‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’
Words, the most visceral and basic of human communication, hold the highest power over us. They have the power to let others know what we feel, what we want, what we don’t want. But even though we may not be consciously aware of it, they also have the power to let people know how we want them to act.
The term ‘masculine’ stems off into two different definitions:
- Having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men
- Of, or denoting a gender of nouns and adjectives, conventionally regarded as male
Jack Donovan, author of The Way of Men has defined ‘The Tactical Virtues’ of a man, taking into consideration the part man has had in the evolution of the human race. These are:
He says that these four qualities are what men desire from other men at times when survival is of the highest importance. At the beginning of human evolution, the world as we know it was a far more dangerous environment to live in. Basic human instincts of survival and procreation could not be argued as being the vital goals a red-blooded male was expected to live by. But in today’s society, the world has changed in gargantuan proportions. With gender equality evolving over time, the need for men in these primal roles has lessened and lessened, leaving men to question their existence in the world.
As humans, we grow from experience; it is a scientific fact that a child will imitate what they see around them to fit into their environment. When we live in a society that tells us how to feel and how to act, shouldn’t there be certain phrases to empower boys to become their own man? You’d think so. But just as there exist three words that girls are taught to internalise, so there also exist three words that can bring boys down and makes them question their own internal identity.
BE A MAN!
In schools, it is no question that boys act more voraciously; we have a stronger sense of being hands-on, trial by error if you will. But who is to decide what error is? The role of the teacher comes into question; they exist as mentors to children, caretakers and motivators. True, boys and girls biologically have a different approach to emotional discussion but the thing that really needs to be remembered is that when a boy is deemed a ‘distraction’ to others in class, he is told to be quiet and listen. Why does the teacher not allow him to express his opinion of the matter?
Every single human being is different, we have different interests and ambitions for life, so if a boy doesn’t see himself in what he is being taught, of course he will lose interest. To cure his ‘disobedience’, he should not be punished but questioned and encouraged to find a way to communicate with his inner being to aid him in growing up. But educational boards around the globe stick to a tight structure that deems mathematics, sciences and language as the most important. It is only when a student reaches a certain stage in their educational maturity that the promise of choice arises in topics such as art, business and foreign languages.
The main thing to consider is that society isn’t giving boys the encouragement they need. When a boy finds himself in a situation he feels uncomfortable in, he probably hears these three destructive words: BE A MAN. He is told to put up that barrier that spans so god-damn high that the real boy inside him is encompassed in its shadow. When he falls over and scrapes his knee it’s, BE A MAN! he hears. When he sees his best friend playing with someone else on the playground and gets upset, again he must, BE A MAN. And when he can’t figure out how to piece together the puzzle in front of him, it’s BE A MAN AND FIGURE IT OUT that’s supposed to magically provide the solution.
Being told this can have seriously detrimental effects on him, and this is shown in Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s 2014 documentary ‘The Mask You Live In’. In it, Newsom looks at boys around the United States to determine and highlight the impact those venomous three words have. One of the main factors she brings up is that the repression of the emotional stability of boys allows for ‘monsters’ to be created. Males, as a result of pent-up anger and frustration, predominantly perform a large proportion of violent attacks, such as shootings. Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, responded via YouTube to Newsom’s documentary by saying that there exist two types of masculine boys;
- The Pathologically Masculine: a boy that defines his own manhood by being a bully, by showing his prowess in physical and virile manners. Reminiscent of the qualities that are primordially Darwinian.
- The Healthily Masculine: a boy that ‘builds not destroys’. They do not choose to exploit and bring others down but they choose to confirm their manhood by assuming a protector role.
She argues that being taught how to be a gentleman allows them to comfortably come into their own unique manhood. To further her own view of resolving these issues, she thinks that ‘you need to engage their male instinct’ and that males have a reticence to their behaviour that is protective and adaptive. So by providing these boys with a problem to solve it will allow their minds to start engaging in new ways that aren’t hegemonic and damaging to themselves or others.
Long-running men’s lifestyle magazine Esquire published a piece entitled, ‘How To Be A Man’ and in it, they list a ridiculous number of statements that seriously encroach on identity.
‘A man is good at his job. Not his work, not his avocation, not his hobby. Not his career. His job’.
‘A man doesn’t see himself lost in some great maw of humanity’
These terms are just a selection from the preposterously regimental rules that Esquire proclaims every ‘man’ needs to be following. The fact that those three words mentioned have infected their way into mainstream media is appalling.
So, what does masculine really mean?
Heaps of words spring to mind when thinking of this term that help explain the common definition: brawny; robust; macho; manly; muscular; strong; strapping; powerful; vigorous; ripped; stern; emotionless; neutered.
Can masculinity really be defined? To me, masculine is less a way of describing someone’s physical attributes, and instead something much more internal. Still, who is to say that to be called a man is the correct way to describe someone just because they have a penis and some facial hair? I recently had a conversation with a person who corrected me for calling him a man. When I asked him what he would suggest for me to refer to him as, he replied:
‘I would suggest nothing. You can use my name’.