Manhood Definition Essay On Love
"Masculine" redirects here. For other uses, see Masculine (disambiguation).
"Manliness" redirects here. For the book by Harvey Mansfield, see Manliness (book).
Masculinity (manhood or manliness) is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with boys and men. As a social construct, it is distinct from the definition of the male biological sex. Standards of manliness or masculinity vary across different cultures and historical periods. Both males and females can exhibit masculine traits and behavior.
Traits traditionally viewed as masculine in Western society include courage, independence, violence, and assertiveness.Machismo is a form of masculinity that emphasizes masculinity and power and is often associated with a disregard for consequences and responsibility.
Masculine qualities and roles are considered typical of, appropriate for, and expected of boys and men. Similar to masculinity is virility (from the Latin vir, "man"). The concept of masculinity varies historically and culturally; although the dandy was seen as a 19th-century ideal of masculinity, he is considered effeminate by modern standards.:1-3 Masculine norms, as described in Ronald F. Levant's Masculinity Reconstructed, are "avoidance of femininity; restricted emotions; sex disconnected from intimacy; pursuit of achievement and status; self-reliance; strength and aggression, and homophobia".[when?][where?] These norms reinforce gender roles by associating attributes and characteristics with one gender.
The academic study of masculinity received increased attention during the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the number of courses on the subject in the United States rising from 30 to over 300. This has sparked investigation of the intersection of masculinity with other axes of social discrimination and concepts from other fields, such as the social construction of gender difference (prevalent in a number of philosophical and sociological theories).
Both males and females can exhibit masculine traits and behavior. Those exhibiting both masculine and feminine characteristics are considered androgynous, and feminist philosophers have argued that gender ambiguity may blur gender classification.
In many cultures, displaying characteristics not typical of one's gender may be a social problem. In sociology, this labeling is known as gender assumptions and is part of socialization to meet the mores of a society. Non-standard behavior may be considered indicative of homosexuality, despite the fact that gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation are widely accepted as distinct concepts. When sexuality is defined in terms of object choice (as in early sexology studies), male homosexuality is interpreted as effeminacy. Social disapproval of excessive masculinity may be expressed as "machismo" or by neologisms such as "testosterone poisoning".
The relative importance of socialization and genetics in the development of masculinity is debated. Although social conditioning is believed to play a role, psychologists and psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung believed that aspects of "feminine" and "masculine" identity are subconsciously present in all human males.[a]
The historical development of gender roles is addressed by behavioural genetics, evolutionary psychology, human ecology, anthropology and sociology. All human cultures seem to encourage gender roles in literature, costume and song; examples may include the epics of Homer, the Hengist and Horsa tales and the normative commentaries of Confucius. More specialized treatments of masculinity may be found in the Bhagavad Gita and the bushidō of Hagakure.
Nature versus nurture
Main article: Nature versus nurture
The sources of gender identity are debated. Some believe that masculinity is linked to the male body; in this view, masculinity is associated with male genitalia.:3 Others have suggested that although masculinity may be influenced by biology, it is also a cultural construct. Proponents of this view argue that women can become men hormonally and physically,:3 and many aspects of masculinity assumed to be natural are linguistically and culturally driven. On the nurture side of the debate, it is argued that masculinity does not have a single source. Although the military has a vested interest in constructing and promoting a specific form of masculinity, it does not create it.:17–21 Facial hair is linked to masculinity through language, in stories about boys becoming men when they begin to shave.:30–31
In contrast to earlier perspectives of the nature versus nurture debate, contemporary social scientists suggest masculinity to stem from both nature and nurture, as both biological predispositions and social factors intersect to give rise to masculine gender identities. Scholars suggest that innate differences between the sexes are compounded and/or exaggerated by the influences of social factors.
Social construction of masculinity
Social scientists conceptualize masculinity (and femininity) as a performance. Gender performances may not necessarily be intentional and people may not even be aware of the extent to which they are performing gender, as one outcome of lifelong gender socialization is the feeling that one's gender is "natural" or biologically-ordained.
The social construction of gender also conceptualizes gender as a continuum. Theorists suggest one is not simply masculine or feminine, but instead may display components of both masculinity and femininity to different degrees and in particular contexts.
Masculine performance varies over the life course, but also from one context to another. For instance, the sports world may elicit more traditionally normative masculinities in participants than would other settings. Men who exhibit a tough and aggressive masculinity on the sports field may display a softer masculinity in familial contexts. Masculinities vary by social class as well. Studies suggest working class constructions of masculinity to be more normative than are those from middle class men and boys. As these contexts and comparisons illustrate, theorists suggest a multiplicity of masculinities, not simply one single construction of masculinity.
Main article: Hegemonic masculinity
Traditional avenues for men to gain honor were providing for their families and exercising leadership.Raewyn Connell has labeled traditional male roles and privileges hegemonic masculinity, encouraged in men and discouraged in women: "Hegemonic masculinity can be defined as the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees the dominant position of men and the subordination of women".:77 In addition to describing forceful articulations of violent masculine identities, hegemonic masculinity has also been used to describe implicit, indirect, or coercive forms of gendered socialisation, enacted through video games, fashion, humour, and so on.
Researchers have argued that the "precariousness" of manhood contributes to traditionally-masculine behavior. "Precarious" means that manhood is not inborn, but must be achieved. In many cultures, boys endure painful initiation rituals to become men. Manhood may also be lost, as when a man is derided for not "being a man". Researchers have found that men respond to threats to their manhood by engaging in stereotypically-masculine behaviors and beliefs, such as supporting hierarchy, espousing homophobic beliefs, supporting aggression and choosing physical tasks over intellectual ones.
