Masculinity Mondays Demystify the Meaning of Manliness

What is “real” masculinity? Does it change in different circumstances? On Oct. 9, Nick Daily, assistant dean of students for Claremont University Consortium’s Office of Black Student Affairs, led a conversation addressing toxic masculinity at the EmPOWER Center.

“Be a man” is a saying that nearly every man has heard of from a very young age, as most American boys are taught to act tough in order to show their masculinity. However, according to Daily, the "traditional" masculinity American society that emphasizes not being “feminine” or “weak,” is toxic and unhealthy.

The discussion started with an award-winning video, “The Mask You Live In” (2015), by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the creator of “Miss Representation” (2011). In the video, American boys share their experiences of growing up to be men.

“I have never told my male friends that I love them because my friends may feel awkward when I do that,” a boy said in the video. “Closeness is not permitted between me and my male friends since we are supposed to behave like a ‘man.’” In another scene, a boy sheds tears, covering his face behind the desk to prevent others from seeing.

Using the video, Daily demonstrated how this kind of “masculinity” has somewhat prevented men from forming closer relationships with other men because they can neither express their emotions verbally nor physically.

“It is really hard to experience direct touch between males,” Aaron Gonzales PZ '21 said. “I have never hugged any boys in school before college. It is so nice to receive a genuine hug from my male friends.”

Adding onto Gonzales’ comment, Zack Ritter, assistant dean of institutional diversity at Harvey Mudd College, shared his opinion toward closeness between males: “Touch is regarded as very intimate in Western culture. People might easily perceive two men holding hands together or having [a] genuine hug as a sexual relationship. In order to prevent this ‘misunderstanding,’ two (usually) heterosexual men might simply pat each other on the back to keep the distance.”

Women, on the other hand, are able to display more open forms of affection, such as saying “I love you” or giving genuine hugs to their female friends.

“Deeply influenced by Christianity, which values heterosexual relationships and traditional practices [for] different genders, there are strict gender boxes for both men and women,” Daily said. “Many people perceive women as the only group that are oppressed, while indeed, men, though [they] seem to occupy [the] higher hierarchy in the past, are being oppressed in an inconspicuous way.”

Others in the conversation agreed with Daily’s opinion. “It is generally socially unacceptable for men to cry or express their emotions,” said Pharalyn Crozier, student manager at the Queer Resource Center of the Claremont Colleges (QRC). "They are expected to be stoic and hide their emotions, which burden them a lot. At the same time, boys playing with dolls or wearing pink will be regarded as ‘feminine’ simply because those are practices acceptable mostly for girls.”

Applying “unhealthy masculinity” to campus life, men’s behaviors across age groups are highly based on how other men view them. By listening to other men share “masculine” experiences, such as having sex with women, other men are more likely to imitate the behaviors in order to fit in with other men. This leaves the possibility that some men may not necessarily perform certain actions because they truly feel like doing so, but instead are seeking approval from their male peers.

Ritter also connected “unhealthy masculinity” to the depiction of boys in Hollywood film: “Boys are either soft or hard in Hollywood movie, which is not true. A boy can be intellectual, sensitive, athletic and popular. There doesn’t need to be clear distinction between the “soft boy” and “hard boy.”

According to Dailly, the path to realizing the perpetuation of “toxic masculinity” in real life will be a long one. “But, practicing self-reflection of what you have done and why is a good way to figure out what masculinity means to every man,” he said.

Daily also pointed out the fact that feminism not only promotes women’s rights, but also presents chances for men to break away from being oppressed by toxic masculinity. Feminism is providing chances for people to shatter the gender box; masculinity and femininity can also appear simultaneously in all genders.

“Boys should have opportunities to choose what kind of dolls they want to play with or what color of clothes they want to wear,” Daily said. “Girls should also be given opportunities to play with [what they want].”

So, what does it truly mean to be a man? The answers can only be found when men begin to support each other.