The Masculinity Manifesto
A verse addressing the changing perception of masculinity today
In days long gone by, it would’ve been mandatory for a prepubescent boy to have a baptism by fire. South American and African cultures saw them left out in the wilderness for several days by the elders of his clan, possessing the bare minimum against the beasts of nature. At the end of a predetermined set of time, the men would return to the spot where they left the boy. Granted, his survival meant he returned with the men of his tribe no longer a boy, but having become a man. Upon returning to rest of his tribe, a celebration awaited the recent initiate into the world of manhood. This event, no doubt frightening for the boy, had all of the ingredients for the rite of passage.
While this context may be too primal for the 21st century, I’m hard-pressed for any modern alternatives for the growth of a man. In fact, society today doesn’t have anything in place at all.
“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” –Marcus Aurelius
What constitutes being a real man, anyway?
The rise in technology in the past decade has seen millions of voices being heard on platforms such as Twitter and, of course, Medium (shout out the homie Ev). One thing that’s spectacular about the new age is how we can create our own narratives and fantasies on the net: as soon as we publish those 140 characters, that provocative Snap or meaningful IG caption, we offer a portion of vulnerability for the world to see — it’s the closest thing to living vicariously through somebody when you don’t know them at all. It’s so ridiculously powerful; it’s bonkers, even more so because it’s all done by twiddling your thumbs on a 5-inch screen.
With all this great power, however, comes a lack of responsibility, and parameters to contain it. We’ve seen a rise in controversial movements, such as Black Lives Matter, advocating the temperance of institutional racism and public health, as well as “safe spaces” for people to orate their thoughts at length without fear of backlash because of who they are. However, many men (and women) on social media follow the poisonous trend of using this platform to dictate what’s considered “manly” in today’s society. Like it or not the world we live in today is inherently unfair; with social norms and roles created for people to settle into, punishing those who can’t fulfil them. Whether it’s an imbalanced point of view, or nuanced treatments, not all men can live in peace with themselves. Despite the contortions and rationalisations that ‘such and such’ constitutes being “a real man” (eye-roll), men themselves instinctively know better. They should know better, because it builds a bubbling pressure that’ll come to tear them apart.
The complexity of depression is too deep for anybody to truly understand — it occurs for reasons one wouldn’t expect, and in spaces that catch the uninitiated off-guard. I’m not here to address it, but put it in perspective. It isn’t directly related to an undoing in masculine pedagogy, but the mental health of the male is a cause of concern. The BC Medical Journal’s ‘Silent Epidemic’ article stated that:
“[Their] findings suggest that factors responsible for the increased suicide rate in older men operate largely during the suicidal crisis itself: once a depressed older man develops serious suicidal intent, he tends to realise it with little hesitation.”
Despite this boom in technology and the use of social media there’s surprisingly little coverage on male mental health, and I’m willing to bet everything in my bank that part of the reason buries it’s feet in a skewed masculine perception. Men are expected to not cry between themselves, and to keep their feelings reserved, but also expected to follow millions of social and behavioural patterns to be deemed “manly”, most not even decided by men to begin with. With the vast shape-shifts in social norms in the past 10 years compared to the past 10 decades, it’s a fair assessment to say technology’s on a steep incline to rule the world. The voices in it, however, are far from mindful about the standards being set for men every single moment. It creates an unrealistic expectancy in young men to mature way too fast, just to appease others unlike himself. This isn’t the aforementioned boy with the loincloth and knife in the rite of passage anymore: this is a boy wrongfully left to die by a tribe believing he’s a capable man already.
Fast forward to 2017 and masculinity’s apparently at the absolute height of it’s powers, but not as we know it. It’s the uglier twin brother called hyper-masculinity: it talks over others, garishly flaunting it’s aggression for the world to see, and has a cruel, powerful physique. To save confusion, the definition of hypermasculinity is: an exaggeration of the masculine stereotype we’re all familiar with, something people associate closely with BKChat’s Lucas.
Age-mates I’ve grown up around and see on the net today are captors of this: they are derogatory towards women, make an effort to be the loudest in the room and exaggerate their inherent manhood to an unbearable extent (“If I tell you shut up, you’ll shut up”, says Lucas). My own input would be that, regarding the commercialism of the BKChat show and Lucas’ own character, is that he’s an absolutely necessary voice. While I don’t 100% endorse his points of view, and him being the target for campaigns on/against hypermasculinity, you cannot deny the fact he’s unapologetically himself. He articulates himself fairly well, handles being the centre of attention with confidence and clout, holds his ground against contrarian points of view just as well (when he doesn’t lose his lid) and evidently doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks about him. These are all stereotypically masculine qualities. While Lucas isn’t the most balanced fella out there, and his engagements are mostly against the women rather than his fellow (hu)men, one thing I’ll cut my eyes at is anyone questioning of him “being a real man” — he’s just as much of a man as your father, boyfriend, husband or best friend.