In 2014, Winegard and Geary wrote that the precariousness of manhood involves social status (prestige or dominance), and manhood may be more (or less) precarious due to the avenues men have for achieving status. Men who identify with creative pursuits, such as poetry or painting, may not experience manhood as precarious but may respond to threats to their intelligence or creativity. However, men who identify with traditionally-masculine pursuits (such as football or the military) may see masculinity as precarious. According to Winegard, Winegard, and Geary, this is functional; poetry and painting do not require traditionally-masculine traits, and attacks on those traits should not induce anxiety.[dubious– discuss] Football and the military require traditionally-masculine traits, such as pain tolerance, endurance, muscularity and courage, and attacks on those traits induce anxiety and may trigger retaliatory impulses and behavior. This suggests that nature-versus-nurture debates about masculinity may be simplistic. Although men evolved to pursue prestige and dominance (status), how they pursue status depends on their talents, traits and available possibilities. In modern societies, more avenues to status may exist than in traditional societies and this may mitigate the precariousness of manhood (or of traditional manhood); however, it will probably not mitigate the intensity of male-male competition.
Although often ignored in discussions of masculinity, women can also express masculine traits and behaviors. In Western culture, female masculinity has been codified into identities such as "tomboy" and "butch". Although female masculinity is often associated with lesbianism, expressing masculinity is not necessarily related to a woman's sexuality. In feminist philosophy, female masculinity is often characterized as a type of gender performance which challenges traditional masculinity and male dominance. Zachary A. Kramer argues that the discussion of masculinity should be opened up "to include constructions of masculinity that uniquely affect women." Masculine women are often subject to social stigma and harassment, although the influence of the feminist movement has led to greater acceptance of women expressing masculinity in recent decades.
Evidence points to the negative impact of hegemonic masculinity on men's health-related behavior, with American men making 134.5 million fewer physician visits per year than women. Men make 40.8 percent of all physician visits, including women's obstetric and gynecological visits. Twenty-five percent of men aged 45 to 60 do not have a personal physician, increasing their risk of death from heart disease. Men between 25 and 65 are four times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women, and are more likely to be diagnosed with a terminal illness because of their reluctance to see a doctor. Reasons cited for not seeing a physician include fear, denial, embarrassment, a dislike of situations out of their control and the belief that visiting a doctor is not worth the time or cost.
Studies of men in North America and Europe show that men who consume alcoholic drinks often do so in order to fulfill certain social expectations of manliness. While the causes of drinking and alcoholism are complex and varied, gender roles and social expectations have a strong influence encouraging men to drink.
In 2004, Arran Stibbe published an analysis of a well-known men's-health magazine in 2000. According to Stibbe, although the magazine ostensibly focused on health it also promoted traditional masculine behaviors such as excessive consumption of convenience foods and meat, alcohol consumption and unsafe sex.
Research on beer-commercial content by Lance Strate yielded results relevant to a study of masculinity. In beer commercials, masculine behavior (especially risk-taking) is encouraged. Commercials often focus on situations in which a man overcomes an obstacle in a group, working or playing hard (construction or farm workers or cowboys). Those involving play have central themes of mastery (of nature or each other), risk and adventure: fishing, camping, playing sports or socializing in bars. There is usually an element of danger and a focus on movement and speed (watching fast cars or driving fast). The bar is a setting for the measurement of masculinity in skills such as billiards, strength, and drinking ability.
Since what constitutes masculinity has varied by time and place, according to Raewyn Connell, it is more appropriate to discuss "masculinities" than a single overarching concept.:185 Study of the history of masculinity emerged during the 1980s, aided by the fields of women's and (later) gender history. Before women's history was examined, there was a "strict gendering of the public/private divide"; regarding masculinity, this meant little study of how men related to the household, domesticity and family life. Although women's historical role was negated, despite the writing of history by (and primarily about) men, a significant portion of the male experience was missing. This void was questioned during the late 1970s, when women's history began to analyze gender and women to deepen the female experience. Joan Scott's seminal article, calling for gender studies as an analytical concept to explore society, power and discourse, laid the foundation for this field.
According to Scott, gender should be used in two ways: productive and produced. Productive gender examined its role in creating power relationships, and produced gender explored the use and change of gender throughout history. This has influenced the field of masculinity, as seen in Pierre Bourdieu's definition of masculinity: produced by society and culture, and reproduced in daily life. A flurry of work in women's history led to a call for study of the male role (initially influenced by psychoanalysis) in society and emotional and interpersonal life. Connell wrote that these initial works were marked by a "high level of generality" in "broad surveys of cultural norms". The scholarship was aware of contemporary societal changes aiming to understand and evolve (or liberate) the male role in response to feminism.:28John Tosh calls for a return to this aim for the history of masculinity to be useful, academically and in the public sphere.
Ancient literature dates back to about 3000 BC, with explicit expectations for men in the form of laws and implied masculine ideals in myths of gods and heroes. In the Hebrew Bible of 1000 BC, King David of Israel told his son, "I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man;" after David's death. Throughout history, men have met exacting cultural standards. Kate Cooper wrote about ancient concepts of femininity, "Wherever a woman is mentioned a man's character is being judged – and along with it what he stands for." According to the Code of Hammurabi (about 1750 BC):
- Rule 3: "If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death."
- Rule 128: "If a man takes a woman to wife, but has no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him."
Scholars cite integrity and equality as masculine values in male-male relationships and virility in male-female relationships. Legends of ancient heroes include the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The stories demonstrate qualities in the hero which inspire respect, such as wisdom and courage: knowing things other men do not know and taking risks other men would not dare.
