On masculinity

I wrote this reply to a question posed on LiveJournal asking about the contemporary definitions of masculinity, and what (if anything) separates the masculine from the feminine. No one responded over there, so I’m reposting it here, because I’m interested in other people’s thoughts on the subject.

Do not reply to this post to argue about feminism.

I suspect that there’s a lot to be said on this topic with regards to fatherhood, but I don’t have any experience in that area to draw on.

There are a few different questions here, I think.

1: What is the contemporary definition of masculine?
2: Can you construct a contemporary definition of masculine, using positive traits that are exclusive to men?
3: What traits should be deferred to men so as to consider those traits exclusively masculine?

The answer to the first question isn’t terribly flattering, and the nature of the second question makes it impossible to answer without being sexist (as it is equivalent to asking “what positive traits do women lack?”).

Personally, I don’t agree that a trait can only be ascribed to one or not the other in order for it to be masculine/feminine, because the context of the male experience and the female experience are so different that a trait (let’s say, promiscuity, or humility) is not the same thing for a man that it is for a woman. Saying that humility is a masculine trait might be positive, because to be humble men may have to recognize their own male privilege. Saying that humility is a feminine trait might be negative, because it’s morally elevating a symptom of oppression.

This article is interesting, I think. It makes a lot of positive “men are” declarations about men that would be totally unremarkable status quo statements if said about women, (A man doesn’t point out that he did the dishes. A man looks out for children. Makes them stand behind him. A man can tell you he was wrong. That he did wrong. That he planned to.) and a number of fairly provocative statements that I don’t think translate as easily, for better or for worse. (Maybe he never has, and maybe he never will, but a man figures he can knock someone, somewhere, on his ass. A man knows how to lose an afternoon. Drinking, playing Grand Theft Auto, driving aimlessly, shooting pool. A man fantasizes that kung fu lives deep inside him somewhere. A man knows how to sneak a look at cleavage and doesn’t care if he gets busted once in a while.)

Personally, I don’t think contemporary society is terribly interested in buying into the idea of positive masculinity. It’s dangerous to say “this is male, this is good” if you’re adverse to the idea of inferring something bad about being not-male.

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