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The Mask Of Masculinity

health lifestyle


Fordham University


The Mask Of Masculinity

Scared of what? Scared of who? Scared of you.

Liam Mckeone


I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of masculinity. That isn’t to say I’m uncomfortable in my own skin, but a lot of the attributes that a man “should have” are ones that I never seemed to possess. I always knew I wasn’t a “man’s man”, so to speak; I got cut from every sport I tried out for in high school, I liked to read instead of work out, and I hated conflict, so I never got in a fight. My interests fit the socially acceptable perpetuation of masculinity in that I still liked sports and tossing the pigskin around and all that, so I never felt like I was too different. I was just never the big, strong, burly, bearded man who dominated a room and did as he pleased. I thought I was comfortable in that skin, but then I received a text from a girl, one that got me thinking about masculinity and what it means. She said that she wanted to be with a man, and I was, well, me. Not a man, or at least not in the classic sense of the word. This didn’t bother me all that much at the time, since I always thought I felt indifferent to those kind of expectations. But as I thought more and more about it, I realized something disturbing. I felt afraid. I was afraid that, because I didn’t fit into the stereotype of a real man, I wouldn’t be able to do what I wanted, I wouldn’t be able to find someone to spend the rest of my life with, I wouldn’t be able to be happy. I was afraid that my true self, the person that I try to be in order to lead the life I want, wasn’t good enough. Simply because one girl said that I wasn’t a man. A state of mind brought about by society insisting that if I wasn’t going to be manly, I wouldn’t be anything at all.

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called “The Mask We Live In”. It examines the role of masculinity in our society, and the negative effects it has on adolescents everywhere. It specifically addresses the typical traits associated with being a man, i.e. showing no emotion or weakness, no desire for male intimacy, etc. What the documentary calls to mind is that society’s concept of masculinity is forcing adolescents to not be themselves, to act in ways that are both harmful for them and the people around them. They’re scared of what might happen if they don’t come off as a man.

The subjects of the documentary are mostly teenagers going through high school, but the problems raised follow men far beyond that adolescent age. Young men are afraid of what will happen if they aren’t what our culture expects them to be. While the importance of masculinity isn’t as obviously forced upon us anymore, the idea that we must be masculine in order to succeed is still expected in all young men. The impressions of what a true man is, something we learn from movies, TV shows, the media, even politics, still resonates with us every day. There are a lot of guys who are comfortable with this idea of masculinity, and lead their lives without having to fear being different from it. Then there are others - guys who aren’t exactly comfortable with that concept of masculinity, who are afraid of not fitting into that description of a man. The traits that encompass being a man, and the accusations and insults that come along with not having those, are demonstrated effectively in a chart made by the Women and Gender Advocacy Center at Colorado State University.

This idea of masculinity is enforced all throughout society, and what 'kind of masculine' we’re supposed to be is affected by a number of factors, including class, race, athletic ability, and sexual orientation. The expectations that come along with being a male start way younger than you’d might expect. But we play because we are boys - because that’s what we’re supposed to do.

In a research article on masculinity for The Open Journal of Social Science Research, Flourish Itulua-Abumere offers, “masculinity is a performance, a set of stage directions, a ‘script’ that men learn to perform.”

We feel like we have to learn this script of what we’re supposed to act like because we think we can’t be in the play if we don’t. Our fear of being on the outside is something that is inherently human, and difficult to change; but our societal concepts of masculinity is something that absolutely can be altered. We have the power to change the system so that no guy feels inadequate because he doesn’t check all the boxes of masculinity that our culture demands. We can act now and do something like eliminating “locker room talk” from guys’ night, or later on and encourage our future sons to try out for a part in the play instead of starting quarterback. Either way, the power to change lies with us. Let’s write our own script.