HOW WE ARE REWIRING THE STIGMA AROUND MASCULINITY.
WRITTEN BY RACHEL SCHOR
It feels like anytime we hear the word “masculinity” these days, it’s almost always preceded by the word “toxic.” But is there a world in which good, old fashioned masculinity can actually be a good thing for our men and our society overall? Our resident Contributor Karin speaks with Gareth Stubbs and Tyran Mowbray, who say that the world where old and new masculinity lives in harmony with each other and everyone else is the one we currently live in.
WHAT EVEN IS OLD-FASHIONED MASCULINITY?
I mean, when you think of the term masculinity what do you think of? My first thought immediately went to “emotionless”. Masculine men don’t cry. Masculine men don’t hug. Masculine men hold all their emotions tightly to their well-muscled chest, stuff it down into the cavity behind their chiselled abs, and top it all off with a shot gunned beer – just to make sure you are clear on the fact that they have no emotion.
THE MAN IS THE PROVIDER.
It goes back to our primal instincts and history of wanting to be provided for by the strongest, most tough, most successful man we could because it increased our chances of survival. The Hallmark film image of an attractive man is the tall, muscular, well-dressed, well-educated, wealthy man who is ready to sweep you off your feet with his charm and 1,000 watt smile. I mean, talk about pressure – he has to look great, talk great, make great money, and be prepared to out run a tiger at any given moment. Women are no better off in terms of the societal picture of what the “ideal” woman looks like – but we can talk about her in another article.
This idea of the handsome provider still contributes heavily to our idea of masculinity. I’m sure many women would say they’d be happy to swoon over a tall, muscled, powerful man 8 days a week. Tyran pointed this out himself in the conversation with Karin and Gareth, about how this power is attractive. This form of masculinity has started to get replaced by a softer version though as men and women alike has begun to express their wishes for something different. Men are beginning to find the value in their feelings – shocker – and are seeing that raising their EQs doesn’t actually make them less attractive to the women they’re trying to woo, worse at their job, or less likely to make guy friends. Our Contributors agree that this likely has something – maybe everything – to do with the growing acceptance of LGBT people.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.
Before we get into the relationship between gender identity and sexual identity, it’s important to point out the elephant in the room: the idea of old (toxic) masculinity is directly tied to the patriarchy. Yep, I said it! The fact that men feel the need to be macho, tough, non-emotional sex creatures is not in fact to woo women, but rather to woo other men – and not in the gay way (necessarily). It was a way to figure out the pecking order with other men. It was a safe way to relate without being called wimpy or worse – gasp – gay.
Inherent in the patriarchy is the hierarchical structure that puts the strong, brilliant, (usually white) man with shiny teeth, a good education, and a fat bank account at the top and everyone less macho than him falls beneath. The power dynamic between men is as old as time – again, the survival of the fittest – and it has led to the systemic othering of women, people of colour, and less macho men. It is the patriarchy that has thrived on the permeation of the stereotype of the masculine man.
Karin shares how her father, who she says is an incredibly sensitive man, is only able to share his feelings with her when he is drinking. I’m sure this is the dynamic many kids have with their parents. I can relate to it myself – while my dad didn’t need booze to share his emotions, he never shares without being asked. Perhaps it is this fact in itself, the idea that we yearn for free flowing connection that doesn’t require external stimulation, that has started the movement towards the demand for a new version of masculinity.
People globally are also rejecting the patriarchy (thanks women of colour for leading that fight!) and as such, we are seeing a growing movement towards the acceptance of a different – really many – types of masculinity. This leads us back to the relationship between gender and sexuality.
I’d like to think that most people nowadays understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender orientation. What the Contributors and I agree on is that it is all about self-expression. “A lot of people confuse who we are with what we are,” Gareth said, and I couldn’t agree more. While I personally have a more liberal perspective than the Contributors on what is acceptable in terms of gender identity, I couldn’t agree more when they say that it really comes down to how we are expressing ourselves.
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Let's change our perception.
Tyran: “We’re coming into a place of less identity, and more, like, yes more fluidity but not futility in our gender, more fluidity in our expression of whatever that is.” There are now more “right” answers of what it means to be a man than ever before. We are beginning to recognize the value of a man in touch with his feelings; who is a softer more gentle person. Surely this has to do with the younger generation – their expansive understanding of just how many hats an individual can wear has transformed what it means to identify as a man.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a man – big duh, but in today’s world, it feels like it needs to be said. We need men for plenty of reasons, and I’m not just talking about making kids and lifting heavy boxes for us. I can’t speak from the perspective of being a man myself, but Gareth and Tyran agreed that their masculinity is a way to connect with other men. They recognize that it’s becoming more acceptable to show up as a softer man and understand that it doesn’t make them any less of a man.
We all deserve to be understood, loved, and emotionally held where we are. Gareth so perfectly said, “A lot of people confuse who we are with what we are.” If we spent a little more time trying to understand and share who we all are with each other instead of what we are or what we do, I’m sure we would have a much more harmonious environment that everyone could enjoy.
Being a masculine man isn’t bad. But the stigma that goes along with it has gotta go. The causational depression, anxiety, guilt and worthlessness that men feel because of the standards they’re supposed to live up to should be enough to make the change towards the new version of what it means to be a man. At the end of the day, maybe we just need to decide to love each other, no matter what we come to the table with.
I leave you with this,
Who cares what genitalia you have?
Who cares what you were born with and have now?
Who cares who you sleep with?
I would hope that as we move forward into 2021 and beyond that we all come to agree that it doesn’t matter, and it’s not my place or anyone else’s to tell you how to live your life. I accept you where you are. I’ll meet you there.