What is Masculinity? Men, Women and the Future

Union and polarity between men and women create a world defined by balance. It is a world of power and strength for both.

silhouette of couple on beach

Union and polarity between men and women create a world defined by balance. It is a world of power and strength for both.

The more men come to terms with their masculinity, the more the tension seems to grow between men and women. Yet, from my perspective and my experience, this shift should bring us together. The stress and tension between men and women stem from misunderstanding and confusion. It, so often, comes from people seeing the world in terms that are too simplistic. Masculinity varies for each man dependent on personality, family and culture. The common thread is a set of characteristics that allow men to feel masculine.

As a male, I have a desire to feel masculine. It is this inner sense that defines my masculinity. It comes from my knowledge and understanding of myself as a male. I decide what is right, but I need to feel the fullness of it. That, for me, is masculinity; feeling like a man.

The domination and suppression of women by men has existed throughout history. Men have used physical, psychological and emotional means to dominate women.

Our view of the world influences our view of this domination. Men both deny it and accept it. Most men see its existence but deny any personal involvement in it. They approach it from their own needs as men, and leave women to resolve their own relationship to it.

Many men feel that, at a personal level, they aren’t responsible for this domination, and they are not. They feel it is false to take on the guilt of others and that a simple apology does not change the situation.

Other men take on all the guilt and shame and prostrate themselves before women. It is alright for them to deal with their own personal views in this way. They should, though, remember that adopting this stance creates a divide among men. This turns the issue into a problem about men.

Men need to recognise that this issue transcends their individuality. Men caused this domination and abuse. Only when men take a universal, joint responsibility, will they stop it.

If men seek masculinity, they must take responsibility. If they seek common ground, they must see that it is in this common ground that the responsibility lies. It is by working together with other men that they strengthen their masculinity.

Men can help women move beyond their fear and anger, and understand men. Men can help women find their power, and face them as equals. Men do not need to feel guilt, pain or sorrow for all the abuse women have taken in history. What they do need to do is respect women. It is in this joint respecting of each other that union and polarity can grow and flourish.


In the debate on masculinity, the view that gender identity is a battleground is worrying.

Society socialises men and women to conform to gender stereotypes suited to the dominant group. This happens in all societies and is a characteristic of human behaviour. The inequality, created by this conditioning causes much of the tension between men and women.

People are more concerned with how others perceive them than with being authentic. The media and people’s expectations create arbitrary norms for masculinity and femininity. Individuals feel they have to conform to these norms.

The problems stem from people seeing these socialised models as reality and not as models.

Men and women are different. I see characteristics that are essentially male or female. We develop these as part of our personality. Underneath there is a core essence of masculinity that most men are born with.

A person’s sexuality aligns with their core essence. The choices a person makes determine what they do with this essence. How they accept society norms through the early years can also have an effect.

The question of equality is the issue that men and women seem to fight over most often.

I see equality as equality of rights and responsibilities. People are equal, no matter their age, sex, colour or religion. But there are areas in which people are not equal. Their skills and abilities differ in many areas. Their knowledge and our understanding are different. Everyone has different characteristics, emotions and physical qualities. This does not make any group better than any other, it should not make any group dominant.

Men and women are equal in their differences. They are to celebrated and enjoyed. Union and polarity between men and women create a world defined by the balance between them. This is a world of power and strength for both.

Men can accept that there is a core essence they are born with, and understand what is. Then they can live that essence with authenticity. Men need to understand how family, friends and society have influenced them. In celebrating the differences between men and women, they can treat others as equals. Men should understand that social norms are models created by the dominant culture. They should feel no pressure to adhere to male stereotypes unless it is appropriate.

The way for men to move forward is for them to develop their own norms, based on their core masculine characteristics. Men need to develop their response to cultural conditioning, not based on the dominant cultural norms. This means creating their own personal masculinity.

What is this masculinity? What are the core masculine qualities? How can they create it?

Mothers bring up men, more than fathers. At a certain point in childhood they face moving away from the feminine perspective. They can then develop their own approach to the world, their masculinity.

Tribal societies achieved this move away from the feminine through initiation and ceremony. Modern society has lost this. As a result men find it more difficult to access to masculine characteristics. This means the shift is more problematic and painful. The lack of involvement of fathers in this process makes the situation worse.

The result is increasing conflict between men and women. Men either fail to make the transition or they over-compensate and dominate women.

Power is in a personal approach to masculinity I call ‘Personal Masculinity’. This rejects a single approach to being a man, in favour of one that gels with our own personality and energy.

This approach forms around specific characteristics regarded as either essential masculine or feminine. I see masculine characteristics such as being present, grounded, contained, focused, potent, and dynamic. I see feminine characteristics such as being free, spontaneous, intuitive, sceptical, accepting, and nurturing.

All of these characteristics are available to all of us. They act as a model to help us understand how we grow. They don’t specify how to be masculine, rather they show where masculinity lies.

An integrated man will develop many of the masculine characteristics and some of the feminine ones. Their balance would influence the extent to which he might appear as masculine, or not. The key is what qualities he sees as representing masculinity in his world.

Men need to counter media-driven stereotypes, and move on from old school masculinity. They need to take back control from dominant cultural influences. They need to develop what they see as masculinity. This will vary for different men and will, in time, develop new norms for men.

To achieve this I use a process of awareness, acceptance, adaptation and authenticity. It starts by developing awareness of their core essence, masculine characteristics, and social conditioning. Then to go beyond awareness to acceptance is not a question of whether men want to be what they discover, but whether they can be. Adaptation is when what men discover is not what they consider to be them, they set about changing what they want to be. Finally through personal masculinity men can develop a way of living with authenticity.

Men should be bold in life, but they need to make sure it is an examined life. They should live a life that they stand by and are willing to defend. It is not the only answer, it is only a way, a direction.

What does all this mean for men, what does it mean for the future?

Men have generally been the dominant group in society. They have run things, organised life and dictated how people should be. Men have created the cultural norms that now so distort society. They have hung on to outdated beliefs and complained when they haven’t worked. They have dominated and abused women and complained when they fight back. It seems to me that men have wanted it all and stamped their collective foot when it has not worked.

The world needs men more than ever. Children, especially boys, need their fathers. Women need their partners. Society needs their men. Men need to stand alongside women to create a new more caring society. They need to take their place in society and feel proud of it.

There is a lack of men who are sure in themselves and who radiate certainty to those around them. There is a lack of men who see masculinity as an enduring quality that they can use for good. There is a lack of men who are willing to step out there and give themselves for the good of others.

Yes, they exist, but do they exist in the full strength of their masculinity as giving, caring men, or do they cling to an idea of their moral superiority?

Men need to take up the challenge to develop a more creative, intuitive, nurturant side, to re-align masculinity to become relevant today.

Image Credit: Flickr/Carlos ZGZ (Creative Commons)