What Masculinity?

I come across a mental barrier in my exploration of gender. Namely, that when I ask myself “how about exploring masculinity?” my brain comes back with “what masculinity?” and throws up a handful of examples of toxic instances of masculinity I do not even wish to touch. Yet, this is the road I see before me, to pick up elements of masculinity to see if they suit.

Riley J. Dennis mentions in her “Everyday Feminism” series* that the word ‘gender’ comes from the same root as ‘genre’. This was a productive thought for me, one that I brought me a little further in this dilemma. Genres, after all, have some characteristics that would be well-suited to helping me understand genders as non-binary:

  • They are distinct, but not mutually exclusive
  • They are based on, but not limited to, a set of tropes
  • They are suited to telling, and classifying, particular stories or experiences
  • New ones may be introduced
  • Existing ones often evolve
  • These categories are constructed for the market, the classroom and to talk about sets of stories
  • They can be subverted or critiqued
  • They have gatekeepers

If masculinity, or rather masculinities, is a genre with a set of subgenres, then one may be found that I am comfortable exploring and it would add to, rather than contradict, the rest of my sense of gender. However, I think about gender as genre and complications immediately come to mind:

  • Stories often present a rigid binary
  • Essentialism prevails
  • Classifications are prescriptive, not descriptive of lived experiences
  • Modern masculinities seem not to exist, in stories
  • Existing masculinities do not seem allowed to evolve
  • Gender is presented as ‘natural’ and conflated with biological sex
  • Any subversion or critique is met with hostility and violence
  • Online, the alt-right is setting itself up as the one true gatekeeper

Note that the above describe my personal experience through the lens of this particular conceit, not fact. But I do believe it is sufficient to illustrate a trend. One that I find singularly counterproductive, dammit.

The irony is that I have started to see surprisingly parallels between what’s prescribed for ‘woman’ and ‘man’, among self-proclaimed defenders of binary gender roles, especially that of ‘man’. It’s perhaps most easily illustrated by their attitude towards sexuality. The campaign for control over women’s bodies is matched by a campaign for control over men’s bodies by other men. Centred on forbidding masturbation and forcing sexual conquest, rather than forcing reproduction and forbidding sexual activity. Hatred of the other, whether that’s women, queer persons, persons of other countries or religions, is matched by self-hatred.

Can you see the inversion of the great commandment (love others as you love yourself), or the golden rule, if you will?

This leaves me hesitant to even enter that politicised poisoned mental minefield.

Feminist thought isn’t much help, since it seems more concerned with circumscribing traditional masculinity than proposing a new masculinity.

Neither does circumspectly asking men what being a good man is like, since the answer often boils down to “I grew up and became less of an impulsive idiot.” A surprising problem with straight, white men (which all of the ones I can ask are) being the default is that they regard their lived experience as just that of people, not men. Which means it doesn’t tell me much about where their stories may be distinct.

So here I am, the trailing end of the spectrum of my gender in hand, unexplored territory ahead of me, with no good map for guidance. I cannot leave these thoughts alone because I have first-hand stake in this now, even if it’s only with a part of myself, even if it’s new, even if it’s small and secret and private.

So I keep asking, what masculinity?

*I do not remember the particular video, but it’s an educational series: https://everydayfeminism.com/author/rileyd/

About demiandproud

I am a demisexual Christian Dutchwoman who explores the vagaries of what the intersection of those identities means. On my main blog I post a few times a month, my favourite being participating in the Carnival of Aces. I'm exploring writing about my orientation elsewhere. The pride flag in my profile picture was created with 4 eye pencils (black, purple, silver and white).

Posted on November 11, 2019, in Personal reflection, questioning gender, What others say and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I’ve asked myself the same sorts of questions about “what masculinity” (as a man).

    My working conclusion has been to aim for healthy personhood instead of “healthy masculinity” or “healthy femininity.” It seems, to me, like “good” qualities of masculinity or femininity are good qualities you want of any person. Alas, my aim for the gender-neutral healthy personhood. Feel free to agree or disagree with what I said, but I just thought that I’d throw my thoughts on this topic out there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d say for 99% if life you’re onto something. You’ll see a bias towards experiences where gender does matter present in my post. To give a frivolous example, gender csn be a factor in whether “did I shave my legs properly” or “do I need to go to the ATM to get cash” is one of the things a person worries about before a date.

      Thanks for weighing in. I am trying to get people’s thoughts on this (since it’s the only data I have) and this was my first attempt to make sense of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome! Your example may sound frivolous to you, but it’s not frivolous to a lot of people. Little things that should not matter, like a woman not shaving her legs or a man looking a bit androgynous, do matter to a lot of people. Of course, I’m of the mind that those things should not matter (and it sounds like you’re of the same mind as well),.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I came across this article about “masculinity” that expresses my thoughts on the subject better than I could: https://medium.com/@D_writes/is-all-masculinity-toxic-195c2004a191

    Ultimately, I would say that the whole concept of “masculinity” and “femininity” is an oppressive one. Even the “frivolous” examples you give contribute to this oppression. Why are women (but not men) expected to shave their legs? Because women’s bodies are seen as existing for male pleasure (and because capitalism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTavR2PhsOY ). Why are men (but not women) expected to pay on a date? Because men are expected to make more money (and because women are expected to “pay” in other ways).

