Tag Archives: Masculinity

The Face That Launched A Thousand Hate-Mails

“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.”
– Christopher Marlowe in Doctor Faustus

It was the story that had  historical roots based on an event that occurred between 1194-1184 BC. Legend has it, three goddesses quarreled over who was most beautiful and left this judgment to Paris, prince of Troy. After Hera bribed him with ruling all of Asia and Athena bribed him with fighting skills and the best warriors, Paris ultimately chose Aphrodite. She bribed him with the most beautiful woman on the planet: Helen, queen of Sparta. King Menelaus of Sparta, as possessive as he was, sought for the return of his wife. And thus, the tragic Trojan war began.

Helen returning with Menelaus. Photo Credit: About.com

About three thousand years later, the classic story of two men fighting for the love of one woman–a “trophy” woman–hasn’t changed…that much. Instead, it’s taken more mythical proportions. With the “Twilight” series, a vampire and a werewolf (actually, he was a shape shifter) fought for the love of Bella Swan, the “trophy.” It’s interesting that “Bella” is the Italian word for “beautiful.” But is Bella really that beautiful? I have to be very careful here. I wouldn’t want to get bitten by what I write.

You see, less than a week ago, I took on a perilous journey. I did what not many men have done before: I read the “Twilight” series. My fraternity brothers have asked me to turn in my man card and are prepared to throw me off the cliff of the Hills of Westwood. The women in my life believe that I am incredibly sensitive and courageous for even daring to read the books. And me? I wanted to understand women. I wanted to understand why they love this darn book so much. I didn’t understand why they would cry, why they would scratch, and why they would wait for days when the second movie came out. I’ve never read the books, but like most men, I knew to hate it. It was something that men had to do–had to hate the things of women because if we didn’t, we would be seen as weak. I guess it’s one of those men vs. women thing that we men are taught. Nevertheless, I wanted to understand women, and one way to understand them is by the stories they tell–stories women make for other women.

Yes, I know that Stephanie Meyers targeted this book to young teenage girls. That’s probably why I couldn’t stand the two books. It was so slow, so filled with relationships. So soap opera. So blah! I couldn’t bear reading the first chapter, let alone the entire series. But the last two books had something that men love: blood and guts. Perhaps that’s why I related so much to this half. There was a story of war, of strategy, and of chivalry. There were description about the thrill of the hunt, of working in a pack. These are things that men love, and perhaps this (at least in the perspective of one woman) is what women still desire in men despite feminist attempts. But that’s for a later post on masculinity in “Twilight.”

This post is about Bella Swan, the supposed heroine of the series. I said earlier that I had to be careful when talking about Bella and her beauty. You see, after reading pages after pages of how Edward (the vampire) was beautiful, how he should be a model, how he looked like he was cut from marble, and how he was like a Greek god, and how Jacob (the werewolf/shape shifter) was 6’7″, copper skin, huge, and muscular, I still had no idea what Bella looked like. I didn’t know whether she was a “Helen,” whether she had the “face that launched a thousand ships.” I know, you think I’m shallow, but I’m looking at it through a guy’s perspective. Two guys wouldn’t fight for her if the woman wasn’t beautiful in their eyes. Sorry, it just had to be said, but I compromised by saying “in their eyes.” Beauty is relative, right? Maybe. All I knew of Bella is fair skinned and has brown hair and eyes, that she’s a child of divorced parents, that her birthday is some time in September, and that she’s 5’4″. I later learned there’s a reason for her lack of description. Meyers left the description vague because she wanted it to be easier for girls to insert themselves as Bella.  So if girls are supposed to walk in Bella’s shoes, then perhaps Bella is the heroine of the story, a far cry from damsel in distress, right? Hmm…

The Cullens with Bella. Photo Credit Twilight Review

There have been many articles criticizing Meyers for being anti-feminist by how Meyers writes Bella’s. I’ll admit, Bella seems to enjoy the kitchen, doing all the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry for her town head sheriff father, Charlie. But surely, if she enjoys it, it isn’t a bad thing, right? I can hear the women in my life groan in unison. Come on Gio, we’re heading to 2010, NOT 1910. I think she’s more melodramatic than real-life teenage girls. So should girls really look up to this fictional character or admire what she does?

