It was a week that included awesome and multi-coloured pride parades around the world, an Orange Day to stop violence against women and ended with a controversial and regressive US Supreme Court ruling on employee contraception coverage (but at least someone’s singing about it). And, all the while, there were some interesting discussions about masculinities quietly going on in the background.
This NPR story on the changing face of masculinity in America explores the issue that, while the everyday realities of being a man – such as the shifting gender dynamics of tertiary education or many men’s increasing involvement in childcare – have changed significantly in the past 50 years, attitudes about masculinity, and what it means to be a man, have not changed accordingly. But it was the comments at the end of the article that really struck a chord with me. One reader commented,
“I am glad someone is finally talking about this. As a man I have often struggled with this very question. I am nearly forty and I still don’t have a good answer. Having a one year old son, I’d like to find out those answers quick…I like to talk baby talk to my son and hold him, kiss his little feet and hands and cheeks. And sometimes I watch him sleep at night and start crying because he is so beautiful and so precious to me. Yet I keep these things hidden because I am a man, or at least, trying to be.”
Others quickly chimed in with support and similar sentiments, one calling the current gender role for men ‘a prison.’ Another (female) reader called for a ‘boy power’ movement:
“I don’t care if he plays football every day or if his favorite color is pink, every boy deserves to feel secure in his gender and proud of his masculinity…’Girl power’ was the idea that girls can do anything–math, science, legos, barbies, pedicures, sports–anything that she finds interesting, regardless of whether society has traditionally deemed it a masculine or feminine activity. Boys do not have the same freedom. They are shoved into narrow boxes of what masculinity is, and if they stray by, say, expressing the desire to be a cheerleader or a stay-at-home dad or anything outside of the narrow box they’ve been given, they are widely ridiculed, the same way women were once ridiculed for wanting to vote or work outside the home.”
It’s a fascinating discussion and I’m interested to see where it goes over the coming weeks. But just as it is now, I am so happy to see such open and progressive conversations about masculinities taking place in public – may there be many more!
Along the same line of promoting diverse, positive, non-violent ways to be a man, is Alyssa Royse’s article for the Good Men Project about the harm to both men and women caused by the very limiting ‘male predator/female victim’ discourse. In addition to calling for more of a focus on pleasure in how we speak to both boys and girls about sex, she also calls on men to speak out against rape culture and how that should not represent manhood.
Also as part of their ‘Men in America‘ series, NPR posed the question to men, “What physical object makes you feel manly?” While I’m not a huge fan of trying to simplify the diversity of gender identity into a choice over material commodities, some of the responses – including men’s discussions of what they felt the should say – perhaps point to some small changes in concepts of what it means to be a man.
Broadening the scope outside of the US, though, and away from material goods, I would be interested to hear from male readers, What makes you feel manly? It could be an object, if you like, or an action or a feeling or whatever. Is all this talk about changing masculinities way off the mark for you, or do you think there’s something to it?