The pressure on men (and women) to fit the masculine mold
Poor 20-something year-old men. Actually, let me clarify. Poor 20-something white, middle-class, heterosexual males. This particular group of “privileged” individuals have been under siege for a while in American society. Obviously, they haven’t had to overcome the challenges of being a racial minority in an institutionally white society. They haven’t had to deal with being discriminated against due to their sexual orientation. They still earn 30 cents more per dollar than women.
In fact, it seems ridiculous to focus on why these American males need help. Even though they’ll probably have no problems getting a job or being able to meld into white, upper-middle class America, young men still have to deal with the idea and the limitations of masculinity.
Masculine, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means, “having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness.” Behaving in a masculine manner or having masculine character traits, however, carries much more social weight than this definition can provide. The definition implies masculinity is everything that is not feminine or associated with women. If we draw the lines of masculinity at the absence of femininity, it creates a dualistic social system that disallows acceptance for fluidity or variance outside of the gender binary, creating a value system incredibly skewed toward men who fit this idea of “manhood”.
Rebecca Plante, a sociology professor at Ithaca College, thinks that this social system is maintained by the constraints of masculinity.
“Masculinity — it’s the ways in which we ask men to keep themselves at a distance. Guys made the world and there’s this irony that they made this narrow world,” Plante said. “Holding power is always double edged; there are some massive benefits to the guy at the top of the pyramid: the white heterosexual, upper-middle class guy. He does get some benefit, but at whose and what expense?”
The idea of masculinity is narrow. Men who want to maintain their privileged positions in society are forced to reject anything that isn’t masculine, which can limit the way that they relate to others and the way that they express themselves socially and emotionally.
Carla Golden, an Ithaca College psychology professor, believes this limitation is due to gender construction.
“Part of masculinity is being non-emotional and I see that as part of the construction of masculinity and femininity as being opposite,” she said. “I think that human beings have emotions, that human beings have feelings and vulnerabilities. And if men, trying to live up to the real-men ideology, have to ignore those, I think that has huge costs.”
The unique thing about this struggle is that men are not oppressed, but rather repressed. Since women and other socially marginalized groups have already been devalued in their societal roles, they tend to be less scrutinized for their behavior. Men, on the other hand have a higher pressure to conform to social mores if they want to maintain their roles in society.
Lewis Kendall, an Ithaca College sophomore, feels that pressure from his friends. “I feel like I’ve shaped my personality in a certain way based on the expectation of my peers, when in reality, that’s not who I am.”
And unlike women, who have been relatively able to assume masculine qualities and roles in society, men are still unable to display feminine traits and qualities without stigma. It’s a matter of our social values system. Women have been able to adopt masculine qualities, because our society values masculinity. But it’s still socially unacceptable for a man to wear a skirt or run a household — things that have been generally associated with being feminine. And while women are often applauded for exhibiting traditionally masculine traits, men and women alike are often demeaned for displaying stereotypically feminine qualities. Society still regards feminine values as negative and worthless.
In order for us to change the way we view gender, we need to assign value to qualities associated with both masculinity and femininity without stigma. In fact, we should assign value to human qualities, regardless of gender. We need to reevaluate masculinity and its limitations as well as the consequences of allowing it to influence our society.
Twenty-something men need to stick it to the man — literally — by challenging the idea of masculinity.
Cady Lang is a sophomore journalism major who doesn’t mind bro-ing out. Email her at clang1[at]ithaca[dot]edu