Bendr Magazine

When discussing any topic or idea, the most important place to start is defining the term. The objective definition given by Oxford considers Masculinity as “the social construction of what it means to be a man”. At its core, nothing is inherently wrong with masculinity. It’s a societal standard that correlates a recognized pattern observed over a period of time. So, there are then two dependent variables that determine what masculinity means to any particular group of people: the society and the patterns.

To begin the process of deconstructing masculine nature, we should start at the beginning of a boy’s life. One of the most important factors that has given humans our incredible ability to survive, is conformity. Hand-in-hand with pattern recognition, conformity helps us to learn from others and trust those we don’t know. If a stranger shares similar habits with me then I am more likely to trust them.

We as young boys conform to others around us. It usually starts with family and then evolves into peer groups, mentors, and the media. What we learn from these sources will help us put together our own definition of masculinity.

In today’s age of change however, many young boys are targeted about their roles as soon-to-be men. They are bombarded from two different sides of the argument and are forced to make a decision on their identities. Decisions that were once bestowed on them without choice, have now become a chess match with themselves on how to act in accordance with what they’ve learned. But what they’ve learned has become so divided that to choose one is to abandon the other entirely. Do I embrace being a man, or at least what my society has deemed “manly”, or do I break away from the norm and embrace change whilst also potentially alienating myself from said society? Now of course every society is different but the pressure to conform is equally palpable. So, in which direction should one conform?

We grow into our roles as men through the decisions we make and our decisions will either be affirmed or refuted. If we as men live in an uncompromised bubble of affirmation towards negative characteristics, then we will create an echo-chamber of toxicity. This leads me to the infamous “toxic masculinity.” There are certain traits that have traditionally defined masculinity that also mesh with people’s definitions of toxic masculinity. Some of these include aggression, suppressing emotions, assertiveness, and competitiveness. Many of these traits can actually be useful, but it’s not the correct use of these traits that breeds toxicity, it’s the misuse of them. It’s using them to gain the upper hand at a cost to victims, who are often perceived as weaker to the aggressor. This is the breeding ground for toxic masculinity. When a young man finds out he can use these traits to dominate others, and he is not reprimanded or shamed for doing so. He begins associating the misuse of these traits to positive outcomes for himself.

Thus, the toxic cycle continues.

So how is this avoided? We can easily look at the parents and say it’s their job to teach the children correctly. But correctly to whom?

If the parent was the young man we talked about in the previous paragraph, then why would he teach his son anything other than what he has perceived to be a good and fruitful practice of masculinity? How then, do we teach empathy, a trait often associated with femininity, to someone who shares the masculine traits of defiance? The best place to start would be by redefining our expectations of masculinity that are non-threatening to these toxic traits, but can help reshape them.

Adaptability is a trait that should be adopted. Ultimately, adaptability is survival, and if we could convince someone that adapting to the changing environment is a successful masculine trait.

Then we can begin to include change as a norm to masculinity. Being ok to change your ideas, thoughts, and habits to conform to changing expectations. We would however, still need to address the misuse of these traits and teach instead, the responsible use of them.

Unfortunately, it is a lot easier said than done. Bravery is a word often synonymous with masculinity, but to be brave in standing up for others who are victims of toxic masculinity can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to reclaiming masculinity. Ultimately, we as humans are conformists, and if the majority of people are taught to be empathetic and adaptive to changing expectations, then there is hope. But we are all responsible for that change to happen.

Victor Sanchez

A student and teacher of music, history, and digital media. He enjoys performing live with various bands around Texas as a drummer, and loves to teach and learn alongside his students as often as possible. He is an alumni of the University of Houston and is currently finishing his teaching degree at the University of Houston - Clear Lake. He enjoys discussing psychology and ethics with his friends and finds that you learn more from people you disagree with, more than those you agree with.