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The Confines of Masculinity

Gender is a complex social construction that has been developed for centuries. Yet many people still do not understand the differences between sex and gender, or that gender is not as simple as whether you have a penis or a vagina. With the onset of industrialization and capitalism, this problem has gotten even worse, as objects are gendered as well as people.

The way this process works is ideas, clothing, traits, and even personal preferences are characterized as masculine or feminine. These labels themselves are constructed through social norms and societal expectations. This assignment is vital, as it then isolates said idea to its category, where it’s status is then determined. More often than not, masculine traits are valued and feminine traits are devalued. It is through this framework that we come to expect people to conform and fit into the labels we have assigned them. Girls are expected to take pleasure in makeup, fashion, children and romance while boys are taught to like sports, dominance, gore and violence.

It is through this systematic oppression (on both ends) that we see people of all genders face roadblocks to freedom, expression and identity. However, I believe men face the most oppression in this area. Gender identity is intimately linked to ideas of masculinity, and males are expected to conform to those social norms. Being even the least bit feminine in appearance or behavior can result in bullying, harassment or even violence. I once was listening to a talk given by a male–to-female transsexual who was asked which bathroom she used in public. She said that once she started to take on a more feminine appearance, she no longer felt safe using the male bathrooms. I think this shows the socialization and enforcement of gender norms that happens with males more strictly than females.

Think about it…. There’s probably been a time in your life when you have seen a guy being called a “pussy” for acting or behaving like a woman, seen a man in real life or in the media being “caught” using some type of “feminine” product such as lip balm and was then shamed for it. But, on the flip side, think about times you’ve seen women acting like a man or using a “masculine” product. Was she shamed or ostracized? Of course there are circumstances where she will be (for example, female bosses who enforce the same authority their male counterparts do often receive disproportionate backlash) but more often than not, women are largely able to take on "masculine" traits without receiving the same degree of backlash and policing as do men for acting feminine.

This is because objects/ideas classified as “feminine” are seen as lower than or not as desirable as those classified as “masculine”. Assertiveness (masculine) is valued more than compassion (feminine). Math and science careers (masculine) pay more and are more prestigious than child care and nursing careers (feminine). This dichotomy is what enforces the gender binary that we follow in our culture. It is because of feminine qualities being devalued that it is socially acceptable for women to take on a man’s roles/behaviors/jobs and not for men to have behavior/roles/ jobs that are feminine. It is seen as degrading for men to be feminine because femininity is seen as weak, low, shallow or stupid.

Through this system of oppression we see many men facing extreme obstacles and barriers. Men are less free to express themselves and play with gender identity. Those that do, are often subject to ruthless ridicule and shame. They are put into boxes they are not allowed to escape from. It is truly a lose-lose situation that needs to change.



More articles by Category: Feminism
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Gender bias, Transgender
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Erin F
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