The idea of what “masculinity” is, is in reality a collection of ideologies that have been developed and passed throughout history. These ideologies have stuck with us to this day in the form of stereotypes which act as socially enforced rules for men to follow or else face ridicule and judgment. It is currently evident that these stereotypes have affected men, as well as society, in a negative way resulting in problems such as violence, depression and addiction etc. As better explained by the American Playwright and activist Eve Ensler, who stated
“Well, the tyranny of masculinity and the tyranny of patriarchy I think has been much more deadly to men than it has to women. It hasn’t killed our hearts. It’s killed men’s hearts. It’s silenced them; it’s cut them off.” (Schnall, 2011)
As society progresses, we are starting to become more aware of such problems and injustices that men face and in turn, this realization becomes a catalyst for individuals to rebel against such prejudice through different fields, from psychology to the Arts.
To fully understand how masculinity developed one must trace it back to its origins, as the author George L. Mosse does within his book “The Image of Man” Mosse states that “modern masculinity” is a result of historical events which played a crucial part in forming these ideas into modern society. Mosse states that such events were shaped by a collection of what was considered to be normal patterns of morals and actions that were socially acceptable for males in relation to their century (Mosse, 1996, pp. 4-5). For example, in the medieval ages we see the chivalry ideology composed of noble honour and courage, along with the tradition of duels which were fought in order to acquire them, which would also imply that the competitor has courage to compete and defend his title. Honour was important as it also implied a manly ideal, as to be label a coward was deemed dishonourable, therefore unmanly (Mosse, 1996, pp. 17-18). The idea of chivalry later required that physical strength to be just as crucial due to the reason that physical strength and dexterity would be fundamental in defending ones honour (Mosse, 1996, p.23). Today it can be still evident that such stereotypical ideas of courage and strength are still expected in men.
In the eighteenth century we see an important step that is a crucial building block to modern masculinity, the idea shifted towards men acquiring the absolute necessity of a system of morals, as the conquest of a nobel lady became the new version of knighthood that was applied in the institution of marriage. Proper behaviour wasn’t the only important factor anymore as physical appearance took a more critical place unlike before. In turn this importance towards physical appearance paved the way for the formation of modern male stereotypes based on the perception of the physicality of men. Such an all-rounder collective male stereotype created a structure of standard of masculine appearance and comportment. (Mosse, 1996, p.19).
Mosse also stresses stereotypes acquired a negative connotation in our modern age, due to their use to “provide justification for discrimination”. Even if negative stereotypes were part of the development of the modern idea of masculinity, positive stereotypes played an important role too as they acted as a motivator that pushed cultures, society and civilisations forward in their development (Mosse, 1996, p.6).
Today, these ideologies have become part of our socially constructed version of the stereotypical masculine, composed of similar and different behaviours that define how a man is supposed act. This socially constructed behaviour is not one that naturally occurs in young boys but, it’s rather taught as a set of rules to be followed in order to accommodate the masculine expectations of their given society or face ridicule if not followed. The boundaries of what masculinity is can differ from one man to another, due to the differences of their personal experiences, upbringing and their social environment, and other factors such as class, ability, race, gender and sexual orientation but, the most dominant version of masculinity is known as “Hegemonic Masculinity”. “Hegemonic Masculinity” is constructed of key regulations, namely: have no relations with femininity, restrain emotions, act aggressively and tough, avoid any signs of vulnerability, be seen by other males as highly sexual with females and prove one’s heterosexuality buy acting in a homophobic manner. (Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016).
Young boys can easy learn these rigid rules of how to behave according to their gender from family and friends, just by being told simple phrases like “boys don’t cry” or “man up”. This “process” that young and adult males go through is known as socialization, and one version of this is the “Man Box”, illustrated below. Within the confined box one can see adjectives that are socially used as rules that set the standard of masculinity, such as being strong and emotionless while the words outside the box, which are usually “feminizing and homophobic slurs”, are used to ridicule males, usually by other males. This works as a policing system to reinforce the borderline of what is socially acceptable for males restricting them within the box of a “narrowly constructed definition of manhood” (Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016).
Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016
During his talk on the TEDx platform in 2013, titled “Unmasking masculinity, helping boys become connected men”, psychologist Ryan McKelley tackled another type of socialization process which teaches young boys to mask their emotions as well as being separated for attachment. Mckelley states that this is a direct result for the stereotype of males being less emotional than female, but as a matter of fact a recent research suggests that new-born boys are actually more expressive in intensity and range than female new born, and even at the age of three both female and male children will equally display the whole spectrum of negative and positive emotions. At around age 6 a separation occurs between males and females regarding the type of emotions they exhibit and the reason for it can be explained with “the Male Emotional Funnel System” created by Long in 1987. “The Male Emotional Funnel System” states that, humans, irrelevant of which gender we come into this world, have a whole range of vulnerable emotions such as embarrassment, fear, loneliness, anger etc, which can be seen on the left below. With time, young males are taught to instead of displaying these emotions, because they are not considered to be masculine, suppress them, and in doing so only display anger and aggression, as can be seen in the diagram below, which are masculine associated emotions. In the long run this creates negative effects such as, men becoming disconnected from their emotional state and well as losing the ability to detect others emotions, and also sequentially creating a difficulty in building strong relations with other members of society ,which usually rely on reciprocal vulnerability (TEDx Talks, 2013 .a).
Educator, author, activist, pastor and coach Joe Ehrmann, in his talk titled “Be A Man” on the TEDx platform in 2013, also addresses how boys from a young age are told to “stop with the tears”, “don’t be some kind of “sissy” and “Be a man” and with such phrases young boys are taught to detach themselves emotionally and repress the very thing that makes them human. Ehrmann then progresses to explain the bigger picture of various stages along with their negative effects, that come after the socialization process (TEDx Talks, 2013 .b).
