The Importance of Redefining Masculinity

  • Editorials
Mia H. ('22)

In the ever-evolving political landscape of today’s society, we see numerous traditional structures being continuously challenged, with issues ranging from sexuality and gender identity to race and gender equality growing to be further acknowledged in rapid succession. Although the world seems to have grown in some ways for women - with more options available for them than ever before - one question that has yet to be posed is what it means to be a man. Feminism, defined as a range of social and/or political movements that aim to establish political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes, has done well in developing an environment where young females can receive equal opportunities to males in school, work, and daily life. The goals for feminism in recent years have been largely focused on raising awareness about the societal struggles women today face and challenging them, but with this surge forward for girls, it seems as though the male aspect of gender justice has been overlooked. As Michael I. Black, a writer for the New York Times wrote in his essay titled The Boys Are Not All Right, “To be a girl today is to be the beneficiary of decades of conversation about the complexities of womanhood, its many forms, and expressions. Boys, though, have been left behind. No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate toward a full expression of their gender. It’s no longer enough to “be a man” — we no longer even know what that means.”

Girls are being told that they can do anything they set their minds to, whether it be reaching academic,  athletic or personal goals, or fitting into feminine and masculine molds - but while there are many ways to be a girl, there is, seemingly, only one way to be a boy. One way to see this is how children are being conditioned - children's toys now are still distinctly categorized into girls’ and boys’ toys. But while girls now are being encouraged to play with either, boys have been more strictly confined to their own toys and told that they are weak or called slurs if they play with girls’ toys. Barbies, for example, have begun to release lines of dolls that are engineers, scientists, and other stereotypically masculine careers. But while toys marketed towards girls are encouraging girls to be whatever they want, boys’ toys are still extremely limited, with few male toys being depicted in traditionally feminine roles. The gendering of children's toys have left an impact on boys around the world - in a survey conducted on teenage boys where they were asked to select traits that they believed were inherently masculine, the trait that was most selected was, unsurprisingly, strength, with 81.3% of participants selecting the trait. Traits such as kindness, caring and communicative, on the other hand, remained a smaller group, with less than 25% of participants selecting them. When we limit traits such as these and categorize these as feminine, we risk teaching young boys that their value is in their physical strength and activeness and prevent them from displaying traits such as kindness and communication, that are essential for human survival.

In the same survey, boys were also asked if they felt there was a social pressure to conform to masculine molds, and over 75% admitted that they felt there was pressure in society to be masculine, even if they didn’t necessarily conform to that pressure themselves. When asked how the pressure to be masculine had limited them, many boys gave responses such as “It’s difficult to ask others for help,” or “I feel as if I can’t show my feelings, otherwise I risk being perceived as weak.” 

          Humans, biologically, are created to depend on each other and to feel emotions. But when we look at how young boys feel they’re being limited, we find that they are being taught to repress some of the most essential qualities of being human. One comment mentioned that, “As a more feminine boy, I feel as if I don’t get as much respect from people, unless I make an effort to be masculine. Although people aren’t necessarily bullying or bothering me, it still feels like there’s a disconnect between me and my peers because I’m not a super masculine person. It’s also difficult for me to talk about my feelings or communicate, at least with my male friends, and as a result, I can’t really process my emotions.”

Masculinity, as a whole, has been a topic that is rarely discussed. As a result, teenage boys are confused on what it means to be a man - and without proper conversation, boys are being limited on who they are and how they’re allowed to act in order to be respected. As people advocating for gender equality, it is important to acknowledge both sides of the coin and be able to see that we cannot push forward one group without deserting the other. The goal then, should not be to push back women but rather to spark conversation on what it means to be a man, and expand the definition of masculinity to empower young boys in reaching their own goals and to be themselves without fear of ostracism. 


Works Cited

  • Editorials
  • masculinity

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