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On Masculinity; or, You Can’t Have One without the Other

Strap in, ladies and gentlemen, because this is gonna be a long one (but well worth it, I think!). Let’s call it Part One, as I’m still working through what I think. Also, please note that this is from my perspective, and I don’t pretend to understand it all or have all the answers. This post is just me sorting out some basic things I’ve been thinking about for the past few days.


A few days ago, we discussed masculinity in my gender studies class; I have to admit, it was pretty eye opening. I have a tendency to rage about women’s rights and the problems with the way our society pressures women, but I don’t often considered the problems men face as well. Granted, it’s clear that men are more privileged, and although men are not better than women, the pervading ideology is that it is better to be a man…but I digress. Not the point of this post.

Even Dr. House follows Guy Code.

I’m sure everyone has heard some version of “Guy Code,” “Bro Code,” et cetera, in regards to how men ought to behave. Well, for my class we read an article called “Bros Before Hos: The Guy Code” by Michael Kimmel. It’s actually a chapter from a book Kimmel wrote called “Guyland.” Anyway, Kimmel discusses the expectations our society has for men, and what it means to be masculine. Essentially, he found four basic ideologies about being a man, which he outlined as:

1.     “No sissy stuff”- To be masculine is to repudiate everything considered feminine. To be a man, you cannot be perceived as “weak, effeminate, or gay.”

2.     “Be a Big Wheel”- Masculinity is measured by wealth, power, and status.

3.     “Be a Sturdy Oak”- “What makes a man is that he is reliable in a crisis.” This is not responding appropriately in a situation, but rather the absence of responding (emotionally, etc)- he should be a rock, a pillar. Essentially inanimate.

4.     “Give ‘Em Hell”- Daring and aggression. Take risks. Fight for what you want. Don’t pay attention to what others say/think/believe/want from you.

Kimmel goes on to talk about where these ideas and pressures come from, and what he found was that this kind of gender policing came from other men. From a young age, many (if not most) boys are taught to be masculine- or to reject anything that may be considered feminine. Think about it. How many times have you heard guys throwing around phrases like, “Dude, that’s so gay,” or “Don’t be such a girl/sissy/pussy.” Kimmel said that even the slightest hint of something feminine can take away a man’s masculinity. Why is that? A gay man is still a man- but our society raises men to believe anything feminine is wrong, and therefore to be a man you cannot be feminine. This is a pretty big contributing factor to the oppression homosexual men face at the hands of their peers; because some gay men (not all) display more feminine traits, they are seen by others as not being a man or, not being man enough.

This brings me to what I see as Problem Number One with the way we presently perceive masculinity. Men, like women, are expected to behave in a certain way, and if they don’t, there are strong negative consequences. And yet, there is nothing wrong with conventional masculinity; there is also nothing wrong with not being conventionally masculine. We need to learn to accept the multitude of masculinities in the world (like with femininities, every man will have his own unique masculinity, and we ought to be able to accept him as is, regardless of how conventional or not he may be).

Moving on, I feel like Kimmel’s second and third points can be grouped with what I said above. Take for example the “be a sturdy oak” rule; for example, men aren’t supposed to cry. Why not? Who cares? Everyone cries. If a man has feelings and wants to cry, let him.

The last thing I want to talk about in this post is the idea that “boys will be boys,” meaning boys will be aggressive, daring, physical, and even violent. Kimmel talks about how aggression is expected from boys and men; it is even looked at sometimes as an appropriate avenue for men to express themselves. Violence can re-assert masculinity, deny weakness, restore status- all things vital to the conventional sense of masculinity. However, this ultimately can contribute to the problems in our society with domestic abuse, rape culture, and other kinds of violence. Big problem.

“Guy code” also gives birth to what Kimmel calls “cultures,” three of them”

1.     A culture of entitlement

2.     A culture of  silence

3.     A culture of protection

I won’t take the time to discuss all three cultures separately, but taken along with the aggression I just talked about, basically these three cultures add up to continue perpetuating the problems our society has with domestic abuse and rape culture. Boys and men learn that they are entitled to a certain dominance or power because they are male. Likewise, they learn cultures of silence and protections. For example, Kimmel discussed an incident of rape wherein there were other men present who said nothing to stop the act, despite feeling uncomfortable. He theorized this could have come from the cultures of silence and protection, wherein the witnesses remained silent to save their own masculinity and avoid mockery or abuse from their peers.