Joe Ehrmann, 2013
In the above version of the socialisation process that men go through, Ehrmann also states that it starts from social mandates, which translates to social instructions that boys are made to believe to be masculine, they have to follow them, this is exactly the same as the “manbox” socialisation process just with a different title. The first negative effect is known as Alexithymia, Latin for a = without, lexus = words and Thymos = emotions, which mean the inability to put certain feeling or emotion in words and according to the American Psychological association up to 80% of American men have some form of Alexithymia (TEDx Talks, 2013 .b). Alexithymia was firstly used to explain the characteristics of an acute emotional construct displayed by psychosomatic, drug dependent and post-traumatic stress disorder male patients. The type of Alexithymia most commonly exhibited by men is the subclinical version, “normative male emotional restriction” which is a direct effect of boys who were brought up in a stereotypical version of masculinity, where the expression of emotion is restricted, a direct result of the “male emotional funneling system”. Along with the disability to build important relations, “Normative male emotional restriction” means men are detached from their vulnerable emotions as well as from recognizing, reasoning and discussing their state of emotion, in relation to trauma and stress, with close family members, instead dealing with stress and trauma with the only emotions that weren’t suppressed, subsequently resulting in males developing “abusive and violent behaviour, sexual compulsions, stress related conditions and even early death (Kimmel, Aranson, 2004).
Ehrmann then continues with the next step that is Covert depression. In this book, titled “I Don’t Want to Talk about It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression”, family therapist and author Terrance Real explains in detail the dynamics of Covert depression. Real states, that due to the different socialization path the females and males undertake in relation to emotional suppression, males express depression differently than female, as female internalize pain while males externalise it, relieving distress in a more physical manner. An example of this externalized pain can be seen from the higher rates of violent events in males while internalize pain can be seen in females in the form of self-mutilation which exceed that of males (Real, 1997. pp. 22-23). This again is due to the “male emotional funneling system” thus rendering males incapable of intimacy which is needed for strong relationships, which in turn causes the next step, that of isolation.
A symptom of covert depression is “substance abuse” and addiction. A covert depressed man will seek for stimulants raging from Alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex etc. to boost his damaged self-esteem as well as a means to deal with distress in the form of self-medication, but this sense of boosted self-esteem or relief act as an illusion. An example of this can be seen from the difference between normal and addictive use of substances and activities. Non-depressed males don’t rely on such external factors to feel good about themselves, but just for normal relaxation. At the beginning of such activities their baseline feeling about themselves is normal and positive and if we relate this to alcohol it just enhances the above mood. On the other hand suffers of covert depression start from a baseline of shame or internal pain, and if we relate this to an alcoholic male, after the effects of alcohol and the self-esteem boost that comes with it fade, he finds himself back on the same baseline, if not worse (Real, 1997. pp. 60-61). The “pott study” also examined around 23,000 volunteers, suggested that mental health professional also tend to over diagnose women with depression and under diagnose man with depression and this is simply due to the idea that males are not as prone to depression, ending with male suffers not properly being treated (Real, 1997. P.40).
Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016
The last step in Ehrmann diagram is violence and throughout this essay is has been mentioned a couple of times and this is because it’s the last manifestation of any socialization process and their rules that don’t allow men to process grief (TEDx Talks, 2013 .b).This can be seen as the reason why the larger number of acts of violence are perpetrated by males, such as murder, assault, domestic violence, dating violence, child sexual abuse and rape, not only towards women but toward males as well, as its estimated that one in six males under the age of 14 will be sexually assaulted, often and not only by another man (Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016).
Today we are also experiencing the beginning of awareness regarding the effects of masculinity being aided further by the different men of the twenty-first century generation, who are choosing to live by the strict rules of hegemonic masculinity, proving that to be a male doesn’t need to be proven with violence, or homophobic behaviour, challenging masculinity in other male members and the suppression of vulnerable emotions (Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016). As stated in the intro of the essay, this challenging puts into question what is masculinity? It has also started to make its way in the art scene where it being examined and manifested by artist.
- Anon, n.d (image Online). The Male Emotional Funnel System. [Photograph] Available at: < http://theemondo.blogspot.com.mt/2014/04/the-male-emotional-funnel-system.html> [Accessed on 07/05/16].
- Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016. Men and Masculinities. [Online] (date of update if available) Available at: <http://www.wgac.colostate.edu/men-and-//masculinities> [Accessed on 07/05/16].
- Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016 (image Online). The “man box”. [Digital image] /Available at: < http://www.wgac.colostate.edu/men-and-masculinities> [Accessed on 07/05/16].
- Ehrmann, J. 2013 (image online). untitled. [Screenprint] Available at: < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVI1Xutc_Ws> [Accessed on 08/05/16].
- Kimmel, S. Aranson, A. 2004. Men and Masculinities: A Social, Cultural, and Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1. California: ABC-CLIO.
- Mosse, G.L, 1996. The Image of Man the Creation of Modern Masculinity. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
- Real, T. 1997. I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression. New York : scribner.
- TEDx Talks, 2013 .a. Unmasking masculinity — helping boys become connected men | Ryan McKelley | TEDxUWLaCrosse. [Video Online] Available at: < https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=LBdnjqEoiXA> [Accessed on 07/05/16].
- TEDx Talks, 2013 .b. Be A Man: Joe Ehrmann at TEDxBaltimore 2013. [Video Online] Available at: < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVI1Xutc_Ws> [Accessed on 07/05/16].