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Redefining Masculinity

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Fordham University

culture

Redefining Masculinity

And men's thoughts on the subject

Victoria Munoz

3.20.18

Read time: 8 min.
Photography by Spencer Krell

At a young age, I remember believing boys had to always be strong, had to take charge, and definitely didn’t cry. I learned this rigid definition of masculinity through my grandpa refraining from showing any emotion except anger, boys on the playground teasing another for crying, and from playing “house” with neighbors and the boy blatantly saying “you’re the girl so you cook for me”. All of these instances are reflective of the concept of masculinity society has created. The modern concept of masculinity includes being the strong and silent type, never asking for help, hiding any emotion, conquering women, and being the leader.

As I grew older, I realized the devastating effect this rigid definition of masculinity has on women, but until recently, I never pondered the devastating effect it has on men. Justin Baldoni, an actor and feminist, has brought this issue to light. Baldoni, most famous for playing Rafael on Jane The Virgin, has always played stereotypical manly roles. Although he portrays himself as a macho man on-screen, Baldoni admits these characters don’t represent him at all. Unlike the TV personas he plays, Baldoni is sensitive; he adores his children, listens to his wife, feels weak, cries for joy and due to shame, struggles with body issues, and over all needs help sometimes.

After a guy’s trip to the beach, Baldoni opened up to his friends and realized he wasn’t the only man who had hidden struggles. After this realization, he created a TED Talk and social media campaign to challenge men to re-examine the definition of masculinity and how it constrains them emotionally. Baldoni is asking men everywhere to take the same qualities that make them feel like a man, and use them to explore their hearts.

He asks men everywhere: “Are you brave enough to be vulnerable? To reach out to another man when you need help? To dive headfirst into your shame? Are you strong enough to be sensitive, to cry whether you are hurting or you're happy, even if it makes you look weak? Are you confident enough to listen to the women in your life?”


Although I loved the idea of challenging men to radically redefine and explore their own masculinity, I wanted to learn a guy’s take on the subject. Is this radical redefining easier said than done? Do the men in my life feel constrained by the traditional concept of masculinity? Do they see the benefits of deconstructing this rigid definition of masculinity? To gain some answers, I asked male Fordham students these hard, and at times uncomfortable, questions and these were their brilliant thoughts:

ON "BOYS DON'T CRY" AND "MAN UP":

  • “I think these phrases are cultural things which America continues to promote. It’s interesting because boys are generally seen as being immature and not as emotionally developed as girls of a similar age. Girls seem to be far more comfortable and adept at talking and vocalizing their emotions which in my mind helps them to have a better handle on their emotional intelligence."

  • “It feels pretty sexist at this point. When I hear the phrase ‘man up’, it seems to imply that men should not be vulnerable and that women can not be strong - neither of which I agree with.”

  • "I think it’s so annoying that boys “aren’t allowed to cry” because I sometimes find myself holding back tears when I’m in public sometimes even though I think it’s totally fine for anyone to cry in public. This just shows that as much as I try to contradict this phrase, it still affects me. These phrases promote the idea that being a man means that we can’t show emotion or be vulnerable. I think that’s so stupid because these are essential characteristics for being human. So basically society is trying to rip us from our humanity."


ON WOMANIZING:

  • “There’s for sure pressure to be a womanizer. I felt like virginity was a curse and I wanted so desperately to get rid of it before I came to college. It was like a big badge of shame.”

  • “I think there are strong ties between the concept of masculinity and being domineering over others - in terms of proving yourself as better than other men and in terms of asserting yourself over women. I don't like either connotation.”


ON AFFECTION:

  • “Men, and especially young men, mock affection because, at least in part, feelings can scare them. By being taught that, as men, we aren't supposed to express emotion, it makes it that much harder to understand these emotions, and we fear things we don't understand, so we lash out when seeing the reflections of our own feelings happening right in front of us.”

  • “I have been hesitant at times to show my softer side which I use when I am alone with a girl. I think this comes from the fact that most men, myself included, feel the need to uphold this image of a tough guy who is not hamstrung by emotion and isn’t ‘soft.’”

ON HOBBIES:

  • “I grew up reading more than anything which, while it isn't really an aggressively "feminine" activity, is definitely not a masculine one, and I was picked on accordingly. I definitely felt pressure growing up to play sports and like things that guys were expected to because it was 'just what guys do’."

  • “I have always enjoyed playing the piano and reading. Most of my friends don’t do either. I do think about the fact that many other males don’t consider either habit to be cool or manly. This has lead me at times to curb the amount of time I’ve spent doing both.”

  • "I can now proudly say that I love fashion, dancing, theater, and even hanging out with my girl friends... but I would never be able to admit this if I was still the age of 12."


ON STANDING UP FOR WOMEN:

  • "If it's inappropriate, I try to steer the conversation elsewhere in non-confrontational ways, and I think most men probably do that. However, I think the masculine conceptions still exist and make it hard to really confront someone else about being misogynistic because these conceptions have been so engrained over time."

  • "I do feel like most men don’t stand up for women mainly because they are also afraid of not being liked. In general, even though I disagree with the term ‘man up,’ I do think that men should ‘man up’ in the sense of learning to speak up, whether it is about their feelings or degrading comments about other people."

  • "I try to. I'm not perfect about it, and it's definitely a work in progress; the likelihood of me saying anything when I'm in a room filled with a group of aggressively straight dudes is less than if I were at a bar and heard a guy say something sexist or degrading, but I'm trying to correct that. Honestly, I don't think most men do. There's too much of 'dudes being guys' and 'locker room talk' that only a small group will actually speak up. Something we all gotta work on."


ON CHANGE:

  • “I think it's changing now - whether that's a product of me reaching my twenties or a product of our cultural progression in 2018, I'm not sure. I think men are starting to feel more comfortable in veering from traditional conceptions of masculinity, and I think that society is also beginning to realize that many of those conceptions either allowed or encouraged men to act inappropriately."

  • "I definitely feel like all men feel constrained by the concept of being traditionally masculine, but society has imposed that idea on them in such discrete ways, that sometimes they don’t even notice it. If one man did challenge this concept, I definitely think it would inspire other men to do the same."


Redefining masculinity is a difficult process yet a necessary process. These quotes only demonstrate a sliver of the negative effects a rigid definition of masculinity brings has on men and women. In order to radically redefine masculinity, we must encourage men to embrace traits commonly associated with the feminine such as vulnerability, sensitivity, and affection because these are positive traits that any human, not just men or women, should want. How can we do encourage men to do this? We must raise boys and girls that understand the importance of redefining what it means to be masculine and feminine. In the words of Justin Baldoni, "Instead of teaching our children to be brave boys or pretty girls, can we maybe just teach them how to be good humans?”