Redefining Masculinity For A New Generation (and It Requires Feminism)
It is undeniable that the physical reality and social fabric of America has been constructed on a platform of uber (and often times fragile) masculinity. This is not surprising, considering the historical context that has crafted Western culture and broader modern society. From the first voting rights to traditional-religious norms, feminism was an illusive dream in which women were often forced into particular aspects of society and were silenced if they thought any different. Men have long been the dominant figures of society, often systematically maintaining the head political and economical institutions and by decree, limiting the opportunities for women to vote and be greater members of society. All in all, the greater role of women in society is a relatively new trend. Now, look at all that we deem “American” and that we glamorize : Muscles Cars, Meat, Guns, Steel, and of course women..not just any women, the “idea”, blonde, traditional and obedient woman. Commercials for domestic American beers such as Miller Lite embrace this culture and use marketing to promote the “man card” and instilling outdated and frankly in my opinion, disgusting embrace of gender roles that deem to make men that don’t drink “manly” beer as feministic and they do so as if it were an insult. You will begin to notice that I am using a large amount of quotations in this piece. This is mostly due to the generalized, often inaccurate nature of these gender and societal norms that are detrimental to the social fabric of American culture and the true gender identity that we should form in this country. While the objects themselves are harmless (with the exception of firearms or extremely fast cars) it is significant to note the impact of these symbols. Just as a pasta is to Italy, these symbols are as American as apple pie. It is also significant to notice that this generalized categorization goes beyond corporate culture. In the 19th and early 20th century one of the main arguments against women’s suffrage was that women should not be and I quote “dragged into the dirty world of politics”. This argument reinforced by the argument that women legislators could not handle the pressure of politics and would create “great damage to the state” or whatever that means. Old and new, this openly sexist attitude remains prevelant in American society. The gender pay gap in the United States depending on the source, is downwards of 73% of men’s pay. So you are probably asking, “What does this have to do with redefining masculinity? The role of men in society is undeniably dominant in almost all aspects of past history. It is significant to look at how a feminist approach to redefining the roles of men would be beneficial to society. This approach starts with the elimination of stereotypes directed towards both sexes and everyone in-between. In this piece I will look at different aspects of contemporary society and their approach to masculinity that need to change in order to create a more accepting, informed and justified view of the modern man.
#1: Eliminating Stigma :
One of the major problems that plays into a false sense of masculinity is the stigma associated with qualities not deemed “manly”. This plays into every facet of life from the kind of shampoo you use, from the clothes you wear, to the TV shows you watch. We have even made up terms to identity individuals that are not deemed as fitting the gender mold. Stylish, contemporary men are called metrosexual. Men who engage in activities deemed “unmanly” such as ballet or shopping are often called a variety of derogatory terms. We as a collective society need to come to a consensus of gender neutral attitudes that reinforce that these activities are perfectly acceptable for both men and women and that it is unacceptable to deem them otherwise. This begins with an enhanced look at how we approach gender starting at a young age from pre-k education to our interpretation of media. We need to reform curriculum to eliminate bias and reinforce standards that allow children and adolescents of both genders to learn, innovate, explore and interact on a level playing field. Parents can also play a major role in allowing greater degrees of individualism and setting gender neutral standards for their children in regard to the activities they engage in. This means eliminating seemingly harmless societal norms such as “blue is for boys and pink is for girls mentality. Whether marketing implies the gender roles or vice-versa there is no doubt that these common gender roles are deeply ingrained in American society and will remain so unless there is a consensus on the detrimental effects of gender based prejudice to the confidence of boys across the nation. Establishing a gender neutral standard at a young age will reinforce a more adaptable, openminded generation once it enters higher education and the workforce once these changes are implemented.
#2 Empowering both genders
We must face the reality that while there has been significant progress in regard to gender disparities, it is not enough. As previously stated, women make considerably less in the workforce on average than men. In the United States only 19.4% of elected official in Congress are women. Of the 104 women in Congress, only 34 are minorities of which have significantly greater gender disparities than white women in the United States. But empowerment does not only come down to pay and representation of issues. This means greater opportunities in educational programs and positions in higher management. This means allowing young women to play any sport in high school or creating pathways for girls to express themselves while not being oppressed by societal standards of what it means to be a woman or “ladylike”. This means challenging the status quo and pushing the boundaries of what is socially acceptable of women in regard to their male counterparts. This means eliminating the double standard in regard to how women are perceived by their own personal beliefs, health, sexuality, and self-expression. Eliminating these gaps will not only benefit the self confidence and health of women but also their legitimacy in the eyes of men specifically young men (not that they need to prove their self worth) and the universities, corporations, and bureaucracy of male dominated institutions. Sadly, the old and the current world is a man’s world but it doesn’t have to be. Creating a human world that lacks the divisions of sexism and social dominance will also benefit how young men begin to approach their own masculinity and place in society. Men being afraid of expressing themselves will not be because if they are, feministic will not be an insult. Being feministic will be seen as just a personality or characteristic rather than being seen as “weak” or “moody”. Men will not be afraid to embrace habits, activities, products,etc. that are currently deemed as lacking masculinity and will result in greater confidence and the ability to self express instead of appealing to a false sense of what is “masculine” and what is not. To create true male identity, we need to eliminate the fragility of what it means to be male and the social hierarchy that it often implies. We do so by empowering women along with men.
#3: Cultivate personal identity:
Confident boys and young men are not likely to be told who they are or aren’t. They are less likely to join social circles that are deemed superior or do so just to impress their male counterparts. We need to inhibit opportunities for men to express, collaborate, and socialize without a sense of fear driven by false societal standards of what it means to be male. We need confident, not arrogant men who embrace diversity not just in their social circles, but also in their workplaces, home, and educational experience. Male emotion and personal expression is traditionally viewed as weak, unpopular or a variety of derogatory, sexist terms. This needs to change. Expression is a part of the human experience and is not limited to watching a football game or hanging out with your bros. We need to cultivate social experiences in men that expand their personal consciousness and maintain their own emotional health, not belittling it. Being societally invested in organizations whether education or recreational that benefit the diverse interests of men, will benefit not only those individuals confidence, but also the way we approach social stigma attached to masculinity and expression. Lack of collective identity and belonging, especially in young men, has proven to be political, economically and socially detrimental. If we can innovate our current institutions while investing in socially diverse programs, men of all ages can feel secure in their own communities and promote a variety of interests that promote alternatives to the traditional sense of “manly” activities.
Conclusion: Where to begin
While I understand that much of the context of pinpointing solutions to a more open form of masculinity are simplified, vague and ideological; we must begin to reexamine our approach to masculinity in the 21st century and our American society. The contemporary interpretation of masculinity is and will continue to define the standards in which society views men and women in every facet of our modern culture. From public policy to the internal behaviors of companies, we must be uncompromising of creating a more open, accepting and informed sense of what it means to be a human and a specific gender. While this transformation will continue for years to come, it is significant to state where we can improve and what we should demand of society. The standards we set for boys and men across the nation and the consequences that come with those standards, good and bad, set precedent for the types of leaders, fathers, and members of society that we will have in the next generation.