Furthermore, the problem is young adults pinpoint hypermasculinity so inaccurately it’s lost any significant meaning. Any erratic behaviour in the name of being an “alpha male” is magnified to supposedly represent all men. It’s gone from rightfully being an overabundance of male character, deteriorating to becoming anything as minor as a reluctance to cry as a man, wear certain accessories or a reluctance to use flower filters. Newsflash: it isn’t. Hyper masculinity is a destructive exhibition of character which is near impossible to uphold if you have any respect for yourself. It’s not holding back tears, choosing not to wear a choker or choosing not to use a flower filter. These choices do not impinge upon character. Instead of safari plains and mother nature, London seems to have an unofficial ‘rite of passage’ of it’s own: adversities such as parental hardships, financial difficulties and heartbreak seem to inadvertently 'make the man’ from young. While it’s true that it shapes character, not everybody has an imperfect upbringing, yet are accomplished men. The people that do, however, live in volatility: tragedy plagues those unfortunate to experience it. It could make you a man, or it can make you crazy, hounding and savaging your wellbeing.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have people foregoing a complete abandon from gender binaries and merging the masculine and feminine id. Speaking in regards to black men, Twitter’s dubbed this being a “Carefree black boy”. A fantastic article was released a while back by Øracle wherein the perception of the black man has been made to twist and bend: scores of galleries seeing black men adorned with flowers in their beards, in wildly expressive colour palettes scour the internet. While I’m an advocate of self-expression, I can’t help but feel as if this movement is mocking. As the article name infers, the liberal side of black men have been stolen by aesthetics online. That’s another trope of the internet: it pulls the illusion of camaraderie and a helping hand when really, the only support true effeminate black men receive is a caricature of themselves — a ‘carefree’ movement compensating too much for looks, and too little on the mental depth of living life as a marginalised person.
Just in terms of your brain, you got two hemispheres and a little connector called the ‘corpus callosum’. In females, it’s this thick [holds out three fingers]. And in males, it’s this thick [holds out two fingers]. So, if something happens with a woman and they get a lot of emotions, you get an impulse to act.
- (Edward M. Stephens, The New Wave of American Masculinity)
If there’s anything to take away from that dreadful VICE documentary, it’s this segment that bears its weight in gold. Men and women are built with different biological dispositions, and this one specific conversation represents a traditionalist perspective on gender meeting a “degenerative” modernisation, explicitly thinking of gender to be a “social construct”. No matter how many times they’re redefined, or new genders are created, men have biological constants that’ll always make them men. From my own beliefs, men should build a solid foundation before they can fully realise their character. Whether you’re a passionate botanist, professional weightlifter or prospective accountant in the city, you need to use our impulse to act and develop who you truly are. For a majority of their lives, men only know of women through the mothers of their household. They’re then exposed to a public, an education system and modern society sturdily built on feminist ideals. The male identity begins to wane even more in Orwellian fashion, because any attempt to question things such as hypermasculinity, the new “cis-” gender prefix, or society at large, they become more scrutinised because of it.
At their core, men should be able to experience an emotional, materialistic sense of freedom in all avenues of life. By this, I mean they should never feel subservient to anything that isn’t mortally significant. They should have a sense of direction; a mission, or something to give the world. Other’s include a cultivation of logic, integrity, stability, passions, independence, discipline, confidence, awareness and strength. Men possess these traits in different measures, but the tremendous beauty behind it all is that magnitude doesn’t matter: my personal testament to masculinity belies in how you choose to chisel your own statue. Granted you have a solid foundation of self-identity, your design becomes one of individual magnificence that absolutely nobody can change.
To conclude, we don’t have any defining rites of passage anymore. We encounter articles and perspectives online that manipulate the idea of masculinity everyday. It’s become a formless, shapeless adhesive which merely keeps the self-identity of man in the 21st century together — with the ideology of “manliness” changing more times than I’d like to count, ask yourself: how is this even comfortable? Men, search inward, between the crevices of your heart and try to find what is it that truly makes you, you. Ask some of your fathers, grandfathers and forefathers what it means for them to be a man, as they’re the best teachers. Masculinity, truly, is being expressive of what’s within you. Speak your mind when you want to disagree, approach when you see that woman that strikes a chord in you, hit the gym to attain the body you want, don’t be afraid to apprehend your own sexuality, and find your purpose. It’s not the smoothest slope to grow to manhood, but it’s the closest thing we have to boys finally becoming men.
If you’ve read this far, thank you, and God bless.