Times are changing and with this transformation, the idea of normative identities is as well. Just like the ever-expanding definition of femininity, the notions of masculinity are broadening too.
By Elizabeth Tovar
The John Waynes’ and Stanley Kowalski’s of the world are dying out. According to a GQ poll of 1,005 Americans, 97 percent said that the “expectations for male behavior have changed in the past decade.”
As the expectations have shifted for men’s behavior, conversations surrounding parenting, gender, mental health, abuse, and identity are adapting to a new age of visibility and acceptance. Masculinity isn’t as one dimensional as it was for so long.
Change in Parenting
Parents are letting go of traditional views of parenting. When parents begin to change their views on gender roles, teaching their sons to be “strong men” becomes less important.
“Some parents put less emphasis on being a proper male or a proper female and put more emphasis on just being a good human being,” John Ibson, professor of American Studies said.
While raising a child to be a good person may sound like the absolute solution to hypermasculinity, parents should be more conscious about how they let their children, especially sons, express their gender identity and accept them for who they are.
“I hope that our norms might loosen up a little bit and that we don’t respond with such negativity to allowing, especially boys, to express a wide variety of gender presentation and expression,” said Alyssa Samek, assistant professor of Human Communication Studies.
However, one way that parents are starting to take on less gender-based parenting is through the way they show affection.
“It used to be that boy babies aren’t touched as much as girl babies because it’s almost as if they’re going to start at six months old toughening them up. This isn’t so much true now,” Ibson said.
The term “toxic masculinity” is popular today among all forms of discourse, but maybe the toxic part is the fact that masculinity is being described as “toxic” in the first place.
“Lately it’s been kind of used as a catch-all term to kind of pick out what we might call a dark side or negative side of traditional masculinity,” said Matt Englar-Carlson, professor of Counseling and Faculty Coordinator for Diversity and Inclusion.
When society reinforces gender roles by immediately assuming men are poisonous, masculinity can become a problem.
“There are certain toxic and rigid gender roles, but to assume that every male is a potential danger. That’s a stereotype,” said Ibson.
While the appropriateness of the terminology can be debated, the important thing is that it’s starting conversations that were unimaginable before; conversations about assault and the abuse of power. Both are the ingredients to social change and justice.
“If we’re thinking about conversations around assault, shifting it from ‘feminine people need to protect themselves’ to ‘masculine people need to not assault,’” said Samek.
This idea takes away from victim-blaming and focuses on the fact that masculine people shouldn’t be encouraged to be violent.
Schools acknowledging bullying and attempting to prevent it is also a way in which harmful aggression and anger is fought against.
“Now we’re at a place in a society where we recognize that ‘Hey, this is a real issue. We can do something about it, let’s do something about it,’” said Englar-Carlson.
The next step is to be able to switch the perspective of the masses.
“The Me Too Movement is a very positive sign of progress in the simple fact that we recognize certain behaviors as very problematic,” said Ibson.
The most common traditional trait of masculinity is suppressing emotion. But this doesn’t create men, it creates mental health issues.
“Men who don’t express emotions, have no emotional outlet, are more likely to struggle with things like depression. Men who overconform to rigid notions of masculinity have a host of difficulties,” said Englar-Carlson.
If men feel as if they can’t release their emotions, then they won’t get the professional help they need. This then leads to a problem that has been overlooked historically because society has not paid much attention to the issue.
“Men are more likely to die from suicide about a 4:1 ratio. We can agree that it’s not good that men are dying from suicide at a 4:1 ratio, ” said Englar-Carlson.
Masculinity in the Future
Changes in society’s relationship with gender and identity will also change masculinity.
“There is a greater awareness around gender shifting and what that kind of means. I think in the future we’re going to see more of that, more inclusivity or more space for both men and women and people who are gender non-conforming to find their identities,” said Englar-Carlson.
This awareness starts with the older generation.
“A lot of it has to do with the way we should bring up our young people and the way we teach them about what’s possible for gender,” said Samek.