Society and culture socialise men and women to conform to gender stereotypes that suit the dominant group. This happens in all societies and is a characteristic of human behaviour. The inequality created by this socialisation causes many of the issues of tension between men and women.
The norms of femininity have expanded much more than the norms for masculinity said Judith Stacey (New York University). With boys, it’s not seen as OK to wear skirts, play with princesses’ wands. There’s still a lot of anxiety about being sufficiently masculine.
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 or be thought ‘different’.
We still socialize boys to follow their more aggressive side rather than their more thoughtful and caring side. said William Pollack (Harvard Medical School). We’re basically telling boys that the worst thing they can be is a girl.
The problems stem from people seeing these socialised models as reality and not as models.
Differences between Men and Women
Men and women are different. In ‘Masculinity Required — Confusion Not Required’ I said,
When it comes to men and women there are disagreements over the source of the differences that are perceived, over gender definition. There are three major viewpoints:
The differences are genetic and are part of our physical make-up, much as our obvious differences are.
The differences are socialised, they are created by our cultural upbringing and are purely learned.
The differences are given by God and are meant for the procreation and protection of children.
I see characteristics or attitudes that are essentially male or female, these we develop as part of our personality but underneath there is a core essence of masculinity that most men are born with. According to gender studies by the American Psychiatric Association,
There are numerous theories about the origins of a person’s sexual orientation. … In most people, sexual orientation is shaped at an early age. There is also considerable recent evidence to suggest that biology, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person’s sexuality.
A person’s sexuality is closely aligned with their core essence. The choices a person makes determine what they do with this essence; how they are socialised through the early years can also have an effect.
The question of equality is the issue that seems to be fought most often. In ‘Masculinity Required — Confusion Not Required’ I also said,
I see equality as equality of rights and responsibilities. People are equal no matter their age, sex, colour, religion etc. […] But there are areas in which none of us are equal. Our skills and abilities differ in many areas, our knowledge, our understanding are different. We all have different characteristics, emotions, physical qualities. … This doesn’t make any group better than any other, it shouldn’t make any group dominant.
We are equal in our differences. The differences between men and women are to celebrated and enjoyed. Union and polarity between men and women create a world that is defined by the balance between us, a world of power and strength for both.
How to be a Man
The way forward, as I see it, is:
- Accept that there is a core essence you are born with, understand what that is and seek to live authentically with it.
- Understand how you have been socialised by family, friends and society, look at what you can do to make your own decisions on this.
- Celebrate the differences between men and women and treat others as equals in those differences.
- Understand that social norms are simply models created by the dominant culture and media. These male stereotypes are not to be adhered to unless they are appropriate to you.
The way to achieve this is to develop your own norms based on your core essence; your own masculinity.