Masculinity (also called manliness or manhood) is a set of attributes, behaviors and roles generally associated with boys and men. It is a combination of socially-defined and biological factors, distinct from the definition of the male anatomical sex. Both men and women can exhibit masculine traits and behavior. Those exhibiting both masculine and feminine characteristics are considered androgynous, and feminist philosophers have argued that gender ambiguity may blur gender classification.
Masculine traits include courage, independence and assertiveness. These traits vary by location and context, and are influenced by social and cultural factors. In some non-English-speaking cultures, concepts and inanimate objects are considered masculine or feminine (the counterpart of masculine). An overemphasis on masculinity and power, often associated with a disregard for consequences and responsibility, is known as machismo.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Development
- 3 Nature versus nurture
- 4 Hegemonic masculinity
- 5 Precarious manhood
- 6 LGBT communities
- 7 Western trends
- 8 History
- 9 Criticism
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Masculine qualities, characteristics or roles are considered typical of, or appropriate for, a boy or man. They have degrees of comparison: "more masculine" and "most masculine", and the opposite may be expressed by "unmanly" or "epicene". Similar to masculinity is virility (from the Latin vir, "man"). The concept of masculinity varies historically and culturally; although the dandy was seen as a 19th-century ideal of masculinity, he is considered effeminate by modern standards. Masculine norms, as described in Ronald F. Levant's Masculinity Reconstructed, are "avoidance of femininity; restricted emotions; sex disconnected from intimacy; pursuit of achievement and status; self-reliance; strength and aggression, and homophobia." These norms reinforce gender roles by associating attributes and characteristics with one gender.
The academic study of masculinity received increased attention during the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the number of courses on the subject in the United States rising from 30 to over 300. This has sparked investigation of the intersection of masculinity with other axes of social discrimination and concepts from other fields, such as the social construction of gender difference (prevalent in a number of philosophical and sociological theories).
In many cultures, displaying characteristics not typical of one's gender may be a social problem. In sociology, this labeling is known as gender assumptions and is part of socialization to meet the mores of a society. Non-standard behavior may be considered indicative of homosexuality, despite the fact that gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation are widely accepted as distinct concepts. When sexuality is defined in terms of object choice (as in early sexology studies), male homosexuality is interpreted as effeminacy. Social disapproval of excessive masculinity may be expressed as "machismo" or by neologisms such as "testosterone poisoning".
The relative importance of socialization and genetics in the development of masculinity is debated. Although social conditioning is believed to play a role, psychologists and psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung believed that aspects of "feminine" and "masculine" identity are subconsciously present in all human males.[a]
The historical development of gender roles is addressed by behavioural genetics, evolutionary psychology, human ecology, anthropology and sociology. All human cultures seem to encourage gender roles in literature, costume and song; examples may include the epics of Homer, the Hengist and Horsa tales and the normative commentaries of Confucius. More specialized treatments of masculinity may be found in the Bhagavad Gita and the bushidō of Hagakure.
Nature versus nurture
The extent to which masculinity is inborn or conditioned is debated. Genome research has yielded information about the development of masculine characteristics and the process of sexual differentiation specific to the human reproductive system. The testis determining factor (also known as SRY protein) on the Y chromosome, critical for male sexual development, activates the SOX9 protein. SOX9 works with the SF1 protein to increase the level of anti-Müllerian hormone, repressing female development while activating and forming a feedforward loop with the FGF9 protein; this creates the testis cords and is responsible for sertoli cells, which aid in sperm production. The activation of SRY halts the process of creating a female, beginning a chain of events leading to testicle formation, androgen production and a number of pre- and post-natal hormonal effects.
How a child develops gender identity is also debated. Some believe that masculinity is linked to the male body; in this view, masculinity is associated with male genitalia. Others have suggested that although masculinity may be influenced by biology, it is also a cultural construct. Proponents of this view argue that women can become men hormonally and physically, and many aspects of masculinity assumed to be natural are linguistically and culturally driven. On the nurture side of the debate, it is argued that masculinity does not have a single source. Although the military has a vested interest in constructing and promoting a specific form of masculinity, it does not create it. Facial hair is linked to masculinity through language, in stories about boys becoming men when they begin to shave.