I’ve gotten a lot of No’s. It seems that many guys and some girls just hate her. Just Google “Reasons to hate Bella” or “I hate Bella” and you’ll see why this post is titled the way it is. And I for one have never wanted to slap a girl until I read about Bella. If she was a real girl, I’d probably slap her a couple times for her own good. If girls like to think they are her, then there’s a lot of girls I need to slap some sense into. I fear for the youth of this world, especially if they start acting out. Here’s my reason:

10. She doesn’t pay any attention to her friends. Being the new kid in school isn’t easy. But here, she’s surrounded by a circle of friends who actually give her the time of day and who actually like her

9. She almost dies several times, but doesn’t. She should just die–as in her character should never have seen the light of day. Okay, I’m not that sadistic. It would be better if she was able to redeem herself. All she does is complain and complain–“woe is me” crap. She puts herself in danger to get some kind of high. Leave that stuff to the daredevils.

8. She’s in love with a killer. Yes, that’s what vampires do…kill. You’re just asking for it. See #6.

7. She’s so selfish. She puts other people’s lives in danger. She doesn’t think about how her relationship affects the people who love her. See #6.

6. She kept a life-threatening secret from her dad. I know, I know, I sound like a parent. Teens keep secrets from their parents all the time. But this is life-threatening. Edward mentioned several times that he could kill her. She’s dating a guy who has the potential to kill her–who wants to kill her because her blood is so appetizing. You shouldn’t keep these kinds of secrets away from your parents. Especially, when the people that are associated with your boyfriend (i.e., all those other blood-thirsty vampires) can kill your parents.

5. She doesn’t have any life goals except just being with Edward. See #3 for more clarification. Your life shouldn’t revolve around another person. Take care of yourself first.

4. She pressures guys to have sex. This was an interesting gender-role reversal to me, and not that I’m applying that it should be guys who pressure girls to have sex. No one should pressure anyone to do anything they don’t want. But let me remind girls the power of saying “No.” If a guy doesn’t want to, quit tempting him. If you expect respect to go both ways, then do so. And, you’re a little too easy–you want it too much. That doesn’t say much about you as a character.

3. She can’t do anything without her Edward. She was depressed over a guy for almost half a year. That’s a good reason to slap some sense into someone. If you are that obsessed over a guy, you have issues. You couldn’t do anything without this guy. This girl is so clingy! You certainly do not find your identity in another guy. You need to know who you are first!

2. She uses guys. Not a big deal, right? Girls use guys all the time. We all know that she used Jacob. Clearly this is a guy who cares a lot about the girl, and all she does is lead him on. Guys hate being led on. Meyers writes it in a way as if it’s okay for girls to do this because Jacob just keeps coming back.

1. She’s so whiny! Come on Bella. You complain about the world so much. As the saying goes, “B*@&$ please!” Your life is not so bad. Even if you complain about being part of a divorced family, you’ve got two parents who love you a lot. That’s more than some people in this world.

Dear Youth of this World,

It’s okay to like the “Twilight” series. Just don’t think the real world should be like that. And certainly do not behave recklessly like Bella Swan. Perhaps that’s the only redeeming value of the character–that she is an example of what NOT to become. Your identity should not rest whole-heartedly on one-person. When that person dies or goes away, then who are you? You are your own person. You need to find your identity first before committing to a relationship.

I am thankful that Kristen Stewart did a tame version of Bella–maybe it’s because Stewart can’t act. I’m not fond of her. However, I’m glad that Stewart’s Bella isn’t as whiny as it is in the book. If she was whiny, I probably would’ve thrown popcorn and soda at the screen.

This public announcement best describes what I feel about Bella and young girls who want to be her.



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Live Free or Twi-Hard: A Guy’s Perspective On Women’s Perspective of the Twilight Series

C.S. Lewis's book looks strangely like "Twilight." Photo courtesy of W.K.

We’re a culture of story-tellers. We’ve been doing it for so long. Homer. Shakespeare. Fitzgerald. And with any good story comes a moral to that story. Stories teach us about ourselves–they teach us about our fears, what we value, lessons we need to learn. And stories, if they are good enough, will pass the test of time. They will be passed on from one generation to the next to teach the next generation where they come from and warn them of what they have the potential to be. Stories reveal our identities.

