America is a land known for it's diversity of people and ideas; but when it comes down to how men should, and do, act; it's a bit less diversified. Through a course at my school called "Gender and Power," I have learned much about the history behind the modern day idea of masculinity and what it actually entails.
As time has gone on, the overall concept of what makes someone masculine has greatly changed. Despite these changes, there is a consistent outline that masculinity seems to follow. Our class narrowed down these traits to the ideas of the strong-and-silent type, being a protector and provider, and keeping a stoic and brave-like look all the time, and using violence as a form of dealing with issues. Are these traits necessarily bad? Not all the time, but some are definitely unnecessary and detrimental at times.
One of the biggest issues that we discussed, and I myself have noticed experiencing once in a while, is the idea of men and boys being unable express emotion. This issue on its own is unfortunate, but coupled with the aggressive and violent aspects of masculinity; it suddenly becomes a danger to everyone. In 2011, the US Department of Justice put together homicide statistics from 1980-2008. This study stated that of all homicides committed in that time, men account for 90.5% of them. The inability to express emotion due to societal norms, mixed with this aggressive aspect of masculinity starts to create a portrait of what masculinity perpetuates.
In one article I read, a man writes about how his best friend told him that his mother has been diagnosed with cancer. The man says, "Oh man, I'm so sorry, you want to talk about it?" To which he receives a shrug and they just sit there silently for a couple of minutes. This situation is amazingly representative of what many men go through when trying to deal with hard situations. Emotions get buried and fester as opposed to being expressed and dealt with because of this idea in our society that showing emotion shows weakness. Even American foreign policy picked up on this concept back in 1900 when Theodore Roosevelt said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." These concepts of what is masculinity, whether harmful or beneficial (if any are) have been changed and refined after multiple centuries in the making.
What's amazing to realize is the idea that femininity and masculinity are human constructions in their entirety. The goal of identifying someone as male or female when you meet them is to give them a set of given attributes that they should follow, because that is what is expected of their gender. In the end, my idea of masculinity and femininity is to eventually have no difference between the two. In general, people should be kind, smart, thoughtful, and just all around reasonable, regardless of gender. This idea is very idyllic (to me at least), but who knows it could happen eventually.
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