Medieval and Victorian eras
Jeffrey Richards describes a European "medieval masculinity which was essentially Christian and chivalric". Courage, respect for women of all classes and generosity characterize the portrayal of men in literary history. The Anglo-SaxonsHengest and Horsa and Beowulf are examples of medieval masculine ideals. According to David Rosen, the traditional view of scholars (such as J. R. R. Tolkien) that Beowulf is a tale of medieval heroism overlooks the similarities between Beowulf and the monster Grendel. The masculinity exemplified by Beowulf "cut[s] men off from women, other men, passion and the household".
During the Victorian era, masculinity underwent a transformation from traditional heroism. Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle wrote in 1831: "The old ideal of Manhood has grown obsolete, and the new is still invisible to us, and we grope after it in darkness, one clutching this phantom, another that; Werterism, Byronism, even Brummelism, each has its day".
Twentieth century to present
At the beginning of the twentieth century, a traditional family consisted of the father as breadwinner and the mother as homemaker. Despite women's increasing participation in the paid labor force and contributions to family income, men's identities remained centered on their working lives and specifically their economic contributions. Central to adult men's identities is the provider role, as masculinity is often measured by the size of one's paycheck/economic contribution to the family. Masculinity is also secured by denying any semblance of softness, emotion, femininity, or any characteristic associated with women and femininity.
Overwhelmingly, the construction of masculinity most valued in the latter part of the twentieth century to today is one that is independent, sexually assertive, and athletic, among other normative markers of manhood. Social theorist Erving Goffman's seminal work on stigma management presents a list of traits prescribed as categorically masculine for contemporary men:
In an important sense there is only one complete unblushing male in America: a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual Protestant father of college education, fully employed, or good complexion, weight and height, and a recent record in sports.:128
There is some evidence of masculinities undergoing shifts in the contemporary social landscape. Characteristic of present-day masculinity is men's willingness to counter stereotypes. Regardless of age or nationality, men more frequently rank good health, a harmonious family life and a good relationship with their spouse or partner as important to their quality of life.[better source needed]
See also: Effeminacy § Gay men
Gay men are considered by some to "deviate from the masculine norm" and are benevolently stereotyped as "gentle and refined", even by other gay men. According to gay human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell:
Contrary to the well-intentioned claim that gays are "just the same" as straights, there is a difference. What is more, the distinctive style of gay masculinity is of great social benefit. Wouldn't life be dull without the flair and imagination of queer fashion designers and interior decorators? How could the NHS cope with no gay nurses, or the education system with no gay teachers? Society should thank its lucky stars that not all men turn out straight, macho and insensitive. The different hetero and homo modes of maleness are not, of course, biologically fixed.
Psychologist Joseph Pleck argues that a hierarchy of masculinity exists largely as a dichotomy of homosexual and heterosexual males: "Our society uses the male heterosexual-homosexual dichotomy as a central symbol for all the rankings of masculinity, for the division on any grounds between males who are "real men" and have power, and males who are not".Michael Kimmel adds that the trope "You're so gay" indicates a lack of masculinity, rather than homosexual orientation. According to Pleck, to avoid male oppression of women, themselves and other men, patriarchal structures, institutions and discourse must be eliminated from Western society.
In the documentary The Butch Factor, gay men (one of them transgender) were asked about their views of masculinity. Masculine traits were generally seen as an advantage in and out of the closet, allowing "butch" gay men to conceal their sexual orientation longer while engaged in masculine activities such as sports. Effeminacy is inaccurately associated with homosexuality, and some gay men doubted their sexual orientation; they did not see themselves as effeminate, and felt little connection to gay culture. Some effeminate gay men in The Butch Factor felt uncomfortable about their femininity (despite being comfortable with their sexuality), and feminine gay men may be derided by stereotypically-masculine gays.
Feminine-looking men tended to come out earlier after being labeled gay by their peers. More likely to face bullying and harassment throughout their lives, they are taunted by derogatory words (such as "sissy") implying feminine qualities. Effeminate, "campy" gay men sometimes use what John R. Ballew called "camp humor", such as referring to one another by female pronouns (according to Ballew, "a funny way of defusing hate directed toward us [gay men]"); however, such humor "can cause us [gay men] to become confused in relation to how we feel about being men". He further stated:
[Heterosexual] men are sometimes advised to get in touch with their "inner feminine." Maybe gay men need to get in touch with their "inner masculine" instead. Identifying those aspects of being a man we most value and then cultivate those parts of our selves can lead to a healthier and less distorted sense of our own masculinity.
A study by the Center for Theoretical Study at Charles University in Prague and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic found "significant" differences in shape among the faces of heterosexual and gay men, with gay men having "masculine" features ("undermin[ing] stereotypical notions of gay men as more feminine looking.")
Gay men have been presented in the media as feminine and open to ridicule, although films such as Brokeback Mountain are countering the stereotype. A recent development is the portrayal of gay men in the LGBT community as "bears", a subculture of gay men celebrating rugged masculinity and "secondary sexual characteristics of the male: facial hair, body hair, proportional size, baldness".
Second-wavepro-feminism paid greater attention to issues of sexuality, particularly the relationship between homosexual men and hegemonic masculinity. This shift led to increased cooperation between the men's liberation and gay liberation movements developing, in part, because masculinity was understood as a social construct and in response to the universalization of "men" in previous men's movements. Men's-rights activists worked to stop second-wave feminists from influencing the gay-rights movement, promoting hypermasculinity as inherent to gay sexuality.