Take for another example the recent rape case in Steubenville. The culture of protection in regards to males has resulted in a lot of sympathy for the rapists and a lot of condemnation for the victim, which seems so backward to me. Instead of blaming the rapists for raping (HELLO???), some news sources (here’s looking at you, CNN) have seemed to almost side with the rapists, blaming the victim while lamenting the perpetrators’ futures. Like WHAT? THEY’RE RAPISTS. DON’T FEEL BAD FOR THEM, THEY RAPED A GIRL.

 I’m digressing a little again, so let me back up and clarify. These themes of masculinity I’m discussing by no means indicate that every man is a would-be rapist or would keep silent about a rape, or domestic violence, or anything like that. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these themes, just like there’s nothing inherently wrong with conventional femininities. What I am saying is that the expectations our society has about men and masculinity can contribute to these kinds of problems when men feel they must conform in order to be men. If men were taught that it was okay not to be aggressive, not to be silent, not to protect each other no matter who else it hurts, then perhaps someone would have taken a stand in Steubenville, and told the rapists to stop, or called the police, or done something differently. Perhaps if men were taught to view women as people of equal value instead of objects for their use, things would be different. Kimmel says that in our society, bullies and predators are empowered and encouraged while good guys are silenced. Men, like women, are faced with pressures to conform to an overarching standard of masculinity; and like the myth of femininity, these pressures can lead to dangerous social norms or ideas and contribute negatively to our culture. The struggle to be one’s own self amidst a barrage of expectations, roles, and norms is universal, not limited only to females.

Granted, men still have more privilege in our culture than women, but they face undue, unfair pressures just the same, and we cannot fix one without looking to the other. In order to achieve true gender equity, we must overcome problems for all genders. We need to learn to accept people as they are, not what we want them to be. I’m not sure what kind of change that would take, but one thing is clear to me: We need change, and we need it now.



4 thoughts on “On Masculinity; or, You Can’t Have One without the Other

  1. I completely agree with this sentiment. Reading this opened my eyes a little more to masculine pressures, which I’ve previously never really paid much attention. Being female, I don’t pretend to know what it feels like to be male; I’ve only dealt with feminine pressures.

    My boyfriend rarely cries or breaks down thinking he needs to be the strong man, but when he does show me those emotions, it feels special. We recently had a conversation about how he still feels like a “boy” and not a “man” as he thinks he should (he’s almost 22). He defined “man” as having more responsibilities like bills/savings/job/marriage (read as providing for me) instead of youtube/video games/drumming. I thought this was unreasonable, because I don’t feel like a woman yet (I’m 21). He promptly explained that I’m not a woman yet and wouldn’t be one until I have children. Why should he feel the need to be a “man” at 22 waaay before I’m to mature into the realms of woman/motherhood? He was so matter-of-fact about becoming a man NOW because that’s what he SHOULD be.

    I know he has family pressures, but maybe he should just be content with taking one step at a time instead of diving right into “manhood.”

    • Exactly. Thanks for sharing, Kelsey! (: There’s so much pressure on boys to become men that instead of understanding that becoming an adult happens at a different pace for everyone (men and women), boys feel they need to “become men” in order to be valuable or perceived as responsible, mature, et cetera et cetera (at least, this is in my perception).

      Girls, I think, face less pressure to become women, although I’m not sure why that is. For me, at least, I know there are days where I feel like more of an adult woman than a girl, and some days where I don’t. I imagine I won’t really feel like an adult woman until I’m fully out of school and doing whatever it is I do after that. And maybe not even then. Maybe I will always be a little bit girl, a little bit woman, and all person. Hmmm. There’s a thought.

  2. People are just as rotten to rape victims when the victims are male: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-20/sodomy-hazing-leaves-13-year-old-victim-outcast-in-colorado-town.html

    I have read many accounts of females raping (usually involving adult women and minor children) and I do not recall seeing anything to support the idea that female sexual predators are treated any worse or more unfairly than male ones.

    Our culture admires strength (even toxic strength) and is repulsed by weakness. The “guy code” prepares a boy to compete in a world that plays hardball. Women who want to compete in that world have had to learn things straight out of the “guy code” themselves.

    Evolution is a real thing: the family with a tough guy protecting and sheltering the kin has an advantage over the family that lacks such a figure (especially during the vulnerable years when a woman is pregnant or nursing). It is a lot of work and stress, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe to simply stop doing it.

    • Valid points, yet it’s also not necessarily safe to accept the “as is” without looking critically at expected social roles, which is what I was trying to do. The facts are that the majority of rapists are male, and their victims female, and there is a certain culture in our society that allows this culture to continue. I’m not saying that sort of rape is worse than a female raping a male, but it is more prevalent. That’s all. And the overall point I was trying to make was to look critically at expected gender roles or social roles and go from there.

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