As a man living in the U.S. in 2013, gender ideals that are seemingly completely contradictory are being thrown at me from all different angles. With the rise of feminist movements in the U.S., as well as the world, what has been previously understood as “traditional” masculinity is being vehemently challenged.
Former State Press columnist Jake Adler, for example, wrote about how “Girly men are the new alpha males.”
Men, he writes, are being encouraged to express themselves in colorful ways that had been previously unavailable for them. The TV show “Glee,” he writes, is a good example of this.
I seem to fit this new masculine ideal. I compose music, putting into words what I feel is important in my life and what has happened to me in some of my experiences.
Then, on the other hand, there is a sort of “hyper-masculinity” embodied by characters portrayed on the big screen by actors like Clint Eastwood. This ideal seems to idolize the mysterious and the emotionless, an ideal that runs in complete contradiction to what columnist Adler considers to be society’s new form of masculinity.
One example of the struggle to define masculinity lies in this apparent contradiction.
So what should young men do? What kinds of things should they strive to accomplish, and what kinds of character traits should they strive to possess?
A big part of masculinity is responsibility. Even in previously established masculine ideals, a boy doesn’t become a man until he takes responsibility for others. This is a character trait that can be applied to masculinity in a timely, objective manner.
Just look at marriage: Historically, a husband had the explicit duty of providing for his wife and children.
Even today, responsibility continues to be considered a noble character trait and a necessary component of what makes someone, male or female, an adult.
Why can’t this exist in every form of masculine ideal? In fact, it does.
Another trait that can be universally applied to masculinity is kindness.
Whether this compassion is directed toward a man’s wife and children or even a man’s enemies, this inherent, individual empathy — an intrinsic part of the human condition — plays an important part of helping shape a man’s adulthood.
Perhaps it is just me, but I consider the kindness inherent in unconditional forgiveness to be more of an outward display of masculinity than an attempt to individually inflict vengeance. This idea of “getting even” is childish, more than it is either unmasculine or unfeminine.
This emphasis on masculine “strength” is shifting. Instead of physical strength — which is what societies have often considered the most direct form of masculinity — our modern society has instead evolved to the point that many people consider emotional, psychological and moral strength to be as important and if not more important than mere physical size.
There really is no outward “war” or crisis taking place. Instead, we as a society have become mature enough not to severely limit men by placing a rigid utopian border on their character.
We’ve merely begun to change masculinity to include a plethora of other options that are no longer incorrectly considered “out of bounds” or “untouchable” for a man to embody. We have not changed the morality of masculinity.
Having a great voice can be considered just as masculine as bench-pressing 300 pounds. I’m completely all right with that.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @sean_mccauley.