Masculinity has played an important role in lesbian culture, although lesbians vary widely in the degree to which they express masculinity and femininity. In LGBT cultures, masculine women are often referred to as "butch".
Two concerns over the study of the history of masculinity are that it would stabilize the historical process (rather than change it) and that a cultural overemphasis on the approach to masculinity lacks the reality of actual experience. According to John Tosh, masculinity has become a conceptual framework used by historians to enhance their cultural explorations instead of a specialty in its own right. This draws attention from reality to representation and meaning, not only in the realm of masculinity; culture was becoming "the bottom line, the real historical reality". Tosh critiques Martin Francis' work of in this light because popular culture, rather than the experience of family life, is the basis for Francis' argument. Francis uses contemporary literature and film to demonstrate that masculinity was restless, shying away from domesticity and commitment, during the late 1940s and 1950s. Francis wrote that this flight from commitment was "most likely to take place at the level of fantasy (individual and collective)". In focusing on culture, it is difficult to gauge the degree to which films such as Scott of the Antarctic represented the era’s masculine fantasies. Michael Roper’s call to focus on the subjectivity of masculinity addresses this cultural bias, because broad understanding is set aside for an examination "of what the relationship of the codes of masculinity is to actual men, to existential matters, to persons and to their psychic make-up" (Tosh's human experience).
According to Tosh, the culture of masculinity has outlived its usefulness because it cannot fulfill the initial aim of this history (to discover how manhood was conditioned and experienced) and he urged "questions of behaviour and agency". His work on Victorian masculinity uses individual experience in letters and sketches to illustrate broader cultural and social customs, such as birthing or Christmas traditions.
Stefan Dudink believes that the methodological approach (trying to categorize masculinity as a phenomenon) undermined its historiographic development. Abigail Solomou-Godeau’s work on post-revolutionary French art addresses a strong, constant patriarchy.
Tosh’s overall assessment is that a shift is needed in conceptualizing the topic back to the history of masculinity as a speciality aiming to reach a broader audience, rather than as an analytical tool of cultural and social history. The importance he places on public history hearkens back to the initial aims of gender history, which sought to use history to enlighten and change the present. Tosh appeals to historians to live up to the "social expectation" of their work, which would also require a greater focus on subjectivity and masculinity. This view is contrary to Dudink’s; the latter called for an "outflanking movement" towards the history of masculinity, in response to the errors he perceived in the study. This would do the opposite of what Tosh called for, deconstructing masculinity by not placing it at the center of historical exploration and using discourse and culture as indirect avenues towards a more-representational approach. In a study of the Low Countries, Dudink proposes moving beyond the history of masculinity by embedding analysis into the exploration of nation and nationalism (making masculinity a lens through which to view conflict and nation-building). Martin Francis' work on domesticity through a cultural lens moves beyond the history of masculinity because "men constantly travelled back and forward across the frontier of domesticity, if only in the realm of the imagination"; normative codes of behavior do not fully encompass the male experience.
Media images of boys and young men may lead to the persistence of harmful concepts of masculinity. According to men's-rights activists, the media does not address men's-rights issues and men are often portrayed negatively in advertising. Peter Jackson called hegemonic masculinity "economically exploitative" and "socially oppressive": "The form of oppression varies from patriarchal controls over women's bodies and reproductive rights, through ideologies of domesticity, femininity and compulsory heterosexuality, to social definitions of the value of work, the nature of skill and the differential remuneration of 'productive' and 'reproductive' labor."
According to a paper submitted by Tracy Tylka to the American Psychological Association, "Instead of seeing a decrease in objectification of women in society, there has just been an increase in the objectification of both sexes. And you can see that in the media today." Men and women restrict food intake in an effort to achieve what they consider an attractively-thin body; in extreme cases, this leads to eating disorders. Psychiatrist Thomas Holbrook cited a recent Canadian study indicating that as many as one in six people with eating disorders are men.
Research in the United Kingdom found, "Younger men and women who read fitness and fashion magazines could be psychologically harmed by the images of perfect female and male physiques." Young women and men exercise excessively in an effort to achieve what they consider an attractively-fit and muscular body, which may lead to body dysmorphic disorder or muscle dysmorphia. Although the stereotypes may have remained constant, the value attached to masculine stereotypes has changed; it has been argued that masculinity is an unstable phenomenon, never ultimately achieved.:30-31
See also: Toxic masculinity
In 1987 Eisler and Skidmore studied masculinity, creating the idea of "masculine stress" and finding three elements of masculinity which often result in emotional stress:
- The emphasis on prevailing in situations requiring body and fitness
- Being perceived as emotional
- The need for adequacy in sexual matters and financial status
Because of social norms and pressures associated with masculinity, men with spinal-cord injuries must adapt their self-identity to the losses associated with such injuries; this may "lead to feelings of decreased physical and sexual prowess with lowered self-esteem and a loss of male identity. Feelings of guilt and overall loss of control are also experienced." Research also suggests that men feel social pressure to endorse traditional masculine male models in advertising. Brett Martin and Juergen Gnoth (2009) found that although feminine men privately preferred feminine models, they expressed a preference for traditional masculine models in public; according to the authors, this reflected social pressure on men to endorse traditional masculine norms.
In their book Raising Cain: Protecting The Emotional Life of Boys, Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson wrote that although all boys are born loving and empathic, exposure to gender socialization (the tough male ideal and hypermasculinity) limits their ability to function as emotionally-healthy adults. According to Kindlon and Thompson, boys lack the ability to understand and express emotions productively because of the stress imposed by masculine gender roles.