Traditional avenues for men to gain honor were providing for their families and exercising leadership. Raewyn Connell has labeled traditional male roles and privileges hegemonic masculinity, encouraged in men and discouraged in women: "Hegemonic masculinity can be defined as the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees the dominant position of men and the subordination of women".
Researchers have argued that the "precariousness" of manhood contributes to traditionally-masculine behavior. "Precarious" means that manhood is not inborn, but must be achieved. In many cultures, boys endure painful initiation rituals to become men. Manhood may also be lost, as when a man is derided for not "being a man". Researchers have found that men respond to threats to their manhood by engaging in stereotypically-masculine behaviors and beliefs, such as supporting hierarchy, espousing homophobic beliefs, supporting aggression and choosing physical tasks over intellectual ones.
In 2014, Winegard, Winegard and Geary wrote that the precariousness of manhood involves social status (prestige or dominance), and manhood may be more (or less) precarious due to the avenues men have for achieving status. Men who identify with creative pursuits, such as poetry or painting, may not experience manhood as precarious but may respond to threats to their intelligence or creativity. However, men who identify with traditionally-masculine pursuits (such as football or the military) may see masculinity as precarious. According to Winegard, Winegard, and Geary, this is functional; poetry and painting do not require traditionally-masculine traits, and attacks on those traits should not induce anxiety. Football and the military require traditionally-masculine traits, such as pain tolerance, endurance, muscularity and courage, and attacks on those traits induce anxiety and may trigger retaliatory impulses and behavior. This suggests that nature-versus-nurture debates about masculinity may be simplistic. Although men evolved to pursue prestige and dominance (status), how they pursue status depends on their talents, traits and available possibilities. In modern societies, more avenues to status may exist than in traditional societies and this may mitigate the precariousness of manhood (or of traditional manhood); however, it will probably not mitigate the intensity of male-male competition.
Joseph Pleck argues that a hierarchy of masculinity exists largely as a dichotomy of homosexual and heterosexual males: "Our society uses the male heterosexual-homosexual dichotomy as a central symbol for all the rankings of masculinity, for the division on any grounds between males who are "real men" and have power, and males who are not". Michael Kimmel adds that the trope "You're so gay" indicates a lack of masculinity, rather than homosexual orientation. According to Pleck, to avoid male oppression of women, themselves and other men, patriarchal structures, institutions and discourse must be eliminated from North American society. A term for a masculine woman is "butch", used in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and cross-dressing subcultures to describe a masculine identity and its associated traits, behavior, style and self-perception.
Gay men are considered by some to "deviate from the masculine norm" and are benevolently stereotyped as "gentle and refined", even by other gay men. According to gay human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell:
Contrary to the well-intentioned claim that gays are "just the same" as straights, there is a difference. What is more, the distinctive style of gay masculinity is of great social benefit. Wouldn't life be dull without the flair and imagination of queer fashion designers and interior decorators? How could the NHS cope with no gay nurses, or the education system with no gay teachers? Society should thank its lucky stars that not all men turn out straight, macho and insensitive. The different hetero and homo modes of maleness are not, of course, biologically fixed.
In the documentary The Butch Factor, gay men (one of them transgender) were asked about their views of masculinity. Masculine traits were generally seen as an advantage in and out of the closet, allowing "butch" gay men to conceal their sexual orientation longer while engaged in masculine activities such as sports. Effeminacy is inaccurately associated with homosexuality, and some gay men doubted their sexual orientation; they did not see themselves as effeminate, and felt little connection to gay culture. Some effeminate gay men in The Butch Factor felt uncomfortable about their femininity (despite being comfortable with their sexuality), and feminine gay men may be derided by stereotypically-masculine gays.
Feminine-looking men tended to come out earlier after being labeled gay by their peers. More likely to face bullying and harassment throughout their lives, they are taunted by derogatory words (such as "sissy") implying feminine qualities. Effeminate, "campy" gay men sometimes use what John R. Ballew called "camp humor", such as referring to one another by female pronouns (according to Ballew, "a funny way of defusing hate directed toward us [gay men]"); however, such humor "can cause us [gay men] to become confused in relation to how we feel about being men."
