Jordan Green: How do we define "masculinity" and what it's about?

by Jordan Green

Once again, our society has found another way to blame its problems on something other than the actual source of the problems.

The American Psychological Association has come under fire in recent weeks for releasing new guidelines for psychologists counseling men and boys who suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health-related issues.

The organization released a 36-page report detailing the mental health issues from which men suffer most. But the paper’s main point? “Traditional masculinity” needs to go.

A brief summary of the report written by Stephanie Pappas on the APA’s website said it all: “The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.”

The report goes into detail about what the psychologists who wrote the report feel masculinity is. Masculinity “is a set of descriptive, prescriptive, and proscriptive of cognitions about boys and men (Levant & Richmond, 2007; Pleck, Sonenstein, & Ku, 1994). Although there are differences in masculinity ideologies, there is a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence. These have been collectively referred to as traditional masculinity ideology (Levant & Richmond, 2007).”

(Basically, they said guys like to beat people up and jump off cliffs, and that's bad.)

The APA’s definition of masculinity in and of itself is the problem. Masculinity is not about violence or weakness in the form of hatred; it’s about protecting others, not hurting them.

The animosity toward traditional masculinity is derived from a confusion about what the true definition of masculinity is.

In modern times, masculinity is too often associated with patriarchy – the practice of men having power over women. For thousands of years, we men have indeed ruled the roost. We've been the owners and bosses of companies. We've been the heads of households. We've been the teachers. And we've been the rule-makers.

Without a doubt, men have always had a considerable degree of authority and power. But with great power comes great responsibility, as a wise person once said. And, alas, there have been many men in history who have abused that power in ways that harm women. In the U.S., women didn't even have the right to vote until the 20th Century. But this is the least of all the abuses.

In the 21st Century, men have been depicted in movies and TV shows as being sick, vicious, self-centered, sex-driven creatures with no regard for anyone but themselves. This belief has been bolstered by the rising popularity of feminism, and by widely publicized events like the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

In his Senate confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh was depicted as – like I said – a beer-drinking, sex-driven machine who would do whatever he wanted for his own sick pleasures. (We later, of course, learned this to be false.) But the allegations against him stuck because they fit the mold of what the media has perpetrated masculinity to be. After all, isn't masculinity about being some macho, buff, egotistic, football-playing male?

No.

It goes without saying that there are males in the world who have committed rape and other ghastly crimes. But these horrible animals are few and far between. To real men, masculinity is most certainly not about committing rape. Nevertheless, rape, thanks to the symbolic power that men have always had, is too often called a masculine trait – at least by the people of the APA. Rape is a crime in which a male uses physical strength to restrain a female. But is rape inherent to males? Absolutely not. Anyone can commit rape. Females have raped males. By the APA’s standards, shouldn’t we counsel the femininity out of females, too?

If the APA is trying to say that masculinity should be banned because men are more violent, it needs to do some more thinking. Anyone of any gender can be “violent,” as the APA so eloquently put it. Knowing this, it's only logical to infer that masculinity and femininity might not be to blame. There has to be something in common. Personally, I would say a lack of morals is to blame, not a person's inherent characteristics.

To men, being masculine is about being a protector. We like to keep people safe, and we feel good for doing that. (And yes, that includes killing spiders and snakes, as so many have said.) We also value being more factual than emotional. We're black-and-white, and we try not to let our feelings get in the way of doing the job before us, whatever that job may be. And we're about working hard to get ahead in life. We put in long hours to bring home the paycheck that pays the bills. To us, that's “traditional masculinity,” not lording power over women or anyone else.

To be perfectly clear, a male who commits rape is an animal, not a man. Men are masculine; rapists, even if physically strong, are not.

The problem isn't that masculinity causes men to commit violent crimes. The problem is that masculinity is being incorrectly blamed for them.