I have long had issue with the archaic concept of what constitutes “being a man”; the idea that acting in a certain way was “manly” or “masculine” and acting in another was “feminine”. The typical implication of which, for a man, is that acting in a “feminine” manner is a negative or taboo thing, or, more damningly in our homophobic society, means you must be gay. This, in one swift motion, bolsters the idea that straight “masculine” men are superior to both women and gay men. Masculinity and femininity are a complete societal fabrication and have no bearing on one’s ability to function within society. How someone speaks, talks, walks, dresses, or acts has no effect on their ability to do any given task or job, and neither does their sexual preference. Believing otherwise is both ignorant and hateful. Add to this many of the more “toxic” masculine ideals and things just get worse.
You see it in memes; “if your boyfriend can’t [insert random task], you have a girlfriend.” A braggadocios claim, rooted in insecurity, and typically in reference to some relatively trivial task associated with auto repair, home improvement, or niche “manly” hobby. In reality a person’s ability or inability to perform routine maintenance on an automobile has no bearing on whether they present themselves as “masculine” or “feminine” in society, and vice versa. Similarly, a disinterest in professional sports is typically viewed as “unmanly” when, again, they are completely unrelated. These are some of the more superficial examples, and frankly they’re laughable at best, but people truly believe these things.
What makes a man?
Is it that they like sports, beer, and cars. That they can fix things and build things. They wear shirts and pants or suits; never a dress or skirt. Those are all things typically considered to be “manly”, are they not? Little girls are supposed to play with dolls, little boys are supposed to play with hot wheels. Girls wear dresses, boys play sports. Tired tropes we all know. Let us consider other fundamental things that make one stereotypically “Manly”.
Men are “strong” and never show “weakness”. Men provide for and carry the burdens of the family, financially or otherwise. If the woman provides, the man is not strong enough; he is weak. Men don’t cry or show emotion. Showing emotion is a sign of weakness. Men are “brave”, “courageous”, and “fearless”. Showing fear is a sign of weakness. Men are conquerors who take things by force, and don’t take no for an answer. Backing down or compromising is a sign of weakness. A real man does things for himself, he doesn’t ask for help. Asking or help is a sign of weakness. A man won’t let others tell him what to do or make him submit. Letting others tell you what to do is a sign of weakness. A man keeps his problems to himself. Never tell other people your weaknesses. Men are hard working and tireless. Rest is for the weak. Never show compassion or sympathy. Caring about other people is for fucking pussies.
This, friends, is part of what is known as “toxic masculinity”. The idea that anything that could possibly be construed as “weakness” is not manly, and thus must be avoided at all costs. To be a man you must be ever-strong and unfeeling. You must act under no one’s direction other than your own, and must do things on your own. Anything less means you’re not a “real man”. Sure, some these might be extremes and, yes, typically in most folks minds there’s some wiggle room, but fundamentally this is what society considers being a “man”. This is a tall order. Principles of manhood essentially ask you to be a heartless, tireless, and emotionless robot.
It’s easy to see how this could be toxic. Growing up in a society that teaches young men that this is what is expected of them, and that variation makes them somehow fundamentally flawed. That behaving in a “unmanly” way means that something is wrong with them. How many men out there bottle up every issue they face in their life and suffer in silence to keep up appearances? How many would never consider therapy or counseling, even though they would be healthier mentally if they dealt with their psychological trauma? Not to mention that some of these ideas of what constitutes strength and what constitutes weakness are entirely baseless. Is there more strength in hiding your emotions, or facing them openly? Is there more strength in doing it all alone, or admitting when the help of others would get the job done better or more efficiently? It’s all subjective.
It doesn’t just stop there, though, for what are the other implications of this? What do these ideals of “manhood” imply about those who do not fulfill these requirements or, inversely, are not men? They are weak. Lesser. In not as many words these sentiments imply that men are superior beings to women, and that to act womanly is to act weak, and vice versa. That if you act “feminine” you are acting as inferior.
This is all a huge crock of bullshit. None of that shit makes you a “man”. Literally any person can fulfill those requirements; male, female, or intersex, it makes no difference. Your sex and gender have no bearing on your ability to fulfill those requirements. It stands to reason, then, that just as being a woman does not make you weak or inferior; being a man does not make you strong or superior.
Children are reared in a society that forces them into boxes, when that’s just not how humans are. People hide their true selves for fear of retaliation from a hateful and ignorant society. Men mask their own insecurities by putting on a “manly” bravado and calling other men “pussies”. These gender norms are only the “norm” because we say they are; there’s no reason things must, or even should, be this way.
That’s not all, there are serious implications of the sexism and homophobia that permeates american societal norms. Many men refuse to wear masks during this 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic for fear of being considered weak, just to cite a recent example. Many men have this defense mechanism of acting “hyper-masculine” to cover their insecurities. In my own life I’ve come to notice that most of the folks who present themselves as “manly men”, tend to be the ones who are also too proud or stubborn to support the Black Lives Matter movement, the LGBTQ community, or other fights for equality and justice. Caring about other people, their lives, and their livelihoods isn’t “cool” or “manly”, for being compassionate, by their estimation, makes you weak. They all also tend to be those “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” types; just “be stronger” or “be a man” and you’ll be better off. This show of “manliness” is a sham. A feeble attempt at feeling superior to others that only serves to make you look like an unfeeling asshole.
Terrifyingly, most of those men would take being called an “unfeeling asshole” as a compliment.
Ask yourself this: if all of society would accept you no matter how you presented yourself, would you act the same? Dress the same? Talk the same? I reckon the answer for many folks is “no.” People should be able to be who they really are and be genuine to their true selves without fear. What constitutes “strength” and “weakness” is subjective in the first place, and being weak or strong does not make you “masculine” or “feminine” and vice versa. The more superficial identifiers of masculinity such as general interests, hobbies, and attire are entirely irrelevant to sex and gender. The idea of masculinity and femininity are meaningless social constructs that unnecessarily divide us as human beings and cultivate hate towards those who do not fit neatly into either box.
I feel this won’t be the last time I touch on this topic, as it’s one I’m quite passionate about. In the meantime: Be kind to one another. Be compassionate to your fellow human beings. Be yourself, and encourage others to do the same. Dress however makes you happy.
We’re not men and women, we’re humans, and people should be allowed to be themselves.