[Heterosexual] men are sometimes advised to get in touch with their "inner feminine." Maybe gay men need to get in touch with their "inner masculine" instead. Identifying those aspects of being a man we most value and then cultivate those parts of our selves can lead to a healthier and less distorted sense of our own masculinity.—John R. Ballew, Gay men and masculinity
A study by the Center for Theoretical Study at Charles University in Prague and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic found "significant" differences in shape among the faces of heterosexual and gay men, with gay men having "masculine" features ("undermin[ing] stereotypical notions of gay men as more feminine looking.")
Gay men have been presented in the media as feminine and open to ridicule, although films such as Brokeback Mountain are countering the stereotype. A recent development is the portrayal of gay men in the LGBT community as "bears", a subculture of gay men celebrating rugged masculinity and "secondary sexual characteristics of the male: facial hair, body hair, proportional size, baldness".
Second-wave pro-feminism paid greater attention to issues of sexuality, particularly the relationship between homosexual men and hegemonic masculinity. This shift led to increased cooperation between the men's liberation and gay liberation movements developing, in part, because masculinity was understood as a social construct and in response to the universalization of "men" in previous men's movements. Men's-rights activists worked to stop second-wave feminists from influencing the gay-rights movement, promoting hypermasculinity as inherent to gay sexuality.
According to a paper submitted by Tracy Tylka to the American Psychological Association, "Instead of seeing a decrease in objectification of women in society, there has just been an increase in the objectification of both sexes. And you can see that in the media today." Men and women restrict food intake in an effort to achieve what they consider an attractively-thin body; in extreme cases, this leads to eating disorders. Psychiatrist Thomas Holbrook cited a recent Canadian study indicating that as many as one in six people with eating disorders are men.
Research in the United Kingdom found, "Younger men and women who read fitness and fashion magazines could be psychologically harmed by the images of perfect female and male physiques." Young women and men exercise excessively in an effort to achieve what they consider an attractively-fit, muscular body, which may lead to body dysmorphic disorder or muscle dysmorphia. Although the stereotypes may have remained constant, the value attached to masculine stereotypes has changed; it has been argued that masculinity is an unstable phenomenon, never ultimately achieved.
The crash rate per vehicle-kilometre driven is higher for women than for men, although men are more likely to kill in accidents in which they are involved. Men drive more miles than women, and on average are more likely to be involved in traffic accidents. Even in the category of young-driver (16–20) fatalities with a high blood alcohol content, a male's risk of dying is higher than a female's at a given BAC level; young women drivers need to be more intoxicated to have the same risk of dying in a fatal accident as young men drivers. A recent study suggests that young men are more risk-averse than those of a generation ago, primarily because they are less motivated and in poorer physical condition than their fathers' generation.
Evidence points to the negative impact of hegemonic masculinity on men's health-related behavior, with American men making 134.5 million fewer physician visits per year than women. Men make 40.8 percent of all physician visits, including women's obstetric and gynecological visits. Twenty-five percent of men aged 45 to 60 do not have a personal physician, increasing their risk of death from heart disease. Men between 25 and 65 are four times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women, and are more likely to be diagnosed with a terminal illness because of their reluctance to see a doctor. Reasons cited for not seeing a physician include fear, denial, embarrassment, a dislike of situations out of their control and the belief that visitng a doctor is not worth the time or cost.
In 2004, Arran Stibbe published an analysis of a well-known men's-health magazine in 2000. According to Stibbe, although the magazine ostensibly focused on health it also promoted traditional masculine behaviors such as excessive consumption of convenience foods and meat, alcohol consumption and unsafe sex.
Research on beer-commercial content by Lance Strate yielded results relevant to a study of masculinity. In beer commercials, masculine behavior (especially risk-taking) is encouraged. Commercials often focus on situations in which a man overcomes an obstacle in a group, working or playing hard (construction or farm workers or cowboys). Those involving play have central themes of mastery (of nature or each other), risk and adventure: fishing, camping, playing sports or socializing in bars. There is usually an element of danger and a focus on movement and speed (watching fast cars or driving fast). The bar is a setting for the measurement of masculinity in skills such as billiards, strength and drinking ability. Despite the beer industry's encouragement of risk-taking, alcohol consumption has declined in all age groups.