    I think a more useful question than “What masculinity should I try to adopt?” is “What behaviours might I like to adopt but have avoided because of the constraints of normative femininity?” Some answers may come easily; others may require serious thought. I suspect that there are a lot of “masculine” behaviours I never even thought to try because I was raised to do “girl” things. But it’s never too late to try new things. Just make sure they’re good things, not toxic ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts!

      I definitely agree that “masculinity” and “femininity” are ultimately constructed in order to enforce a certain order and I find myself wanting to transgress that (or queer that). On the other hand, I have A Lot Of Feelings about gender, and a good bunch have fit in “woman”, and I’ve had a lot of fun exploring those to their fullest extent, and now I’m desirous and scared of exploring the rest. So. Yeah.

      Here’s the thing, I already do and dress in ways generally considered masculine (but still acceptable for a butch woman) but that doesn’t satisfy. I think I have an innate part that is gendered but not any shade of Woman… and I don’t know if it’s Man (so masculine) or other. So I needed to see if I even wanted to enter into masculinity. That’s where this post started.
      Long way of saying is: your comment’s given me food for thought about the questions I should maybe be asking.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I think Justin Baldoni has a bunch of REALLY powerful videos on trying to find a non-toxic masculinity for himself as a cis man and father of a son. He has some really compelling ideas. You could start with his Ted Talk: https://youtu.be/Cetg4gu0oQQ

    I think between that article Blue Ice-Tea linked and Brendan Birth’s first comment here, I think Justin Baldoni also is considering how to be seen as a man to respect and emulate and affirmed as a person who is not drawn to personally express his gender in any way society would perceive as feminine while still making sure to be an honorable, good person displaying traits like protectiveness of others that are not exclusive to men but still the more he engages in something like that behavior the more comfortable he can be saying he is a man.

    demiandproud, if you find any good accounts by Trans Men of what drew them to knowing they were men, let me know as I’m very curious to read it.

    Also I think maybe a MORE “frivolous” example is in names. Growing up as a very feminine cis girl in my specific pocket of the USA, I kinda wished I had an “even more feminine” first name than Emily, like one that ended in an “a”, seemed like it might be prettier and stuff. I love hyper feminine names of so many kinds including names of flowers (Lily, Rosa I like somehow more than Rose probably because of the a, Violet, Iris, Daisy, etc) and stuff. My “maladaptive daydreaming” in bed instead of falling asleep was a way to process my trauma from being stuck with my abusive mother and in it I kinda role-played a girly princess in my mind named Princess Alexandria. Lol. I like feminine stuff in that way?

    Trans folks including nonbinary people pick new names not only because they want society to perceive them as a certain gender because of their name, but also because they feel a sense of connection to a specific name over others, and a sense of gender euphoria over a new name that fits them well. Gender neutral names can work for very masculine or very feminine people sometimes but names also have a gendered aspect to them that while it is like most things in language completely arbitrary, somehow it’s become still a thing that is hard for anyone to deny. Names still gender people, and connect a person you their gender, and all of that.

    I am less familiar with a lot of what loving masculinity would feel like. Sometimes I just think a big part of it is an absence of femininity?? But that’s weird and also not enough. There needs to be a missing piece I don’t yet understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That was an absolutely fantastic TED talk, thank you for the recommendation. I looked through what I’d saved in terms of subscriptions and all, but there’s not really trans men among them. Then again, I tend to binge on youtube videos, so… there’s a lot I’ve watched I haven’t saved.

      Gosh… hadn’t even thought of names. Probably because I don’t experience my (gendered) self as wrong, just… incomplete? partial? liquid rather than solid? Maybe something to think about but I don’t even know that that’s something I’m dissatisfied with.

      It’s pronouns, more, actually, language-wise. Fun fact, there is no convenient “they” in Dutch. I knew this, but now I’m thinking about it for me and… THERE IS NO THEY IN DUTCH! You English speakers are lucky bastards.


      • Yeah pronouns are a big deal especially where even if you wanted to ask people to use neutral ones you’d essentially have to create it from scratch. Many languages are more gendered than English and I certainly appreciate that!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Another thought I had about all this is just that often men really are centered and seen as the default human. Masculinity just is the baseline. That’s why I think femininity is extra stuff added and it’s just. That’s why it’s hard to pinpoint what masculinity even is?

        But if you look at the Father’s Day greeting cards vs the Mother’s Day ones, or even the “Birthday For Him” vs “Birthday For Her” ones you’ll get basic tropes of society’s ideas of gender. All the men love crude jokes and grilling and fishing and fixing things with tools and cars. All the women like glitter and cursive pretty fonts and pastel colors and heartfelt words or whatever. It’s. Idk what it is. But i have a lot of thoughts.

        Liked by 1 person

      • To the first: yeah. I think that may also be why if you’re a guy, you go looking to be a good person, you come back with some decent ideas from that, without having to translate to your gender.

        To the last… I think what’s commercially tauted as gendered one way or another is the shallowest version of what people think of as “feminine” and “masculine”. I don’t know many people that recognise themselves in it. But yeah, even that is interesting, because looking just at what’s on the shelves, the American ideal of feminine tends much more towards girlish, whereas the European tends more towards womanly. (Yes this is very subjective and I’m mentally translating and hoping it sounds the same in English)

        Liked by 1 person

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