On Monday, Mom and I had adventures in being furious with the (male) contractor for messing up the simple task of following the tile and accent pattern we had laid out for him on Friday. He had more vertical space than we’d anticipated, so he added an additional row of plain tiles between the rows with accent pieces.
When he showed me what he had decided to do, he already had several of the pieces in place, and I assumed that he would not be able to move them. I didn’t like what I saw, but I didn’t feel comfortable telling him to change it or calling Mom over to get her opinion, so I said it was “okay.” Later, after Mom had seen the work and expressed her disapproval, and we’d agreed to make him change it, I wished that I had been more confident and assertive. Clearly, I have a long way to go before I can claim my “Man Card.”
I decided that the first step I need to take is to learn a bit more about masculinity. Frankly, it’s even more confusing than femininity. At least with femininity, you know you’re supposed to look good and be nurturing and submissive (etc). The first rule of masculinity is “don’t be feminine” – so, before you can even start trying to be masculine, you have to learn about femininity and how to avoid anything that might even remotely remind anyone of its existence (Psychology of Men, Urban Dictionary). Then, you can start to learn about things you should do.
The Art of Manliness (exists and) lists 7 vital characteristics a man must have:
- Physical – be physically fit, strong, healthy, and interested in physical pursuits
- Functional – be the breadwinner for your family
- Sexual – have sex with many different women and be the one to actively initiate romance
- Emotional – never show emotion or allow it to influence decision making, except occasionally in private with a very close friend
- Intellectual – made decisions based on intellectual knowledge, not feelings or intuition
- Interpersonal – be a leader
- Other attributes are associated with men, including “ambition, pride, honor, competitiveness, and a sense of adventure.”
wikiHow: How to Be Manly describes “7 pillars of manliness” that are identical to the characteristics listed above, except that the 7th is called “Distinctive.” The advice in this article consistently contrasts ways of being manly against femininity. The manly man is self-assured, individualistic, competitive, and wild – free. One of the suggestions in the “Distinctive” pillar is to buy a gun – a topic many people have been expressing concern about and that I’ll address in next week’s Masculine Monday post (not that it should wait another week, but I don’t want this post to get too long …).
The article is also contradictory in that it advises men to look a certain way (e.g. like Paul Bunyan) and “then stop caring what people think of your looks.” Well, if you don’t care what people think of your looks, how are you supposed to maintain that image? Why even bother looking like Paul Bunyan, if you don’t care what people think? If you really don’t care what people think about your looks, you can walk around in a pink tutu – that is, a manly pink tutu.
But the contradictions don’t end there! The tips at the very end list several additional characteristics men should aspire to, including: moral, loyal, helpful, caring, supportive, trustworthy, strong, kind, obedient, and brave (etc.). I’m all for encouraging these characteristics in anyone! But some of them – particularly caring, supportive, kind, and obedient – seem extremely similar to the very femininity these articles about masculinity advise so strongly against!
Does it have to be done in a masculine way? Is it masculine because a man does it? Are men supposed to do “feminine” (e.g. decent human being) things in secret while flaunting their machismo in their public lives?
Crazy Stupid Masculinity Norms discusses contradictory expectations contemporary society imposes upon men through an exploration of the movie: Crazy Stupid Love and related articles. The different expectations men must juggle can lead to their masculinity being questioned and/or set them up for failure. Just struggling with the social pressure to simultaneously embody contradictory forms of masculinity – especially while not being feminine! – can have a devastating effect on men’s mental health, leading to depression and suicide.
There is hope of these contradictions being clarified, though, as efforts are made to expand our understanding of masculinity. Back Off, Masculinity Patrol describes ways in which gender rules for boys are becoming more relaxed, and how that might help reduce problems such as violence and bullying. Psychologists are also in the process of Redefining Masculinity to maintain focus on the positive aspects of masculinity (e.g. strength, assertiveness) while removing negative aspects such as aggression. They are working with boys to help them develop awareness, interpersonal skills, and actively serve others as part of their development of their own male gender identities. The conversation, currently conducted by men, will expand to include the knowledge, insights, and perspectives of women as well. (Not that women haven’t been offering those for a while now.)
Finally, Men’s Lib: Why it’s time to reimagine masculinity at work and at home describes ways in which traditional ideas about masculinity can hinder men – and society as a whole – and provide men with escapism instead of practical solutions. Instead, masculinity needs to adapt to a changing world that includes more “feminine” than “masculine” job openings, more women with more power in the workforce, and increased need and opportunity for men to be caretakers at home. Men can be men with less need to differentiate themselves from women, while taking active and valued roles in society.