In the article "Sexual Ethics, Masculinity and Mutual Vulnerability", Rob Cover works to unpack Judith Butler's study of masculinity. Cover goes over issues such as sexual assault and how it can be partially explained by a hypermasculinity.
"Masculinity in crisis"
A theory of "masculinity in crisis" has emerged; Australian archeologist Peter McAllister said, "I have a strong feeling that masculinity is in crisis. Men are really searching for a role in modern society; the things we used to do aren't in much demand anymore". Others see the changing labor market as a source of stress. Deindustrialization and the replacement of smokestack industries by technology have allowed more women to enter the labor force, reducing its emphasis on physical strength.:86–89
The crisis has also been attributed to the questioning of male dominance and rights granted to men solely on the basis of sex following the feminist movement.:83–86 British sociologist John MacInnes wrote that "masculinity has always been in one crisis or another", suggesting that the crises arise from the "fundamental incompatibility between the core principle of modernity that all human beings are essentially equal (regardless of their sex) and the core tenet of patriarchy that men are naturally superior to women and thus destined to rule over them".
According to John Beynon, masculinity and men are often conflated and it is unclear whether masculinity, men or both are in crisis. He writes that the "crisis" is not a recent phenomenon, illustrating several periods of masculine crisis throughout history (some predating the women's movement and post-industrial society), suggesting that due to masculinity's fluid nature "crisis is constitutive of masculinity itself". Film scholar Leon Hunt also writes: "Whenever masculinity's 'crisis' actually started, it certainly seems to have been in place by the 1970s".
East Asian cultures
Main article: Herbivore men
In 2008, the word "herbivore men" became popular in Japan and was reported worldwide. Herbivore men refers to young Japanese men who naturally detach themselves from masculinity. Masahiro Morioka characterizes them as men 1) having gentle nature, 2) not bound by manliness, 3) not aggressive when it comes to romance, 4) viewing women as equals, and 5) hating emotional pain. Herbivore men are severely criticized by men who love masculinity.
In Chinese and Taiwanese popular culture, phrases such as "大男人" (literally: "big man"), "死異男" (literally: "damned hetero male"), and "直男癌" (literally: "straight male cancer") are used as pejoratives referring to men exhibiting misogyny, dominance, and homophobia.
- ^Ferrante, Joan (2008), "Gender and sexualities: with emphasis on gender ideals", in Ferrante, Joan (ed.). Sociology: a global perspective (7th ed.). Belmont, California: Thomson Wadsworth. pp. 269–272. ISBN 9780840032041.
- ^"Gender, Women and Health: What do we mean by "sex" and "gender"?". who.int. World Health Organization. Archived from the original on 8 September 2014. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
- ^Kimmel, Michael S.; Aronson, Amy, eds. (2004). Men and Masculinities: A Social, Cultural, and Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. p. xxiii. ISBN 978-1-57-607774-0.
- ^Halberstam, Judith (2004). "'Female masculinity'". In Kimmel, Michael S.; Aronson, Amy. Men and Masculinities: A Social, Cultural, and Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. pp. 294–5. ISBN 978-1-57-607774-0.
As I’ve watched the Harvey Weinstein saga unfold these past few weeks, and the stunning roll call of accusations of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment pile up, from Hollywood royalty, from actresses who never achieved fame, from women and men both, I cannot help but think of my mother, for two reasons. First, when I was a little boy my mom, ever-honest, real, raw, told me that when she migrated from the American South to New Jersey, where I was born and raised, she, like many working-class women of color who’d made the same trek north, worked as the help in the home of a wealthy white family, across the Hudson River in Westchester County. One day, when all other members of that family were gone, the husband appeared before her clad only in a bathrobe. Suddenly, in the sickening manner that Harvey Weinstein has now made infamous, he sat down in the living room across from her, with his private parts dangling in full view. Why my mother told me this tale at such a young age, I do not know. What I do know is she repeated it often yet never went beyond that ugly moment in her storyline. To this day I do not know how she managed to escape that man.
I also know my mother, now seventy-four years old, forever carries the ugly trauma and scars of my father, the only man she ever fell in love with. He was eleven or twelve years older than her; she worshipped him, and he lusted after her. My Aunt Birdie later told me that my mother was terrified when she became pregnant with me. My father’s wildly unpredictable role in their relationship meant that, when my twenty-two-year-old mother was about to birth me, she had to call a cab to take herself to the hospital.
This reckless and callous distance was to be permanent. I saw my father only two or three times in the first eight years of my life. He never bothered to make good on the promise of marrying her, and my mother, with her limited formal education, was forced to raise me in poverty on government assistance for much of my childhood and youth. My main memory of him was one rainy day when I was eight years old: my mother grabbed me by the hand and took me to the local drugstore to call my father, because we were too poor to afford a phone in our tenement apartment. On this day—the last day I would ever hear from my father—he told my mother, as I stood there, that she had lied to him, that I was not his son, and that he would never give her another nickel for me. He then hung up on her. My mother lifted herself slowly from that phone booth, her plump short frame trembling: she was devastated, angry, humiliated, and she would come to say these words over and over, in her very pronounced Southern accent, words that echo loudly in my ears as I have thought about Harvey Weinstein, film director James Toback, former Amazon Studios chief Roy Price, R&B superstar R. Kelly, disgraced and ousted Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, and all of us men like them: “Men ain’t no good.” And she would rush to underline that sentiment, whenever the image or name of my father struck her heart like a hammer, “Do not be like your father.”
