Feminism | Posted by Erin F on 08/20/2012

The Confines of Masculinity

traditional masculinity

Gender is a complex social construction that has been developed for centuries. Yet many people still do not understand the differences between sex and gender, or that gender is not as simple as whether you have a penis or a vagina. With the onset of industrialization and capitalism, this problem has gotten even worse, as objects are gendered as well as people.

The way this process works is ideas, clothing, traits, and even personal preferences are characterized as masculine or feminine. These labels themselves are constructed through social norms and societal expectations. This assignment is vital, as it then isolates said idea to its category, where it’s status is then determined. More often than not, masculine traits are valued and feminine traits are devalued. It is through this framework that we come to expect people to conform and fit into the labels we have assigned them. Girls are expected to take pleasure in makeup, fashion, children and romance while boys are taught to like sports, dominance, gore and violence.

It is through this systematic oppression (on both ends) that we see people of all genders face roadblocks to freedom, expression and identity. However, I believe men face the most oppression in this area. Gender identity is intimately linked to ideas of masculinity, and males are expected to conform to those social norms. Being even the least bit feminine in appearance or behavior can result in bullying, harassment or even violence. I once was listening to a talk given by a male–to-female transsexual who was asked which bathroom she used in public. She said that once she started to take on a more feminine appearance, she no longer felt safe using the male bathrooms. I think this shows the socialization and enforcement of gender norms that happens with males more strictly than females.

Think about it…. There’s probably been a time in your life when you have seen a guy being called a “pussy” for acting or behaving like a woman, seen a man in real life or in the media being “caught” using some type of “feminine” product such as lip balm and was then shamed for it. But, on the flip side, think about times you’ve seen women acting like a man or using a “masculine” product. Was she shamed or ostracized? Of course there are circumstances where she will be (for example, female bosses who enforce the same authority their male counterparts do often receive disproportionate backlash) but more often than not, women are largely able to take on “masculine” traits without receiving the same degree of backlash and policing as do men for acting feminine.

This is because objects/ideas classified as “feminine” are seen as lower than or not as desirable as those classified as “masculine”. Assertiveness (masculine) is valued more than compassion (feminine). Math and science careers (masculine) pay more and are more prestigious than child care and nursing careers (feminine). This dichotomy is what enforces the gender binary that we follow in our culture. It is because of feminine qualities being devalued that it is socially acceptable for women to take on a man’s roles/behaviors/jobs and not for men to have behavior/roles/ jobs that are feminine. It is seen as degrading for men to be feminine because femininity is seen as weak, low, shallow or stupid.

Through this system of oppression we see many men facing extreme obstacles and barriers. Men are less free to express themselves and play with gender identity. Those that do, are often subject to ruthless ridicule and shame. They are put into boxes they are not allowed to escape from. It is truly a lose-lose situation that needs to change.

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  • Camille B @ at 2:51 pm, August 20th, 2012

    A beautifully written article making a much needed and relevant point.

  • Christina @ at 8:27 am, August 21st, 2012

    This is awesome! It directly coincides with an argument I had with my friend, whom believed feminism did not cover male issues such as masculinity confinement. She didn’t want to understand that feminism, in its majority, is female dominated, thus, male issues are of course not the main concern but taken into account because sexism affects both men and women. She even went as far as to call herself two labels as “feminist” and “gender equalist” which to me degraded and underminded the first label, because according to her, feminism didn’t include male issues. Which, is fine, but untrue. I want to also point out that I believe the restrictions on men with masculinity is harmful but I dont believe we should discount the positive. Such as “bravery”, “heroism”, “strength”. I believe those qualities should apply to all people, not just men and women, but what bothers me is when feminists support men’s qualities as being cowardly and such, when in fact, that just makes men cowardly to do the right thing. I’ve seen in many times where men use feminism to go apathetic cause apparently “women don’t need assistance any longer for anything”, such as holding a door open. To me, that should be done regardless of gender. I’ve literally seen men who say “aren’t you a feminist? Are you capable of opening a door?” Yes, but that is manners, not capability. I don’t believe men should be all buff and what not, but being a strong person soul wise as well as being brave shouldn’t be thrown away.

  • Lisa @ at 10:14 am, August 21st, 2012

    While I agree that traits seen as “feminine” are valued less than traits seen as “masculine”, men are no more oppressed than women are when they transgress gender norms. The murder of Brandon Teena being an extreme example.

  • Matt SS @ at 12:38 am, August 22nd, 2012

    The reason that men perceive feminism as unfriendly is a matter of focus. The focus is on women. Especially in the movement. Just like why women have problems with atheism. The first and foremost goal of movement atheism is atheism and not feminism and vice versa.

