me; especially as I attempt to navigate this world as a trans man of colour. I’ve often been referred to as a gay man because of effeminate behaviour such as (attempting) to dress well and general acts of politeness such as holding (or opening) the door for both men and women alike. Of course I think nothing of it, but the reactions of various individuals have oft prompted me to reexamine whether or not I was committing some unspeakable social atrocity.
Upon examining hegemonic masculinity and it’s effect not only on men, but those around them (effectively society at large), I have spoken about the need for a change in how we perceive masculinity and subsequently manhood; but I believe in addition to that, we also need to reexamine how we socialize our boys. The limitations we have placed on their self-expression are harmful and so are the restrictions we place on showing them affection and love. Moreover, when we have begun to link behaviours such as speaking proper English to a gender you know we are in trouble; good grammar should be in everyone’s arsenal.
As a child, I spent many a daydream imagining the man I would become; what I would be like, how I would live, the calibre of the legacy I would leave behind. Would I have a wife or was I to spend my days as a bachelor? Would “we” have children or would I be a single parent? Would I reside in a four bedroom house or typical bachelor pad? Regardless of the contents of my brilliant and affluent future, there were always core principles which resounded with me; which, to me, captured the very essence of what it was to be a man.
Respect of both myself and others
In all my dealings do I strive to embody these core principles as they are what I deem essential to my identity as a man. Especially with the constant bombardment from mainstream media about what really characterizes a “man”, I am challenged daily to redefine what manhood means to me lest I fall prey to the toxic hyper masculinity it constantly projects; I am by no means perfect, but I do try. I have come to not only accept, but to embrace the more feminine aspects of my individualism as without it, I would have effectively extricated a significant portion of my humanity.