I’m a guy. I’m tall, I’m white, and I’m in decent shape. I’m sexually active, sexually attractive, and lucky enough to live with my wonderful copilot Jana. I live in a safe part of the country, and I have a roof over my head that keeps me from the cold. All I have to worry about is work, play, and paying the bills. In all honesty, I’m the worst person you could ever ask for advice about dealing with adversity.
There are quite a few young men who are concerned with the definition of masculinity. What makes a man? Is masculinity persecuted? Do my emotions fit the masculine mold? On the surface, these questions seem odd to me. We live in a largely pluralistic society, don’t we? There’s no single path to being a successful human, and no single path to being a successful man. Any advice that I would give to a young man would probably be the same advice I’d give to a young woman, broadly speaking.
Just what is it that we’re asking of masculinity?
There seems to be a difference between ‘being a man,’ and, well, being a man. ‘Man’ is used as a title, a category, a rank, as something that is achieved rather than inherent or generic. It has a No True Irishman quality about it, as the goalposts move with each debate. Very few people are content to leave it up for interpretation. Part of what so many people struggle with is that masculinity is treated as a role rather than a trait, and as a title rather than as aspect. We’re asking masculinity to be a hundred different things, rather than as a simple description
To me, the discussion of aggressive traits and masculine traits are entirely separate. I don’t define masculinity in the way that so many people do, but I do fit the definition that so many of these people use. I’m tall, I’m strong, I’m aggressive. I dress well and I’m a good presenter. I like working with my hands and I’m not afraid to get them dirty. All I’m missing is the beard. But to me, that doesn’t have anything to do with masculinity; they’re aggressive traits.
It’s not exclusive to men, it’s not exclusive to masculinity, and its entirely separate from violence. It often involves sex (I’ve previously acknowledged that I’m a Dom, and I’ve written about it elsewhere on the web), and it’s something that a lot of men are really interested in. Aggression is an age-old trait that has been cherished or demonized depending on the climate. It’s an alluring media staple that we’ve been bombarded with for decades.
My definition of masculinity does nothing to undermine or nullify that. While I do feel that many men have a less than healthy relationship with dominant behavior, I do understand why they are fascinated by it. In many ways, I’m fascinated by it. Indulging your aggression can be an intoxicated thing. Pursuing physical strength is immensely rewarding when done in a healthy way. Knowing that you’re in control can do wonders for your stress levels.
But that’s aggression, not masculinity.
A Simple Masculinity
Now, with all of that said, I still operate under my own definition of masculinity. As I was raised in a fairly liberal household, it doesn’t say much about being strong or aggressive. It doesn’t force an aesthetic or demand specific roles in the household. It doesn’t involve beards, flannel, or sexcapades. It is, quite simply, this:
A man helps.
And that’s it. Masculinity doesn’t need to define what emotions a man may or may not display. It doesn’t need to force men into particular roles. It doesn’t need to demand conflict or displays of aggression. It doesn’t need honor. Of all the things that someone could internalize and consider inherent to their masculine identity, I only preach that a man helps. Anything more or less would cloud the concept.
Of course, this isn’t an exclusive definition. It’s how I’ve come to define masculinity over the years as I’ve experienced it. It’s how and why I feel comfortable with who I am and how I interpret my social role. It has little to do with biology or sociology, and it’s not a comparative definition (I don’t define femininity in contrast or comparison to this definition). It’s how I wish masculinity was understood.
Define yourself by what you do, not by what you wish you did.