Redefining Masculinity

This article is originally published on January 28, 2018, on The Governor, the student publication of the Governor’s Academy. A scanned copy of the article can be found here.

I still vaguely remember when I was in third grade of elementary school, I was excluded by my fellow 9-year-old classmates. The reason was made clear: I did not play soccer, I did not like to run, I spent a lot of time with girls, and I did not laugh when they made fun of other people’s accents. “I’m not a fan of soccer, but you see, I really enjoy reading this book. And girls are great people to be with ‘cause they don’t swear that much,” I argued. Nobody listened, and I was called a “pussy”, “gay”, and you name it. I talked to my father. He pitied me and said, “maybe you need to learn basketball to be a cool kid in middle school.” I pretended that I didn’t hear him because being the tallest kid in my class and always lost the ball to the shortest kid, I hated it.

I had never brought up this story to my friends until many years had passed because I was afraid that my story would label me as an “uncool” person at school. But the real question was, why? For centuries, the powers and authorities of the human civilization were given to those who demonstrate their physical strengths. We were imbued with this prima facie theory that defines masculinity as corporal robustness and dominance, and femininity as all the others. Actually, these perceptions were based on the particular objective to construct a norm that promotes the Spartan-type division of social niches between men and women. While human civilizations relied on agricultural productions, the physical strengths of men were seen as an advantage. Similarly, while the Chinggis Khan invaded other countries, the army primarily relied on the same property of the Mongol male soldiers. However, the necessity of such social structure seldom exists in today’s society. Many of the most popular commodities today are manufactured in Chinese factories, where most of employees are women; the most influential enterprises are built with technological advancement and organized management, not force or intimidation. Evidently, our society today requires a diversity of skills that are not merely confined to physical strengths and reproduction. An adroit male ballet dancer may demonstrate the equivalent amount of value to the society as a celebrated hockey player; and a talented computer scientist may not be less important than an invincible soldier in the U.S. military force.

The meta-narrative thesis that equates the image of an authoritative muscular man with “manhood” may no longer be applicable to today’s world. While the toxicity in traditional masculinity ideals is often criticized in gender egalitarianism, it is ultimately detrimental to men ourselves. As talents of young men and women are being stifled by the obsolete culture of “masculinity vis-à-vis femininity”, it is necessary to reëvaluate our expectations according to today’s social structure. It is time for us to realize, that the contemporary society should no longer exclusively value men’s physical attributes, but broaden the definition of masculinity – and femininity – to the amount of responsibility that one takes to bring benefits to the human community.

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