Since what constitutes masculinity has varied by time and place, according to Raewyn Connell it is more appropriate to discuss "masculinities" than a single overarching concept. Study of the history of masculinity emerged during the 1980s, aided by the fields of women’s and (later) gender history. Before women’s history was examined, there was a "strict gendering of the public/private divide"; regarding masculinity, this meant little study of how men related to the household, domesticity and family life. Although women’s historical role was negated, despite the writing of history by (and primarily about) men a significant portion of the male experience was missing. This void was questioned during the late 1970s, when women’s history began to analyze gender and women to deepen the female experience. Joan Scott’s seminal article, calling for gender studies as an analytical concept to explore society, power and discourse, laid the foundation for this field. According to Scott gender should be used in two ways: productive and produced. Productive gender examined its role in creating power relationships, and produced gender explored the use and change of gender throughout history. This has influenced the field of masculinity, as seen in Pierre Bourdieu’s definition of masculinity: produced by society and culture, and reproduced in daily life. A flurry of work in women’s history led to a call for study of the male role (initially influenced by psychoanalysis) in society and emotional and interpersonal life. Connell wrote that these initial works were marked by a "high level of generality" in "broad surveys of cultural norms". The scholarship was aware of contemporary societal changes aiming to understand and evolve (or liberate) the male role in response to feminism. John Tosh calls for a return to this aim for the history of masculinity to be useful, academically and in the public sphere.
Ancient literature dates back to about 3000 BC, with explicit expectations for men in the form of laws and implied masculine ideals in myths of gods and heroes. In the Hebrew Bible of 1000 BC, King David of Israel told his son to "be strong, and be a man" after David's death. Throughout history, men have met exacting cultural standards. Kate Cooper wrote about ancient concepts of femininity, "Wherever a woman is mentioned a man's character is being judged – and along with it what he stands for." According to the Code of Hammurabi (about 1750 BC):
- Rule 3: "If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death."
- Rule 128: "If a man takes a woman to wife, but has no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him."
Scholars cite integrity and equality as masculine values in male-male relationships and virility in male-female relationships. Legends of ancient heroes include the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The stories demonstrate qualities in the hero which inspire respect, such as wisdom and courage: knowing things other men do not know and taking risks other men would not dare.
Medieval and Victorian eras
Jeffrey Richards describes a European "medieval masculinity which was essentially Christian and chivalric." Courage, respect for women of all classes and generosity characterize the portrayal of men in literary history. The Anglo-Saxons Hengest and Horsa and Beowulf are examples of medieval masculine ideals. According to David Rosen, the traditional view of scholars (such as J. R. R. Tolkien) that Beowulf is a tale of medieval heroism overlooks the similarities between Beowulf and the monster Grendel. The masculinity exemplified by Beowulf "cut[s] men off from women, other men, passion and the household".
During the Victorian era, masculinity underwent a transformation from traditional heroism. Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle wrote in 1831: "The old ideal of Manhood has grown obsolete, and the new is still invisible to us, and we grope after it in darkness, one clutching this phantom, another that; Werterism, Byronism, even Brummelism, each has its day".
At the beginning of the twentieth century, a traditional family consisted of the father as breadwinner and the mother as homemaker. Characteristic of present-day masculinity is men's willingness to counter stereotypes. Regardless of age or nationality, men more frequently rank good health, a harmonious family life and a good relationship with their spouse or partner as important to their quality of life. Technology such as television and the Internet offer men alternative ways to express masculinity, and websites like Reddit, Tumblr, and 4chan are platforms for men and women to discuss masculinity in current culture with others worldwide. However, some (like the subreddit /r/MensRights) have been accused of fostering misogyny and regressive ideas about masculinity.
