Redefining the masculine norm

Well, you all know that I just finished my degree. As per my usual route through most of my sociology classes, my capstone being no exception, I focused on gender, feminism and issues surrounding women in our society.

My capstone research centered on attitudes associated with rape and the myths perpetuated in America about rape. Most of the studies I cited used data or interview analysis from males who are still bombarded with the notion that being male, and demonstrating gendered masculine behavior, often means using control, domination and sexual force as a means to uphold patriarchal social expectations. Being a man and showing your masculinity is locked into a dynamic for many whereby violence, mostly focused toward women, is normative and expected and accepted by peers. Some men turn that violence toward homosexual males as well, often in attempts to target what they see as feminized attributes, but ultimately making a statement that being biologically male and anything less than 100% masculine is deviant in our society. Add to that the patriarchal culture of American social values whereby females are marginalized and still in so many ways demonstrated to be something other than equal to males and it seems clear, at least to me, that hetero-normative masculinity is alive and well.

But, what happens when men are challenged, either by their personal value system, or that of social movements such as feminism, to redefine masculinity? Some will become even more extreme in their masculinity. This is typically termed hypermasculine behavior and/or attitude. These men go out of their way to exemplify every stereotypical masculine norm.

Others will join in the process of creating a new meaning  and definition of masculinity. Some, like myself, would like to see a complete change in gendered society with the removal of gender norms, socially constructed gender ideals and attributes, and expectations of correct femininity and masculinity. That however is asking a lot in our current social order. Change continues to be slow. Yet the following article by Katy Kreitler challenges men in our society to not only ask hard questions about their own masculinity, but it also  suggests that working with and learning more about gender in our society is one positive step toward change. I was impressed with the message Kreitler presents, as well as the challenge to individual males to be better, to be open, to take a stand.

This article was originally published on Everyday Feminism and re-published here with their permission.

Why Men Need Feminism Too (Really, You Do!)

This one’s for you, guys.

Assuming you don’t believe in the common myths about feminism, you still may think that feminism is all about women’s issues, reproductive rights, celebrating femininity…pregnancy…motherhood…PMS…boobies…vaginas…who knows.

You may have thought:

  • “I can’t be a feminist.  I’m a dude.”
  • “I support women’s rights, but feminism is not really my thing.”
  • “My life isn’t really affected much by feminism.”

Well, I’ve got news for you!

Even though women are oppressed in many ways that men are not (let me be clear about this:in many, many, many ways), the system of traditional gender roles that we live in harms ALL people.

This includes you.

Don’t think so?  Well, ask yourself the following questions.

Have you ever felt:

  • Insecure because your body wasn’t big enough, strong enough, or slim enough?
  • Pressured to be tough, aggressive and competitive beyond your comfort zone?
  • Ashamed of your interest in cooking, fashion, dance, or some other activity because you were told it made you “gay” or “a girl”?
  • Offended by media representations of helpless adult men who cannot feed, clothe, or bathe themselves without the help of a woman?
  • Burdened by expectations to objectify women, have sex with many women and be sexually aggressive?
  • Helpless when dealing with feelings of sadness, hurt, and shame because you were taught to believe that emotions show weakness and that “real men help themselves”?
  • Confused at how to be sensitive and kind but still be sexually desirable?
  • Alone when you suffered an injury but had to “handle it”?
  • Afraid of being called a “sissy,” “wimp,” “f*g,” “p*ssy,” or “b**ch,”?
  • Ambivalent about what it means to be a “real man”?

If even one or two of these is true, then you need feminism.

Why Feminism Helps Men

Feminism is about changing the gender roles, sexual norms, and sexist practices that limit you and punish you when whenever you deviate from them.

And the experiences listed above (and more) do exactly that: tell you what a “man” should be and punish you when you want to act differently.

All men have been hurt by the traditional gender system.

You may have accepted these realities as normal – just part of being a guy.

But feminists say that’s not right.  That you shouldn’t be expected to live up to an unrealistic ideal.  That you shouldn’t be bullied or ignored for being different.  That you shouldn’t have to participate in sexist practices.  That you deserve much, much more.

Feminists think you should have the freedom to explore life beyond the rigid boundaries of traditional masculinity and choose for yourself what aligns with your own values.

So you can laugh, cry, dance, and love.  Embrace your friends.  Lovingly nurture your kids.  Make mistakes.

So you can be beautiful, be vulnerable, and be free.

So you can be yourself.

You can even agree with some of the things traditional masculinity teaches you.  As long as you think about it critically and choose it freely and it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Women have been talking about their gender experiences for years.  Men need to talk about their experiences, too.

So, start the conversation.

How has your gender affected your life?  What do you want to change for men?

And hey – welcome to the movement.

Katy Kreitler is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism as well as a counselor and youth advocate.  She can be found wandering the streets of San Francisco with a purse full of used fiction, a pair of emergency yoga pants, and half a burrito.  



2 thoughts on “Redefining the masculine norm”

  1. Hats off to them. He, she, him, her…all fall so easily off our tongues that it must take a concerted effort to present gender neutrality. It would be interesting to know their story and their decisions toward clear social deviance 😉


  2. One of the women I danced with this weekend refers to her partner (first off, as her “partner”) only with gender neutral pronouns (they, them, their). Left to my own devices, I would have assumed the partner was male, but I infer from the dancer’s language that the partner identifies as something else. I know this is a bit afield of your post, but it’s definitely one way of getting beyond gender norms!


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