Have you noticed any of your male acquaintances or friends talking about what it means to be a ‘real man’ as a joke? They may even be serious in some of their comments about what it takes to be a ‘real man’. There are many men who genuinely think that being concerned over their health and discussing certain political issues is deviating from the standard format of masculinity and that makes them ‘feminine’. Men should not consider themselves to be ‘pussies’, as one of my followers described weaker men on Instagram, although, they should urge discussion on how the ideals of manhood are so detrimental to society and themselves.
What is masculinity? It is a psychological gender term that is associated with male traits and roles, such as being aggressive or asserting dominance. Although, this is just an idea. These are just the characteristics that are currently associated with masculinity in British and American culture. The connotations associated with gender labels changes depending on the generation you are born in, your cultural upbringing and the values of the society. It is, therefore, hard to precisely establish what masculinity is as the definition is not congruent between different communities. For example, the ideals of masculinity from my Jane Austen module critiqued gentleman for being ‘too polite’. If you were too polite, you were considered effeminate, and you could be thought of as a Beaux, a Fop or Macaroni: these were considered foolish men who were considered to be excessive in their clothes and appearance. In this case, however, the men I am talking about have been taught to reject characteristics, like empathy, gentleness and sensitivity. The problem is that rejecting these traits could also be deadly.
As a boy, you are considered to be tough, fun and cool. As a girl, you are considered to be prissy, dramatic and emotional. There is a natural aversion to femininity in our society. Why? Well, the genders are not considered equal, they never have been and they will not be any time soon it seems. However, this is not an ideal we are born with, but it is something taught. If you are ever hurt, you are told to toughen up. If you cry, then you should not, because big boys do not cry. If you are interested in dolls, it is slapped out of your hands, because you are taught that is for girls. I think it is time to realise that young men are victims of the patriarchy, too. There is the problem of men policing the behaviours of other men. They have been referred to as ‘cucks’ and ‘soy boys’ whenever they show any signs of effeminate behaviour. It is glaringly obvious that no gender is successful under the current concepts of different genders.
What about their personal well-being? Well, you are considered effeminate if you care about your health, too. This is for both physical health and mental health. For instance, in the UK, men are three times as likely to die through suicide than women. The reasons for this is evident through how men are encouraged to express happiness or anger, but anything else is not okay, because any other emotion is not manly. This is a society that conditions men into not seeking help as they are afraid to be considered ‘pussies’.
Then there are the problems with the beauty standards for young men. They are constantly told that they will achieve validation, respect and adoration through bulking up, but no-one seems to discuss this often enough. Although, when I look back through my teenage years, I was idolising and worshipping at the altars of rock gods and teenage goth actors. Now, there is an increasing prevalence on becoming a man made of nothing but muscle. There is nothing wrong with wanting that, but the intention and the reasoning for wanting it is what makes it an issue. When you observe reality television, leading heroes and influencers, you will find nothing but the same, and that is a hairless man with a six-pack, arms and legs that are bigger than your face, which is the new unattainable body for many. To become a ‘real man’ is to live up to these expectations and it is unsurprising that more men have eating disorders and issues with body dysmorphia now. There are young men on my Instagram and Snapchat – influencers, celebrities and friends – promoting that to become a ‘real man’ you need to bulk up through showcasing their protein powders, calling out men who don’t lift ‘pussies’ and ridiculing other men in the gym for not wanting to gain more muscle than they need.
No one benefits from the rhetoric of being encouraged to be a ‘real man’. This is a concept that has been created by the few to control other men. There is no need to buy into this idea of the ‘real man’. Sure, you can have a go at me and my feminist politics for writing about behaviours that pressure men, ones that pressure them to early graves and health issues. Although I am not a misandrist, I am just encouraging a healthy change in the discourse of what a man should be. I am urging you to recognise that this idolisation of the manly man is self-destructive and unhelpful for those around you. So, are you a ‘real man’? No, you cannot be, for he does not exist.