What is it that makes the man? Having hair on your chest, a sizeable penis, playing the most sports? Masculinity used to mean that one was virile and independent, and to be a real man you would have to strive for power, control and self reliance. In order to display power and control, you had to exert that on others in the form of misogyny, racism and homophobia.
Things have changed though, right? I mean, surely the modern man doesn’t need to be a low-key bigot to show that he is truly totes masc?
In the modern world men are expressing themselves in heaps of different ways—through fashion, music, spoken word, dance, or art. However, these all come with qualifiers. Men who are into fashion can now be identified as “metrosexual”, although this is now becoming more of an antiquated term. There is, however, a tipping point—suddenly you’re discriminated against for being feminine, because, naturally, fashion is a girly thing. Body image and personal presentation are totally tied up in this too.
There are almost “safe” tropes where someone can “play-it-masc”. Like the lumberjack (wear some plaid and grow out your facial hair), future yo-pro (keep your Macklemore ‘do in check and make sure to keep up with Barkers’ latest releases), and the obviously straight and stock-standard student (have a few chinos, a jersey, and some stripy and blank tees to cycle through).
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In terms of homophobia, the “no homo” movement speaks for itself. You can have a bro, as long as you use the disclaimer “no homo” when you’re doing anything too ~intimate~, like getting dinner together or taking a selfie. As though the worst thing in the world would be to be assumed gay. With queerness comes masculinity erasure. As though someone who self-identifies as masculine and projects a masculine vibe out to the world somehow has his masculinity stolen because he happens to like some D on the side.
Although, within the queer community, there is still a serious issue with masculinity, misogyny, body image and racism. Just scrolling through an app like Grindr you could play discrimination bingo with phrases like “no fems”, “no fatties”, “no Asians”, “I’m straight acting” and “looking for tranny fun”. Although you could argue that being on Grindr in the first place is hardly very “straight acting”.
Most people are pretty switched on to basic feminism, in the sense that it’s totally NBD for a woman to dress as revealing or conservatively, femininely or masculinely as she likes, or have short hair or long hair in any colour under the sun. Yet it isn’t as accepted for men to have this freedom of expression, despite this being an obvious part of the feminist movement.
So many young boys are being raised by a society that tells them to harden up and act like men, when there is no real guide that tells us how a man is supposed to act. Young boys are raised in a culture that supports violence and physical activity as the pinnacle of what it is to be “male”, yet ignores the need for emotional literacy in young boys. This is carried on by the idea that men aren’t allowed to show emotion or call for help with depression, anxiety, other mental illnesses, or even basic emotional distress. Many men are raised without the adequate tools to express themselves when they’re vulnerable. What are men supposed to do after they’ve been dumped? Sit quietly in solitude curing meats and drinking dark spirits?
Furthermore, we are in an age of men being the easy gag joke in the media. It’s harder to have an open discussion about men’s issues and the unattainable standards of masculinity without it sounding like a punchline of a joke or like you’re bagging on feminism. If you try and bring it up on social media, you’re bound to get a barrage of sarcastic, belittling and dismissive comments that try to erase the male experience.
While it is true that white middle aged men have been roaming the earth shitting over everyone, it doesn’t mean that the male experience should be suffocated entirely. Things like male infertility, male-pattern baldness, even trough urinals are male-specific, and are all tied to masculine identity. While it’s easy to dismiss issues like these as “fragile masculinity” and chuckle away, it’s something that people have to live with.
If we want to improve emotional literacy and actually help with men’s issues, maybe we shouldn’t be dismissing masculinity as something that is only important to “fuccbois” and “dude-bros”.
When it comes down to it, masculinity is more of a spectator sport. While people are still expanding what they consider masculine, there is still a lot of discrimination against and from the actors involved.
Aunt Agatha is an anonymous agony aunt hellbent on providing disappointing life advice, despite not having a life herself.