Here I was a boy child being raised by a single mother, with no male figure to be found anywhere—not a stepfather, not a role model, not a mentor in sight. But what I did have—what we all have, whether we have fathers or not—is the intensively male-dominated tone of our common culture: television, film, books, magazines, comic books, religious institutions, music, sports, the mass media. And these forums all, in turn, reflect back the messaging we learn in school, within our families, within our communities. We are outraged, and rightfully so, by the heaviness and sordidness of the allegations lodged against a Harvey Weinstein, a Bill Cosby, a Woody Allen, an O.J. Simpson, a Roman Polanski, a Mark Halperin—and against the many men whose names we will never know who engage in similarly toxic behavior daily, across the globe.
The Pummelings of Privilege
The offences of destructive men align along a gigantic spectrum of dysfunction, from pressuring a woman to a hotel room to committing acts of domestic violence, from police brutality and racial profiling to suicide bombings and mass shootings. (Indeed, it’s very rare for the perpetrators of mass shootings not to have at least been rooted in a past pattern of domestic violence.) But we have got to also understand that none of this behavior is new. That was the enduring lesson of the incident involving my mother, way back in the 1960s.
The hard and fast fact is across much of the civilized world, we men have been taught from boyhood onward that we are superior—and, as a repercussion, that women and girls are inferior, are second-class citizens, or worse yet, not worthy of being viewed as anything other than sexual objects, punching bags, or caretakers to us and our needs.
This is an incredibly toxic definition of manhood, spread across centuries, continents, civilizations, races, cultures, religions, politics, communities, and families. This beast-mode model of male experience has erupted time and again, like a deadly disease, in all those spaces and places so organically, so rapidly, that it’s a virtual rite of passage. Indeed, when I was reading about the many instances of Weinstein showing his penis to women, or clutching at women, I immediately thought back to my youth, as a boy, when I was merely ten or eleven, and how I and all the other boys my age would prowl the halls of our school and summarily grab at the buttocks or budding breasts of our girl classmates. We laughed off any protests from the girls—we just did it.
We laughed off any protests from the girls—we just did it.
And we were never stopped from doing it—not by teachers, principals, parents, or any other adult. Nor were we taught any differently even on the rare occasions that our behavior might rank a passing scolding from our elders. Why and when we began to do this, I don’t know. We just did it, because it was what so-called boys did. And should we fail to follow this standard boys’ script a certain kind of male policing kicked in, with peers and male adults physically or verbally abusing us in viciously emasculating and homophobic terms. If any of us were to seek to stop the behavior (which none of us dared to do), we’d be instantly expelled from this boys’ club we so desperately wanted to be a part of. To be a boy, to be a man, was to fight, was to grab, was to shove and push, was to one up each other every chance we got, was to brag about our material things, our status, was to harp on our sexual conquests (incorporating both truth and lies), was to declare war in every form imaginable: on each other, on those we despised. Manhood certainly never involved viewing women and girls, not even our own mothers, as our equals. Women and girls, were simply there to cater to us, to support us, to do what we pleased, even (and in some cases, especially) if doing our bidding meant hurting or destroying those women and girls. Because manhood for us, ultimately, was about power, and that taste of power was totally intoxicating.
The Rules of the Game
This real-life modeling of male privilege shaped our identity throughout our developmental years. Our schools rarely bothered to include women as equals in terms of intellectual achievement or career aspiration—which meant that many of us, from generation to generation, from Harvey Weinstein to me, came of age thinking that the only lives that have mattered in history, literature, math, science, religion, and any other sphere of endeavor or influence have been the lives of men—unless someone intervened and told us differently. Ask the average man of any background even today to name ten or twenty women in the history of his community or country or culture who have done amazing things, in any fields, and he would be hard pressed to reach five. I know this to be true, because I have done this simple exercise in many places throughout the country and the globe. Not only are we grossly mis-educated on what it is to be a man, but we are also severely mis-educated on who women are. To find out why we men and boys traffic in the egregious attitudes and behavior toward women and girls, look closely at how we’ve been taught and socialized from the moment we were able to speak as little children. We pass this toxic manhood among each other as if we are kicking a soccer ball or tossing a football. And like in any sports setting, the tribal rites of toxic manhood present themselves as a sort of second nature—as the rules of the game. The simple equation of manhood with boundless freedom is acutely embedded in who we are, and who we think we are; it is the background faith behind the supernatural belief in our invincibility and superiority as men and boys, with the world, including women and girls, as our play area for pleasure and power and privilege.
The simple equation of manhood with boundless freedom is acutely embedded in who we are.
This is why when we men get to college or jobs or careers, we have indiscriminate and emotionless sex, only view women from the neck down, and change partners the way we change our pants or shoes. This is why we men, unchecked, have sex with women who are drunk or drugged, and do not consider it rape. This is why we men will ignore a woman saying no or saying nothing as she suffers sexual assault at our hands—because we’ve got no clue what the word consent means. This is why we men, steeped in the ritual of violence as a form of power and control, hit women, slap women, belittle women, rape women. It’s why we feel entitled to push a woman into a bathroom door, as I did to a girlfriend when I was a very young man back in July of 1991. And this is why we men, like Harvey Weinstein, like the many men in Hollywood and media and politics and corporate America now, find ourselves terrified that we will be outed for harassment or sexual assault: because we know what we have done, and what some of us still say and do to women, every single day of our lives. Or, just as bad, we use our privilege to continue our own complicity—when we hear and see our male peers say and do cruel and inhuman things, we remain silent. We thus fail to see that even if we do not directly engage in evil acts of shameless sexism, our deafening silence means we are in agreement, and with that silence we are just as guilty.