Two criticisms of the study of the history of masculinity are a concern that it would stabilize the historical process (rather than change it) and a cultural overemphasis on the approach to masculinity lacks the reality of actual experience. According to John Tosh, masculinity has become a conceptual framework used by historians to enhance their cultural explorations instead of a specialty in its own right. This draws attention from reality to representation and meaning, not only in the realm of masculinity; culture was becoming "the bottom line, the real historical reality". Tosh critiques Martin Francis' work of in this light because popular culture, rather than the experience of family life, is the basis for Francis’ argument. Francis uses contemporary literature and film to demonstrate that masculinity was restless, shying away from domesticity and commitment, during the late 1940s and 1950s. Francis wrote that this flight from commitment was "most likely to take place at the level of fantasy (individual and collective)". In focusing on culture, it is difficult to gauge the degree to which films such as Scott of the Antarctic represented the era’s masculine fantasies. Michael Roper’s call to focus on the subjectivity of masculinity addresses this cultural bias, because broad understanding is set aside for an examination "of what the relationship of the codes of masculinity is to actual men, to existential matters, to persons and to their psychic make-up" (Tosh's human experience).
According to Tosh, the culture of masculinity has outlived its usefulness because it cannot fulfill the initial aim of this history (to discover how manhood was conditioned and experienced) and he urged "questions of behaviour and agency". His work on Victorian masculinity uses individual experience in letters and sketches to illustrate broader cultural and social customs, such as birthing or Christmas traditions.
Stefan Dudink believes that the methodological approach (trying to categorize masculinity as a phenomenon) undermined its historiographic development. This approach stabilized masculinity, making it appear natural and concrete in the historical record and "placing it beyond history". George Mosse’s work used masculinity as a stable stereotype in normative society: "[Masculinity] was concrete and definite enough, constituting a coherent system that can easily be examined". Abigail Solomou-Godeau’s work on post-revolutionary French art addresses a strong, constant patriarchy. Jeanne Boydston supports limiting gender as a category of analysis because the concept (as well as femininity and masculinity) has become too rigid in historical thought. This leads to a stable concept, unvarying in all geographic contexts and cultures, and a dichotomy between masculinity and femininity. These issues may be addressed by destabilizing the concept of masculinity, accepting its evolution and focusing on history rather than concept. Dudink calls for an engagement with masculinities (plural) and an analysis of tension between "normativity and individualist that characterises masculinity". Connell’s argument for thinking about masculinities in the plural parallels Boydston’s call for a multifaceted view of social history and Simon Szreter’s work on gender in Britain, which emphasizes the plurality of identity and the intersection between class and gender (because gender cannot be studied in a vacuum) and regional distinctions (to avoid overarching generalizations).
Tosh’s overall assessment is that a shift is needed in conceptualizing the topic back to the history of masculinity as a speciality aiming to reach a broader audience, rather than as an analytical tool of cultural and social history. The importance he places on public history hearkens back to the initial aims of gender history, which sought to use history to enlighten and change the present. Tosh appeals to historians to live up to the "social expectation" of their work, which would also require a greater focus on subjectivity and masculinity. This view is contrary to Dudink’s; the latter called for an "outflanking movement" towards the history of masculinity, in response to the errors he perceived in the study. This would do the opposite of what Tosh called for, deconstructing masculinity by not placing it at the center of historical exploration and using discourse and culture as indirect avenues towards a more-representational approach. In a study of the Low Countries, Dudink proposes moving beyond the history of masculinity by embedding analysis into the exploration of nation and nationalism (making masculinity a lens through which to view conflict and nation-building). Martin Francis' work on domesticity through a cultural lens moves beyond the history of masculinity because "men constantly travelled back and forward across the frontier of domesticity, if only in the realm of the imagination"; normative codes of behavior do not fully encompass the male experience.
Media images of boys and young men may lead to the persistence of harmful concepts of masculinity. According to men's-rights activists, the media does not address men's-rights issues and men are often portrayed negatively in advertising. Peter Jackson called hegemonic masculinity "economically exploitative" and "socially oppressive": "The form of oppression varies from patriarchal controls over women's bodies and reproductive rights, through ideologies of domesticity, femininity and compulsory heterosexuality, to social definitions of the value of work, the nature of skill and the differential remuneration of 'productive' and 'reproductive' labor."