    Furthermore feminism allows leeway for women who reinforce patriarchy by saying that they are effectively brainwashed. While its true, the same courtesy is not extended to men. This is perceived as unfair.

    Men are less likely to have a powerful personal motivation to commit to feminism and so they are easily deterred by perceived inequality.

    Gender equality as a movement is structured in a fundamentally different way. Plus there are millions of different ideas about what feminism is. Even if you get immersed in the various cultures and don’t have to rely on movie stereotypes there is plenty of feminism that IS anti-men. When a man, or even a woman, makes a crack about feminism or has certain ideas that its bad or unequal, it doesn’t mean they are attacking YOUR feminism, or YOU.

    Also, some people perceive certain “manners” and “civilities” as say, a weapon of the culture of the antebellum south, or a tool of control by the upper classes.

    Some men may refuse to hold a door to be purposefully rude, but some people don’t believe in holding doors or other “manners” for many reasons.

  • Josh @ at 8:07 am, August 27th, 2012

    I tend to disagree with the statement that female qualities are devalued in society. Particularly in the media I see typical male qualities being advertised as evil or destructive and antisocial. Typical female qualities are portrayed as being more responsible.

    I have a rather strong fight or flight response. I have an ego (male trait) which leads me to often fight (not talking about violence) over flight. Particularly at work this trait (often pointed out to me as I being an overpowering man) is used to degrade me or my point of view.

    I have a fiery personality and it is used by women to discredit me. I am called loud, obnoxious, abusive. But only by other women. Other men respond more positively to my traits. The in return will fight the argument or situation – not the person.

    Yet when women I work with display the same traits as I they are perceived as ‘strong independent women’ forging there way through a mans world.

    I refuse to believe male – female being purely socially constructed. Look all over the world in every country. Men and women, boys and girls every where show the same typical traits listed under each heading. Even in wild life the trend continues. Are female tigers oppressed or devalued by there male counter parts?

    This idea comes about by ‘social sciences’. Social sciences are anything but scientific. They are all (including feminism or women’s studies) subjective (finding, manipulating, not providing all of etc, evidence to support a case) than objective (compiling evidence to find an answer – commonly know as the truth).
    For example – its fine to ask “why do women get paid less than men?”
    Its not science however to simply make a story about how women are being oppressed (i.e. glass ceiling).
    It is science however when the occasional statistician points out that when you control for different lifestyles between men and women (hours prepared to work, time off for child rearing etc) there is less than 5% difference rather than the 75-80% feminists advertise.

    I know the pay gap subject is off topic but I am simply providing and example of the inadequacies of social sciences and in this particular case feminism.

    Socially constructed genders is a term used only by ‘social sciences’ (mainly feminism). EVIDENCE PLEASE.
    When did this construction begin? I would have to suggest a bloody long time ago if it ever did come about from society. And from there I ask when did it get so bad that feminism became relevant?

  • Matt SS @ at 3:34 pm, August 28th, 2012

    Ouch. Ignorance of history alert…

    Also, confirmation bias.

  • Matt SS @ at 9:15 pm, August 29th, 2012

    I’m not even a feminist dude. But your just so ridiculous. We have clear examples of women being excluded and ignored and oppressed. Pre suffrage, women not being allowed in the workforce, presumptions of incompetence in STEM fields like computer science, SAHM syndrome.

    Also, I’m afraid that Rome fell over a thousand years ago, so I am unable to provide imperial evidence. Even the Ottoman empire no longer exists.

    Your arguments are boring in any case. Biological destiny for instance. Please.

    Your not even limiting yourself to feminism. You attacked all the social sciences. I suppose there is no racism, no prison industrial complex and no class warfare eh?

    Third wave and post third wave feminism have devolved into quite a bit of identity politics, but you are attacking first and second wave feminism, and not even radfem male female separation or transmisogyny stuff, but the generally accepted things.

    Did you know that businesses and conservative politicians integrated social science into their operations? Social science powers polling, focus groups, and zillions of other aspects of non-progressive culture. Even PAUL RYAN accepts social sciences, while simultaneously dismissing physical sciences like biology.

    I probably have what is considered a “fiery personality” by you in that my debating style is far form civil in many cases.

    Current estimates of the pay gap are about 77 cents on the dollar men make being made by women. You got your numbers totally messed up. Even hardline feminists are arguing that women make 20% less than men, not 75-80%.

    I’m not going to dig into google scholar or an academic research database accessible with university credentials to refute someone who so clearly has no idea what they are talking about.

    The majority of your post has nothing to do with the confines of masculinity in any case.

    You want to be taken seriously in a debate by referencing “the occasional statistician” but you can’t even stay on topic. Plus you didn’t back up any of your claims with evidence. I could say that 99% of statisticians disagree with your assertion and not provide links to studies but that doesn’t mean its true.

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