What began the turn away from unthinking male privilege was that episode in the early 1990s when I’d pushed my girlfriend into that bathroom door. She and I were in the middle of an argument—about what I no longer recall. But what I do remember is that the more she was winning the verbal scrum, the more my temper boiled, until it exploded with my shoving her, hard, into our bathroom door. She screamed and ran, barefoot, from our Brooklyn apartment, and I stood there, shaking and sweaty. The recognition of what I had done then dropped me, like a dead weight, to the floor with shame and guilt. She eventually came back, and she and I continued to live together for perhaps a month longer, but the damage had been done, and our New York circle of fellow writers and artists and activists knew. Once I had moved out I saw her on a street in Manhattan a week or so later, and I cursed her badly because she tried to avoid me. Here again the classic script of toxic manhood had seized the day, making it appear that my woefully underdeveloped male ego was more important than this woman’s trauma.
She eventually filed a restraining order to keep me away from her—a legal proceeding that made the totality of what I had done, what I had become, daunting indeed. Women friends challenged me to seek therapy, to get help, and I did. A few men who were allies to women and girls said the same. I was told, point blank, that I was a hypocrite, as a “woke” writer and activist, for talking about social justice issues while engaging in sexist behavior that was harmful to half the world’s population. I was told it was clear I knew little to nothing about women and girls. Undeniably, after I had looked back on my stint in college and I was forced to concede that I had never read more than a couple of books written by a woman. I had no clue who bell hooks or Gloria Steinem or other legendary women thinkers were; nor did I have a single notion about what the feminist movement was. I had become, essentially, what my mother had told me not to be; I was, like my father, and like many men, “no good.”
Boys to Men
I was challenged to take ownership of my actions; my friends and allies-in-the-making assured me that apologies were empty without growth, without deeds. So eventually I wrote about it, all of it, in a short essay for Essence magazine entitled “The Sexist in Me,” a very public confession. The responses to that piece were startling, because women wrote me directly—either (mostly) to thank me or to share their own tales of violence and abuse at the hands of men or boys. I had no clue. I had been asleep all my life until that point, never grasping what my mother had been saying to me all along. That realization, and the support of those women who could have easily given up on me as just another no-good man, sparked something in me, and I began to study women’s history, women’s literature, and women’s political movements. In those beginning stages of my own feminist odyssey, I was uncomfortable, and terrified. Most of all, I was unsure of myself as a young man being told, in no uncertain terms, that the very definitions of manhood that had shaped my experience in the most powerful and intimate ways were toxic to me, to women and girls, to men and boys. I couldn’t initially bring myself to accept that I was fundamentally living a lie.
In those beginning stages of my own feminist odyssey, I was uncomfortable, and terrified.
It is not easy to evolve or to change as a man in this world, because there really are not many examples of it. What I realized, as I was going to therapy for my anger and my violent behavior, was how little I knew about myself, as a man, and how I really had no definition of manhood that had anything to do with being healthy and sane. I’d been traumatized by the very definitions of manhood that had been passed down to me, and I was confused about which way to go. I also began to realize, then, that my definitions of manhood were also tangled up in my family history—the actions of my father, the trials of my mother, the pain (literal and metaphoric) that she felt from his treatment of her, and how much of that hurt had been taken out on me. My mother did what she knew, and acted on what she felt for the very simple reason that there were no safe spaces, no healing spaces, for women like her—no outlets whatsoever. She raised me the best she could, and I am quite clear, today, that I would not be who I am without her. Without her being familiar with the terms or any movements my mother was, for sure, the very first feminist, the very first womanist, I ever met, I know now. In rejecting the ways of my father and men like him she was saying to me “You’ve got to go a different way.”
But even with her voice there, challenging me, I did what boys did: I played sports, I played video games, I lusted after girls, and I suppressed the side of me that loved reading, that loved the arts, that was highly sensitive and prone to crying because, well, that was not what boys or men did. I thought of these things and more as I went to those therapy sessions. They also came back to me, powerfully, as I sat and listened, often with tears in my eyes, to one woman friend after another acknowledge having been raped or sexually assaulted in some form, or hit or beaten by one man or another in their lives, in several cases a male relative. I thought of these things as I began to re-assess, way back in the 1990s, my relationship to male-centered art forms like hip-hop and rock music, and our awful treatment of women. And I thought of these things as women confronted me then, as they confront and challenge me now, to be an ally, to be a voice urging us all to take a different path, one that knows and regards women as equals.
The Prisonhouse of Manhood
But most of us never get there, never even start, as clearly evidenced by thirty years of accusations against Harvey Weinstein. Change demands tough, fearless searches for the man in that mirror, self-criticism, and owning of all the things that toxic manhood sets out furiously to deny: our imperfections, our vulnerabilities, our easy lapses into male privilege. And meanwhile, that privilege, and the power that comes with it, is deeply tantalizing and addictive. In addition, our definitions of manhood are tightly knotted to violence and hate and division and war and domination, while a genuine spirit of feminist equality rests just as inextricably on the practice of peace and equality and love. And in the deeper reaches of our brains, so many of us men feel so incredibly inadequate in our own lives, so weak and powerless, no matter how wealthy or poor we are, that we have come, without apology, to view the abuse and control of women as central to propping up our puny egos and our punier sense of self-worth. To be a different kind of man means that we would have to give up any form of “power” that hurts us, other men, women and girls, the human family—that we would have to become honest, and vulnerable, and emotionally naked in a way that forces us to confront ourselves as we have never done before. This is what I had to do, what I do now, because I do not want to be in a box, in a toxic male prison, for the rest of my life.
I was told, point blank, that I was a hypocrite.