Like most guys, I find the female world mysterious and complicated. I think Relient K puts it best in their song, “Mood Ring.” They suggest that girls should get mood rings to warn guys of what mood they currently are in: “Mood ring oh mood ring/Oh tell me will you bring/The key to unlock this mystery/Of girls and their emotions/Play it back in slow motion/So I may understand the complex infrastructure known as the female mind.” Now okay, guys are somewhat mysterious too–we don’t like talking about our feelings. However, there are times that we are allowed to show our emotions. The BBC reveals some and Tremendous News reveals a hilarious set. Women often see our true emotion when (and this is some of my own thoughts) 1. Something happens to our genitals. 2. We lost a lot of money. 3. Someone we truly love dies. 4. Our favorite sports team loses. See, guys are simple.

If stories do reveal identities than perhaps those romance novels that women often like to read also reveals their identities. Perhaps it reveals a woman’s fantasy–what he should look like, how he should talk, what she believes a man must do to win her heart.

Books like "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" get kids to read again. Photo Credit: Children Book Blogs

Being a guy and knowing “Guy Land” because I live it and have researched it, I asked myself an age-old question better men than me have asked: what do women want? If stories do reveal identities than perhaps those romance novels that women often like to read also reveals their identities. Perhaps it reveals a woman’s fantasy–what he should look like, how he should talk, what she believes a man must do to win her heart. Enter Stephanie Meyer, author of the “Twilight” Series. Her 4 books have made the New York Bestseller list, and like J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series it inspired children and teenagers to stop playing video games or shopping for clothes and go to a bookstore and pick up a book. The “Twilight” series reveals a certain type of heroine in the main character, Isabella “Bella” Swan, but feminists believe she’s a “villain” (more on that in other posts). So why write anything about Meyer’s “Twilight” series? They aren’t important; they aren’t a special work of literary genius? I could care less about the series, but when a book like that spawns a movie (“New Moon”) that the Los Angeles Times reports as breaking two-box office records in one day, as well as create a pre-teen and teen frenzy during its premiere, or how book publishers have started to change the covers of their book to mimic “Twilight”–to say that the books can or doesn’t influence the next generation is to say that the moon doesn’t influence the ocean waves. I can still hear the screaming and crying girls. I shudder thinking about it.

After 2 hours of reading the first book, I’m on page 212. And what I’m learning so far…well, it’s terrifying.

A couple days ago, I wrote about the double standard with Taylor Lautner being “jailbait” I realized that before I could make more judgments, I should really be an informed reader. I’ve never read the books, but I was introduced to the first movie back in June by my friend, Jillian. She loves the movie, and loves the book even more.  To see her and other girls light up when Edward or Jacob walks into the room–it was interesting. So in order for me to understand what the “Twilight” books were revealing and how they could affect the next generation, I needed to know what the fuss was about–I needed to read the books myself. And the bet was made for me to read the books before the New Year. So I picked up the phone, called my friend Victoria, and borrowed her books. Oh, and if you’re reading this Victoria, I was quite secure in my masculinity to be walking around UCLA with the books in hand. Okay, I was a little embarrassed when I walked by the gym. I wanted to approach the book differently. Other reviews and other websites gave a woman’s perspective on the books. I wanted to give a guy’s perspective on the woman’s perspective of the books. Like I said earlier, we can learn a lot from the stories we tell, and the “Twilight” books aren’t an exception. I want to learn what it is that girls and women want in a man–or at least what they think they want in a man. I want to learn what they want a man to do. After 2 hours of reading the first book, I’m on page 212. And what I’m learning so far…well, it’s terrifying. So you’ll have to wait for the next post–I’ve got to continue reading.

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My Hands For War

It was 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Along the brownish yellowish hill, covered with brush and dried bushes spread through desert-like conditions are run-down buildings. They looked as if a bomb had landed and incinerated all life, and all that remained were remnants of a civilization.  Men are attacking each other on two fronts, using what’s left of the buildings as cover. Some of the men have fallen, some are wounded. Some are hidden in the bushes as snipers, preparing to make a fateful shot. Heart beats are racing, adrenaline is pumping. I can’t think, but I am only sure of three things: 1. My gun has stalled. 2. I was just shot. 3. My side may be losing. It looked hopeless. This is what I get for starting this fight with my gun–my paintball gun.

