Men and women are both forced by society to do gender. It is because gender binary is hierarchical. It places men above women and values representation of masculinity above feminity. As a result, it narrows the range of life experiences that seem acceptable and right. Women are routinely positioned as helpers and caretakers, while men are positioned as protectors and bread winners.
We live in a patriarchal society – a social system in which all that is male or masculine is more highly valued than female or feminine. It means “rule of the father” and refers to the control of female and younger male family members by select adult men. In the past, the patriarch was “king” of his castle; his word was “law.” Men owned all property, including the bodies of their wives and children and any earnings or inheritance of them. Today, men continue to be generic humans, with women as deviant from the norm. Patriarchal thinking persists in the continued equation of power with masculinity.
Our legacy of patriarchal gender relations tilts people’s preferences toward men, essentially putting a thumb on the scale in favor of male-identified and male-bodied people.
Dictionary definition of masculinity: “The trait of behaving in many ways considered typical for men.” What does that tell us? Typical for which men and by whom? A little broad in scope, but it is a good beginning. All forms of masculinity involve a relationship (usually opposed) with feminity – whether rejection or wary co-existence or warm support.
Doing masculinity means avoiding feminity – anything a woman does become off-limits for men. It limits and constrains men’s exploration of their inner lives and creative and care-taking choices. Men are often taught to restrict emotions, focus on toughness and aggression, be self-reliant, objectify sex, be homophobic, etc. It requires constant vigilance and extends to the most trivial of things.
It leads us to the notion of hegemony – the ideal and most dominant of something – usually an unreasonable standard. Hegemony suggests there is a hierarchy of masculine behavior. There are many versions of men, and masculinity is a form of gender display of masculinity.
Men are encouraged to embody a dominant version of masculinity which means widespread consent to relations of the systematic social disadvantage of most women and some men.
The practice of hegemonic masculinity creates the ‘real man’ in our collective imagination, who theoretically embodies all the most positive traits on the masculine side of the gender binary. Male privilege and power are not simply held by individual men but institutionalized in social structures and ideologies that support the gender order in favor of men. It may be those very few men who occupy the hegemonic position.
Men are not only organized in a hierarchal order to women but also to other men. All men receive patriarchal dividends; it is just a matter of how much and to whom.
Hypermasculinity – the extreme conformity to aggressive, least empathetic rules of masculinity. It thought to naturalize violence, aggression and anger. Some researchers posit that the definition of masculinity has a significant impact on the tendency towards violence. Violence is one of the most identifiable gendered behaviors. The most powerful predictors of violence are gender and age. Young American men are the most violent group of people in the industrialized world. Toxic masculinity refers to strategic enactments of masculinities that are harmful to both the men who enact them and the people around them. While the hegemonic ideal is not the same as the toxic versions that are drawn from it, some men’s efforts to live up to the ideal can be harmful.
In contrast to the negative angle of masculinity, studies have been focusing on positive traits associated with traditional concepts of masculinity. A recently presented framework focused on the strengths of masculinity, including but not limited to:
- Male relational styles – relationships through shared instrumental activities
- Generative fathering – engaging and responding to a child’s needs while attending to larger development
- Male self-reliance – using resources to overcome adversity and ‘be your own man’
- Humanitarian service
- Men’s use of humor – as a way to connect with others and cope with stress
A Call to All Men | Tony Porter
Male employment remains more highly valued than female employment \ Aliya Hamid Rao
How movies teach manhood \ Colin Stokes
Violence against women – it’s a men’s issue \ Jackson Katz at TEDxFiDiWomen
You might want to check out his other two documentaries: Tough Guise, Tough Guise 2.
The Demise of Guys | Phillip Zimbardo
Well, that’s a lot, and there are to discover. Let’s break the gender institution and norms.