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For a long time, the norms of masculinity in many cultures had been restrictive, forcing men to adhere to a specific set of stereotypes for fear of social ostracism or punishment by the state. However, the advancements that occurred with the rise of the LGBT movement and the empowerment of women now challenge established ideas. It is now permissible for men to not adhere to the expectations society would have had for them half a century ago. However, movements that push for the expansion of the definition of masculinity are too aggressive sometimes, leading some people to question whether traditional values are becoming unattractive. As such, the evolution of masculinity is causing division in society as a major social issue.
The definition of ‘man’ that was used in most societies throughout history is founded in the patriarchal role of the male as the provider and laborer. As such, men were expected to be strong and dependable, people who could supply food and goods to their family. This dependability meant that they had to be stoic and prevent emotions from interfering with their work. A man that allowed his feelings to show was seen as weak and unable to match the standards of masculinity. Bravery was another requirement, as males were supposed to protect more vulnerable members of their families and communities, and cowardice before the danger was forbidden.
One aspect of classic masculinity that attracts considerable amounts of criticism is its competitive nature. It may be argued that many men are driven to compete by their nature, similarly to how pack animals fight for the leadership of the group. Competition among men sometimes leads to violence, which is seen as barbaric. The refusal to compete tends to be seen as an admission of weakness and cowardice, damaging the person’s reputation. This tendency leads to the masculine ideal being seen as someone who is not only superior to others in most aspects but is also prone to violent action whenever provoked.
Another controversial part of the paradigm, the denial of homosexuality, has not always been the case. Ancient Western cultures, such as those of the Greeks, accepted alternate sexual orientations, and embraced them. However, when the LGBT movement arose in the 20th century, it was met with strong opposition in the United States. The influence of Christianity is likely the most prominent reason, as Abrahamic religions tended to oppose homosexuality throughout their history strongly. Other countries, some Islamic ones being a noteworthy example, still forbid people to admit they are gay under pains of punishments up to and including death. However, most countries have accepted homosexuality to some degree, up to and including the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The New Masculinity Paradigm
The success of the LGBT and feminist movements, along with the changes like the work people perform, have brought about a new definition of providers and men in general. Women are now as capable of working in most occupation as men, and the success of feminism has led to increases in the proportion of women who work various jobs. As such, men are no longer required to earn the family’s living and are free to try other occupations, such as staying at home and taking care of the children if they wish. As such, men can now afford to be more emotional and compassionate, challenging the traditional ideas of never showing one’s emotions overtly.
Furthermore, men have accepted that gays exist and become accustomed to their presence. The removal of the need to assert one’s heterosexuality allowed them to form intimate relationships with other males. According to Anderson and McCormack, straight young men reject homophobia, befriend gays, are more open to physical and emotional contact with other men, recognize bisexuality, eschew violence, and embrace formerly feminine activities (550). As such, some of the negative stereotypes about traditional masculinity have eroded or become unacceptable. However, the conventional role of the stoic provider still has merit due to its ability to handle stress. As such, the new masculinity paradigm should be considered evolution and expansion of the old one, even if some negative aspects have been removed.
The Masculinity Conflict
The success of the LGBT movement and the institution of a powerful law enforcement system have considerably reduced homophobia and the violent aspect of traditional masculinity. It is no longer necessary to be ready to fight to protect oneself, one’s possessions, or one’s family members. Nevertheless, some people still adhere to either or both of the concepts. Homophobes are an extreme minority whose views are socially unacceptable, and therefore, they usually conceal themselves. However, many men declare that law enforcement is fallible and not permanent and maintain readiness to defend themselves, with weapons if necessary. As such, many people retain a majority of the traits of traditional masculinity, though they have eradicated the socially unacceptable ones.
Radical members of the LGBT and feminist movements, along with others, oppose these people. Some of them declare that classic masculinity is no longer acceptable, conflating the undesirable traits with the rest of the person’s character. They promote policies that conflict with many traditional views, such as sex and LGBT education for young children, and accuse people who disagree of being homophobic and oppressing women. As such, both sides demonize the other and believe that their beliefs and values are under attack, leading to social division.
The most significant problem is that both sides are attacking each other and discussing matters only with their allies. Progressive movements one-sidedly introduce proposals and real-world changes, and traditionalists oppose them. The misunderstandings could be gradually resolved through debate and good-faith discussion. Conservative people should reconsider their attitudes of heterosexism and heteronormativity, while progressives should remember that particular instances of homophobic and otherwise damaging behavior cannot be expanded to describe all men (Anderson and McCormack, 11-16). The two groups can reach compromises in the discussion and create a new definition of masculinity with criteria that encompass a variety of positive traits and different personalities.
The past definition of masculinity has required some positive traits, such as strength and resilience, and negative ones, such as the enforcement of heterosexuality and violent tendencies, of men. However, humanity now does not need as much physical labor and has become more accepting of homosexuality, leading to changes in how successful males are viewed. Furthermore, some people attack the traditional definition of masculinity and refuse to allow people who follow it, even if they work to amend the problematic features, leading to a backlash. As such, both sides should have an extended discussion to create a commonly accepted definition of masculinity that is more inclusive but does not alienate people who follow older values.
Anderson, Eric, and Mark McCormack. “Inclusive Masculinity Theory: Overview, Reflection and Refinement.” Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 27, no. 5, 2018, pp. 547-561.