Men and Masculinity
By: Jake Moore
Hey again, friends.
There is often a… precariousness associated with masculinity here in the United States, right? You know what I mean… Man card. Guy code. Dude law. That sort of thing? The kind of thing where, if you violate it, you lose that respect your friends or family have for you?
I’ll give you an example. Just picture this: A stay at home dad.
What are the first things that come to mind? What stories does your mind create about this man? I probably did not have to fill in the gaps there, because studies have shown many people consider stay at home dads less masculine than their working counterparts.
Masculinity in the United States is often synonymous with independence, self-reliance, emotional stoicism, and aggression. We have this picture of men that is hard to break and unfortunately men are often ridiculed, ostracized, and even sometimes harmed if they violate these assumptions. Thus, making adhering to these expectations vitally important, even if they go against a person’s internal view of themselves. And just like with other gender role expectations, these assumptions start young. We are talking since birth here, people. For example, did you know that boy-identified babies are picked up, cuddled, and comforted less frequently than their girl-identified counterparts? What’s more, the average age that boys are last picked up and held by their parents is significantly younger (6 years old) than girls (9 years old) (Pascoe, 2007; Pollack, 2005).
The problem is that men desire this type of intimacy just as much as the next person (Stulhofer et al., 2014). However, men who express this desire are often ridiculed, or may face rejection during dating interactions. In school, children are often observed bullying the boy-identified child who violates the stoic, independent, competent expectation (Levant & Richmond, 2016; Smiler, 2014). The boys that are sensitive, considerate, and soft spoken are made to feel weak, which ultimately teaches them to hide their true selves.
So, what’s the big deal? I mean, men are the holders of so much privilege in the United States that it only seems natural that there are no downsides to the experience of manhood. Well, some research suggests that these expectations of masculinity might actually contribute to many of the negative behaviors we see in men. Things like aggressive outbursts, explosive anger, or even assaults correlate highly with men who fit the stereotypical profile of masculinity (Levant & Richmond, 2016; Pascoe, 2007). It is also possible that the fragility I mentioned earlier is a cause. See, men in our culture feel they shouldn’t change. If they do, they fail at being what they should be. Therefore, they are rejected and are viewed as less than because such changes violate the fundamental assumptions of masculinity. Yet, we continue to hope that men will make changes to their behavior, even when the consequences for doing so are scary. Men don’t express affection or tears, we remain stoic and unyielding. Men are professionally driven; we take what we want and find ways to succeed. Men don’t ask for help, they figure it out themselves.
It’s up to us to instill a broader view of what being a man means in our culture, across all racial, sexual, and other social identities, so that we can create a healthier view of masculinity. Imagine helping a little boy understand and express his sadness, rather than telling him “boys don’t cry.” Maybe that boy would learn that it’s okay to express his feelings instead of bottling them up. Maybe that expression would help him understand anger, or fear, so that he could find healthy and safe avenues to let those emotions out, too. Imagine men asking for help when they need it and letting others take the lead instead. Maybe the openness to be vulnerable would help men open themselves up to their partners, or friends, and create closer relationships with others.
So take a moment… No matter what gender you identify with, how do you define masculinity? What behaviors or qualities do you expect from someone who is masculine? Now, think about how those expectations, whether they are for yourself or for the men in your life, require men to act. It starts with these little expectations to make a broader impact.
Levant, R. F., & Richmond, K. (2016). The gender role strain paradigm and masculinity ideologies. In Y. J. Wong & S. R. Wester (Eds.), APA handbooks in psychology series: APA handbook of men and masculinities (pp. 23-49). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14594-002
Pascoe, C. J. (2007). Dude, you’re a fag: Masculinity and sexuality in high school. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Pollack, W. S. (2005). Sustaining and reframing vulnerability and connection: Creating genuine resilience in boys and young males. In S. Goldstein, R. B. Brooks, S. Goldstein, & R. B. Brooks (Eds.), Handbook of resilience in children. (pp. 65-77). New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers. https://doi.org/10.1007/0-306-48572-9_5
Smiler, A. P. (2014). Resistance is futile? Examining boys who actively challenge masculinity. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 15, 256-259. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037286
Štulhofer, A., Ferreira, L. C., & Landripet, I. (2014). Emotional intimacy, sexual desire, and sexual satisfaction among partnered heterosexual men. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 29, 229-244. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2013.870335