In 1987 Eisler and Skidmore studied masculinity, creating the idea of "masculine stress" and finding three elements of masculinity which often result in emotional stress:
- The emphasis on prevailing in situations requiring body and fitness
- Being perceived as emotional
- The need for adequacy in sexual matters and financial status
Because of social norms and pressures associated with masculinity, men with spinal-cord injuries must adapt their self-identity to the losses associated with such injuries; this may "lead to feelings of decreased physical and sexual prowess with lowered self-esteem and a loss of male identity. Feelings of guilt and overall loss of control are also experienced." Research also suggests that men feel social pressure to endorse traditional masculine male models in advertising. Brett Martin and Juergen Gnoth (2009) found that although feminine men privately preferred feminine models, they expressed a preference for traditional masculine models in public; according to the authors, this reflected social pressure on men to endorse traditional masculine norms.
A discussion of masculinities relative to a man's social status and political power has begun. According to Joseph Pleck, a system of male-to-male relationships exists in North American patriarchal society. Hierarchies are demarcated by levels of masculinity, equated with physical composition in youth and the acquisition of wealth and women with age.
In their book Raising Cain: Protecting The Emotional Life of Boys, Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson wrote that although all boys are born loving and empathic, exposure to gender socialization (the tough male ideal and hypermasculinity) limits their ability to function as emotionally-healthy adults. According to Kindlon and Thompson, boys lack the ability to understand and express emotions productively because of the stress imposed by masculine gender roles.
"Masculinity in crisis"
A theory of "masculinity in crisis" has emerged; Australian archeologist Peter McAllister said, "I have a strong feeling that masculinity is in crisis. Men are really searching for a role in modern society; the things we used to do aren't in much demand anymore". Others see the changing labor market as a source of stress. Deindustrialization and the replacement of smokestack industries by technology have allowed more women to enter the labor force, reducing its emphasis on physical strength.
The crisis has also been attributed to feminism and its questioning of male dominance and rights granted to men solely on the basis of sex. British sociologist John MacInnes wrote that "masculinity has always been in one crisis or another", suggesting that the crises arise from the "fundamental incompatibility between the core principle of modernity that all human beings are essentially equal (regardless of their sex) and the core tenet of patriarchy that men are naturally superior to women and thus destined to rule over them."
John Beynon examined the disussion of masculinity in crisis, finding that masculinity and men are often conflated and it is unclear whether masculinity, men or both are allegedly in crisis. According to Beynon, the "crisis" is not a recent phenomenon; he illustrated several periods of masculine crisis throughout history (some predating the women's movement and post-industrial society), suggesting that due to masculinity's fluid nature "crisis is constitutive of masculinity itself." Film scholar Leon Hunt agreed: "Whenever masculinity's 'crisis' actually started, it certainly seems to have been in place by the 1970s".
- Bear (gay culture)
- Castro clone
- Gender role
- Gender roles in non-heterosexual communities
- Hegemonic masculinity
- Leather subculture
- Men's spaces
- Men's liberation
- Men's rights
- Men's movement
- Men's World Day
- Model of masculinity under fascist Italy
- Mythopoetic men's movement
- Raewyn Connell
- Victorian masculinity
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- The Men's Bibliography, a comprehensive bibliography of writing on men, masculinities, gender and sexualities, listing over 16,700 works. (mainly from a constructionist perspective)
- Boyhood Studies, features a 2200+ bibliography of young masculinities.
- Practical Manliness, A manly blog that applies "historical ideals to modern men".
- The ManKind Project of Chicago, supporting men in leading meaningful lives of integrity, accountability, responsibility, and emotional intelligence
- NIMH web pages on men and depression, talks about men and their depression and how to get help.
- Article entitled "Wounded Masculinity: Parsifal and The Fisher King Wound" The symbolism of the story as it relates to the Wounded Masculinity of Men by Richard Sanderson M.Ed., B.A.
- BULL, Print and online literary journal specializing in masculine fiction for a male audience.
- Art of Manliness, An online web magazine/blog dedicated to "reviving the lost art of manliness".
- The Masculinity Conspiracy, An online book critiquing constructions of masculinity.
- Men in America, series by National Public Radio