Are You Man Enough: An Examination of Masculinity Part 1
Gillette’s sales haven’t budged since their controversial commercial, but they’ve made an impact socially. Now unless you’re living under a rock or doing Exodus 90, you’ve probably seen the ad for yourself. In a minute and thirty seconds, Gillette was able to go after bullying, misogyny, the “boys will be boys” mentality, and too many dads guys grilling at once.
Now, like most issues, our culture is completely divided and can’t agree on how they feel about Gillette’s venture from razor blades to cultural influencer. Some call the commercial great and an attack on “Toxic” masculinity, while others call it confused and “virtue-signaling.” Still others say they just want their products without politics.
One thing that Gillette did do is bring to light the fact that we can’t agree on what masculinity is and what it is not. Also, this commercial comes on the heels of a new report by the American Psychological Association on psychological practices with men and boys.
I think it’s worth taking a closer look at the report to gain some insight into what society and the psychological sciences are telling us what masculinity is.
This report, by the APA, gives new guidelines for psychologists who are treating boys and men while attempting to shed light into what a young man goes through as he matures through boyhood and adolescence, into adulthood. The structure of the APA report first gives the rationale behind a new guideline and then explains how professionals can implement said guideline. Though the whole report is worth reading, I want to focus on the APA’s definition of traditional masculinity.
The report defines “traditional masculinity,” as a mindset identifiable by its emphasis on “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.” (pg 2)
The report goes on to explain that boys’ environments, their peers, family, media, and society teach them “to adopt traditional masculine ideals, behavior, and attitudes.” (pg 6)
This is what is typically referred to as “Toxic” masculinity. Toxic masculinity defines your ability to be a man by your dominance over women, personal achievement, status, and physical ability/strength. According to Toxic masculinity, your worth as a man hinges on your excellence in those categories. If you don’t meet the standards you aren’t a man, a real man - a man’s man. The APA points out that this type of masculinity has extreme detrimental effects on a young man’s mental and emotional wellbeing.
Now when our culture promotes “Traditional” masculinity do they mean the same thing as the APA? Are the phrases toxic masculinity and traditional masculinity interchangeable?
In 1991, anthropologist David D. Gilmore, published the findings of the first ever cross-cultural study of manhood as an achieved status in his book Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity. As reported by The Art of Manliness, “What [Gilmore] discovered was that far from being exceptional and widely divergent, conceptions of what constitutes a “real man” has been common and consistent through time and around the world.” (The 3 Ps of Manhood) Gilmore’s findings uncovered a code of manhood summarized by the 3 Ps. For a male to become a man he must Protect, Procreate, and Provide.
It’s important to note, as indicated in Gilmores study, that the 3Ps were not unique to any one culture or geographic location, they were unique to men. The 3Ps were present in “nearly every society on earth — whether agricultural or urban, premodern or advanced, patriarchal or relatively egalitarian” (The 3 Ps of Manhood)
If we dig into the 3Ps we start to find that men need to possess certain characteristics in order to fulfill the requirements of the 3Ps.
For a man to protect he must be strong, stoic, display physical dominance, willingness to fight, and courageous.
For a man to procreate he must pursue a mate, have a high sex drive, and ability to please mate.
For a man to provide he must provide the necessary means for survival of his family, be resourceful, self-reliant, and generous to his community.
If we compare the 3Ps to the definitions the APA provides about masculinity, we find similarities and important differences.
Same, But Different
What Toxic masculinity calls eschewal of the appearance of weakness and unnecessary violence, Traditional calls a display of dominance and willingness to fight to protect another.
What Toxic calls an over emphasis on achievement, Traditional calls resourcefulness and self-reliance to provide for another.
What Toxic calls anti-femininity and a negative attitude towards males who display “feminine” traits like displaying emotions, Traditional considers an embracing of a males role as a physically strong and emotionally stoic protector for the good of their family.
Toxic masculinity finds all the traits that are necessary for achieving the 3Ps as unnecessary cultural impositions, while Traditional considers them as inherent traits required for a males achievement of manhood for the good of their family or tribe. In this case both parties have provided data to support their point.
Is there a chance that both sides are right in some way? And are these two views of masculinity the only two that exist?
In my next post i’ll will discuss whether there is an alternative to these two ideas of masculinity.
Until next time - Esto Vir!