Masculinity Fallibility: The mistake about masculinity.

Masculinity Fallibility: The mistake about masculinity.

“Why should men be constrained by antiquated stereotypes of masculinity?” – Andy Dunn

What is the Masculinity Fallibility?

Fallibility is the tendency to make mistakes or be wrong. The ‘Masculinity Fallibility’ is the tendency to make mistakes or be wrong about masculinity. But who has the tendency to be wrong? Individual men, women, a person non-binary? Is it our institutions such as schools, workplaces, political parties, community organisations, or the media? Or is it a collective misunderstanding?

What is masculinity?

To determine the validity of the Masculinity Fallibility, let us explore what is commonly defined as Masculinity. According to the National Demographic Institute, the term 'masculinity' refers to the roles, behaviours and attributes that are considered appropriate for boys and men in society, in other words the social expectations of being a man. Masculinity is constructed and defined socially, historically, and politically, rather than being biologically driven. We can think of masculinity as a shorthand for talking about the social expectations and practices of manhood; expectations and practices which are reinforced everyday by individuals as well as by institutions, such as the law, the economy, religion, education, and the media. Women as well as men participate in reinforcing these social expectations of masculinity (e.g., when a mother tells her son to act like a man and not to cry.)

Generations of men have grown up feeling they must hide their true selves and their true feelings to be loved and accepted. Instead of establishing their own version of healthy masculinity, they try to fit into a restrictive mould dictated by society.

Is masculinity more than a mere social construction?

In a research document titled ‘Theories of Gender Development’ by Cindy Faith Miller, she states, given the ubiquitous influence of gender in a person's life, several theories have been developed to explain gender development. These theories can be divided into three families: biological, socialization, and cognitive. According to biological theories, psychological and behavioural gender differences are due to the biological differences between males and females. Within this family of approaches, researchers have focused on historical explanations (such as evolutionary processes) and proximal explanations (such as genes and sex hormones). Socialization theories of gender development view gender differences as a by-product of the differential treatment girls and boys receive from the people in their lives and the pervasive gender stereotyped messages that children are exposed to in their environment. Cognitive theories of gender development view children as active constructors of knowledge who seek, interpret, and act on information to match their behaviour to their understanding of gender.

How has traditional masculinity evolved in the current generation?

The Man Box Report, a study on being a young man in the US, UK, and Mexico points to those adopting antiquated stereotypes of masculinity to harbor more harmful attitudes about masculinity — including beliefs about aggression and homophobia — also tending toward bullying, sexual harassment, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

The Man Box refers to a set of beliefs, communicated by parents, families, the media, peers,

and other members of society, that place pressure on men to be a certain way. For the purposes of the study, men “in the Man Box” are those who most internalize and agree with society’s rigid messages about how men should behave.

“The harmful effects of the Man Box are severe, real, and troubling. The majority of men who adhere to the rules of the Man Box are more likely to put their health and well-being at risk, to cut themselves off from intimate friendships, to resist seeking help when they need it, to experience depression, and to think frequently about ending their own life. Young men inside the Man Box are more likely to have used violence against other young men – verbally, physically, and online – and to have sexually harassed women. They are more likely to have experienced violence themselves. They are more likely to engage in risky behaviours such as binge drinking, they are two to three times more likely to have been in traffic accidents, and they are less likely to have close relationships and friendships.”

Andy Dunn, the co-founder of men's clothing brand Bonobos, wrote in his blog post on Sep 21, 2017,

“With more women in the workplace and in positions of power and leadership, with the legalization of gay marriage and the emerging liberation of the LGBTQ+ community, traditional definitions of masculinity are changing for the better.”

“Why should men be constrained by antiquated stereotypes of masculinity?”

“Shouldn’t we all be celebrating a wide range of definitions of manhood?”

Supporting this view is Dr Steven Roberts. In his book Young Working-Class Men in Transition, Roberts interviews young men in the UK who are employed in what was traditionally considered women’s work – service jobs in the hospitality and retail sector.

He found these men were more likely than their middle-class counterparts to share domestic chores with their partners – for the practical reason that working-class families need two incomes to survive and cannot afford to hire domestic help.

While a previous generation of working-class men may have pointed with pride to the muscles or scars they had acquired at work; young working men have had to develop a separate set of attitudes to survive in the workplace.

“There has been a shift in the way men think, feel and enact their masculinity,” Dr Roberts says.

“There is a relationship between the economy and the individual. So, when there was a world that had a far smaller role for men’s emotional capacity, of course they did not use that emotional capacity as much. And young men in the ’70s would have learned how to be men from their dads almost exclusively, because their dads were in jobs, occupations, which demanded a particular kind of manliness.”

But not only the workplace has changed since then – families have changed as well.

Roberts, for example, was raised by his mother, who was a victim of domestic violence.

“My mum was really important for me,” he says. “She taught me the scope of being a person, rather than the narrow scope of being a man.”

Is traditional masculinity still valued?

Well, that depends on who you ask, and for that matter which of the traditional masculinity traits you refer. The National Institutes of Health, the primary agency of the United States government responsible for public health research, website states “traditional masculinity is considered as the negative and socially aversive traits and behaviours related to idealized societal masculine norms and is characterized by instrumental personality traits such as aggression, self-affirmation, social dominance, and a lack of consideration for others. Everybody, including men, women, and non-binary, expresses behaviours and attitudes consistent with traditional masculinity because the values, traits, and behaviours are not typical of a specific gender. In the last few decades, the social changes have contributed to the transformation of the prototypical gender functions and to the blurriness of the content of the stereotypes. This way, the meaning of masculinity and femininity, as social phenomena, could have changed.”

How can you avoid the Masculinity Fallibility?

The obvious answer is to avoid labelling, blaming, and shaming. Allowing yourself and other men the courage, encouragement, and freedom to establish their own version of healthy masculinities.

Masculinities being plural, that is, the number of ways to express masculine traits is unlimited.

Avoiding the belief that masculinity is exclusive to men only, that masculinity is toxic, and that masculinity is defined by your ability to provide, to protect, to ‘be a man.’ When has there a better time for us to champion men, women, and non-binary to embrace all their healthy masculinity traits than now?

How does belonging to a men’s group help adult men broaden and deepen their own definition of healthy masculinities?

Because masculinity is about the social expectations of manhood, this means that there is no single, fixed definition of masculinity. There are unlimited socially constructed definitions for being a man and these can change over time and from place to place as we can see from our own lives when we compare the lives of our fathers and grandfathers with those of the younger generation of men today.

Exploring your own definition of healthy masculinities is one of more than two dozen topics covered in Men’s Groups. During sessions, men speak openly about their challenges and joys of ‘Masculinities and what it means to be a man.’

Being a part of an online men’s group is an opportunity for you to prepare yourself for life’s inevitable difficulties such as your evolving relationship with your masculinity, and to experience mateship with other men. You can develop habits that prepare you to navigate life’s lows and blows, knowing you have the support of a community of men who have ‘got your back’!

The benefits of joining a Men’s Group can extend far beyond you as an individual man and can be experienced by your families, your workplaces, and your communities.

Communities of healthy men promote healthy masculinities.

From my own challenges, combined with extensive research, MANonline was conceived. MANonline is a growing network of online men’s groups. We look forward to welcoming you.

Click here to attend a free pilot session