Masculinity refers to the possession of characteristics or qualities that are typical of a man. The concept of masculinity has been given focus by various scholars. Being a man and possessing characteristics considered masculine may not be the same.
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There are specific ways in which men are expected to behave for them to be considered masculine. Although O’Brien (36) argues that boys are naturally masculine and have no desire to be something different, there are incidents where some male individuals have admitted that they would be happier if they were born otherwise. This necessitates the question,
Is masculinity a natural phenomenon that comes automatically the moment an individual is born a male?
It is true that when one is born a male, he will most certainly exhibit masculine characteristics. However, this is not always guaranteed. Some characteristics are considered more masculine than feminine. Courage is one such characteristic. The society expects men to be more courageous than women. Courage is therefore considered masculine. However, not all men are courageous enough. Does this make them lesser men?
To answer this question, we may view it from the other side of the coin, should we consider courageous women as more masculine? What are the levels of courage that one would consider enough to make an individual a man? O’Brien answers these questions in parts in this book. As a child grows, the father is the figure of courage and a symbol of protection. As a boy child grows, he is expected to be a winner in the activities he undertakes. That is when he will be considered more masculine.
Femininity as a characteristic is more submissive, less aggressive and the society has not put as much pressure on women as it has on men. Bowker feels the pressure of failing to save his friend Kiowa from death in the shift field (O’Brien 178).He feels that as a man, wining should be an embraced habit in the least, or just a natural phenomenon at best.
Some men who lack courage would find mechanisms to counter this weakness. Azar strikes off as a very cruel man. He is able to perform many acts of courage. As the story continues, we realize that he is emotionally weak and uses cruelty as a defense mechanism to hide that weakness.
Courage and masculinity are concepts that are deeply intertwined in our culture. Courage is almost taken as the other definition for a man. A man without courage is taken to be non-consequential when it comes to handling matters that require men. On pages 20 and 21, the author uses two sentences that give the other side of courage, which is cowardice.
He uses the statements, “cowardice barely contained” and “too frightened to be cowards” to show that even those we expect to be the most courageous in society (men in the armed forces), cowardice cannot be totally ruled out. There are instances where cowardice will overrule courage.
This is a normal phenomenon, especially when someone is faced with a challenging situation that threatens life. Though courageous as soldiers in the battlefield, O’Brien admits that death of Kiowa was really shaking. When Ted Lavender dies of a gunshot in the battlefield, other platoon members were shaken, not knowing when and where the next attack would come from.
Mary Anne Bell is a show of courage. This woman went to the war, courtesy of invitation by her boyfriend, Mark Fossie. She is drawn into the battlefield and forgets all dangers that lurk in every step the Green Berets take in their expeditions.
From the book “Friends” and “Enemies”, acts of courage, associated with masculinity are also demonstrated. This story brings us back to the battlefield.
Dave Jensen shows a great level of bravery in the battlefield. By joining forces with Lee Strunk and other members of the platoon, they show a great sense of courage, always ready to embrace death at any moment. When Dave and Lee get themselves into a fight over a stolen knife, the urge to emerge winner is very evident. Although the knife was the cause of disagreement, the whole issue was a show of strength, with none of the two willing to come out as loser.
The battle seemed not to have ended according to both parties. They therefore signed a very strange and daring pact. They agree that anyone between the two, who will be incapacitated physically during the war, will be murdered. There is a sense of determination in both parties and each was waiting to see the other suffer any little blow in the field.
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This would make one of them wheel chaired. When at last Lee broke his leg, we see him filled with fear. All courage and his masculine demeanor are gone. He feels weak and fears for his life. He is very different from the soldier who was so assertive when the pact was signed. In society therefore, courage is closely related to masculinity.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried: A Work of Fiction. New York: Broadway Books, 1990. Print.