This is the real tragedy of Harvey Weinstein, and of all of us. These many years since that day and that incident with my girlfriend, I have become deeply versed in women’s history, and think long and hard about various issues around gender and women and girl empowerment. I have never relapsed into putting my hands on a woman in that violent way, and I never will again, I am sure of this. I’ve given countless speeches, and organized a wide array of workshops, blogs, forums, conferences on the connections between sexism and how we define manhood. I have done several years of self-healing work—therapy, yoga, meditation, my spiritual practices, conversations with circles of men who also grapple with the question “What is a man?”—and I still continue to wrestle with the spiritual and emotional legacies of my sexist past. I have, I would like to think, been a good and consistent ally. But I also know that I am still very much a man, a highly insecure and painfully sensitive man struggling to navigate a universe that does not reward men for being honest, or for seeing and treating women as equals. And I am still very much a man who grapples with how to relate to women, who thinks, more than ever, of each word and each action, because I must. Because, if I am brutally honest, and I am, I know countless men, myself included, have at some point in our lives, exposed our penises, said sexually provocative words to women we have worked with, offered a woman a hotel room, or one of the laundry list of things women are now coming forth with about Harvey Weinstein, about other men. So, I’m still learning—and struggling to remind myself in real time—when to listen, when to speak, when to be an ally, and when to say if something hurts or bothers me for fear of being called sexist or unsupportive. I think about this daily with my wife, with my mother, with my assistant, with all women I encounter. Do I hear them consistently, see them consistently, respect and honor them consistently? And when I do not, do I own that? Do I check my own self, and hold myself accountable as a man? And I challenge men, hard, as I challenge myself, hard.
And I think long and hard, given that I am recently married to a woman who is a feminist and creator of a choreoplay called SHE, about myself daily in new and strangely awkward ways—particularly since I’m collaborating with her as the producer of this work of art. I sit there quietly listening to my wife tell stories about herself, about women who’ve reached out to her for help, for support, who are survivors of violence and abuse. I sit there quietly after SHE performances and hear the many women and girls share, in this safe healing space, what they have endured. I think often, too, of the many women and girls in my journey from boy to man that I have hurt or wounded in some way, of the few I have been able to apologize to, to the ones who do not want anything to do with me ever again due to past behavior or indiscretions. I did apologize to that girlfriend I pushed into that bathroom door years later, and she did accept. And it’s my humble hope that my work, now, these many years later, can serve as a sort of life-long apology for myself, for other men who have violated women and girls in some way.
The Listening Cure
And this, finally, is where I believe real change must start, with me, with Harvey Weinstein, with all men: a willingness to listen to the voices of women and girls, and a willingness to take ownership of our behavior, to say we are sorry, that we want to learn, that we want to heal and do better and be better. Only at that point can we set about re-defining manhood in a way that does not wound women and girls, and that does not wound men and boys, either.
As I read the accounts of the many Harvey Weinstein accusers I cringed, because I have heard some variations of these stories so many times about so many different types of men in so many different types of industries—starting with my mother when I was a boy. And I was forced to recall the many ways in which we men choose to ignore the plague of our own spiritual and emotion corruption—how we always protect each other, and remain disgustingly mute when we witness these things. Here, too, I was among the chief offenders: One day in college I heard someone who would one day be my fraternity brother savagely beating his girlfriend behind our student organization building, and I never said anything, never confronted him. Many years later, I’d known of one close friend having an extra-marital affair in plain sight, with his wife eventually finding out and being shattered by it; I’d once again chosen the path of least resistance, and failed to check this friend as he proudly boasted of his escapades. These are but two disheartening examples from my own past of the way that so many of us carry this so-called locker room talk into every arena of power, up to and including a White House currently occupied by an admitted sexual predator. In Donald Trump’s America, despite the fallout from the Weinstein scandal, many of us men still feel supremely entitled to keep instinctively re-playing the rites of toxic manhood because we couldn’t care less about the interests of anyone except ourselves.
This is why I think if any good has come of the whole Harvey Weinstein affair it is the resurrection of the #MeToo campaign, begun by an African-American woman named Tarana Burke in New York City long before social media launched it into prominence. I sit quietly on Twitter and Facebook and digest one account after another, of celebrities and working-class women both, and it has been jarring—as jarring as anything in my wife’s choreoplay, as jarring as anything I’ve heard at women’s shelters, on college campuses, in the many messages I still receive to this day from women and girl survivors of male violence and abuse. Through the years of doing this work as an ally, I’ve been surprised whenever I meet a woman who has not been sexually assaulted—that’s how pervasive, and wretchedly normalized, this behavior is.
I also don’t know how any man with any sense of humanity could read these #MeToo posts and not begin to wonder what he can do to stop it. We keep shifting the burden to women and girls. We keep talking about how a victim of sexual violence dresses, or why she was in this place or that place at a dangerous time of night. We keep saying violence against women and girls. But what we need to be saying, to really begin to move the needle, is that we have to teach men and boys, worldwide, that we cannot and must not objectify, rape, hit, beat, hurt, and murder women and girls. We need to keep insisting, over and over, that manhood does not equal violence.
Harvey Weinstein may never understand this, because when you have been steeped in that kind of power and privilege for so long, and when the consequences of your own destructive behavior have been for so long unchecked and covered up, it would take a monumental shift in your soul to become a very different kind of man. I do not know if that is possible for him, or for any other men whose souls and minds are similarly lost to the debilitating addictions of power and privilege. But what I do know is that this toxic manhood we men and boys willingly participate in is a mental and spiritual kind of torture that has been damaging the whole world for far too long, and that it must end. And we men and boys have no other choice but to help make it end.