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Playing paint ball with my fraternity was fun, but the heat was not. Sure, I complained about the heat until I realized that it gave me a small taste of the lives of soldiers stationed in the Middle East.  Unlike the soldiers halfway across the world, my danger wasn’t real. It was simulated. If I shot another man or if I had gotten shot, we wouldn’t have lost our limbs or our lives. We could just go home, shower off, and enjoy the comfort of the air conditioner. There are no real stakes with paint balling. No one really dies.

But I began thinking about the paint ball gun while holding it. Pressing the trigger and shooting at other people gave me a thrill–a cheap thrill. It gave us a sense of freedom as men. We were allowed to be aggressive without anyone holding us back. But why do men love guns or weapons? Why are we drawn to violence? It’s the story of men in almost every society all the way to ancient times.

A majority of violent video games are created for men, more specifically teenage boys. We have fun killing simulated people. Maybe that’s just the way we were made. Maybe we just love living out these fantasies of James Bond or Rambo. Or maybe because that’s how our culture is raising us. More than a hundred years ago, many men were still hunting for food. And now, only a few of us actually do. Those who don’t hunt buy food at the supermarket. We removed the thrill of the hunt–of the danger. Back then men were trained for readied aggression. The Wild Wild West, the pioneers, even back to the settlers taught their sons how to use a gun because it was a necessity to live. But using a gun today isn’t a useful or treasured skill. We’ve become a pacifist sort of generation.

Now, I’m not advocating for violence or guns or anything of that sort. I just think it’s interesting that men’s behavior of violence and aggression hasn’t changed much the last thousand years. We still train men to fight like the Spartans. We love UFC and boxing and anything that has the risk of death because we want to defy it. We men love blood and guts. We exert our masculinity through dominating another.

As violent as we men have the potential to be, there is one good thing that comes out of it. You may think I’m a male chauvinist pig for saying the following, but I do admire our need to protect. We have such a strong desire; it’s almost as if it’s our purpose for living–perhaps we are wired to protect and seek justice or retribution when we fail at protecting. We long to protect those that we love, that we are willing to lose our lives if it means that our loved ones survive.

That’s my masculine identity revealed–not that I love violence or that I am violent myself. I just simply wonder why violence and aggression translates well for men.

I love this very masculine Bible verse:

“Blessed be the Lord, my rock, Who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.” Psalm 144:1  (ESV)

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Guy-isms, Part 1

Photo Credit: LodinewsSara is a gorgeous brunette from Los Angeles who loves to smile with her hazel eyes.  At 21, she has a sort of sophistication, a sense of wisdom beyond her years. Perhaps it’s how she carries herself, or even how she dresses. She loves fashion, but favors wearing mod attire. Surprisingly, she loves reading about the Middle Ages, and specifically loves T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King.” When she talks about her experiences with guys, she laughs nervously as if it’s a topic she’s never been asked (although she’s got a lot working for her, including being physically attractive and quite bright). Whatever the case, when she talks about guys, she laments over attracting the wrong guys and asking me, “When will my knight in shining armor come for me?”

Yes, she said the word “knight.” Does she still believe there are knights out there? Maybe all that reading about King Arthur has gotten to her. I’ve always been under the impression that chivalry is dead. It’s been dead since the feminist movement, although one can argue that it’s been kept alive with powerful and impressionable companies like Walt Disney with its many movies that reinforce gender roles in its movies.

Without thinking, I responded, “Okay Sara, I’m sure that ‘knight’ is out there some where. But maybe he’s pursuing a different ‘princess.’ I’m sure he’ll eventually get to you.”  Princess? Why the heck did I say “princess”? I obviously do not know anything about women. I’m supposed to be consoling her.

And of course, right on cue, she said, “Gio, that doesn’t make me feel better. I don’t want to imagine that whoever I’m supposed to be with is with someone else right now. But that’s typical of you, isn’t it? You men. It’s one of your guyisms!”

Huh? What are guyisms? I grew more and more intrigued of a female’s perspective on us guys. She describes guyisms as a behavior and action that men do. It’s a performance then men do to maintain the status quo and what society requires of men. I laugh. It’s definitely something I’ve researched on. Eventually, I learned that Sara, like many other women are very much aware of our Guy Code. You know, rules like “Boys don’t cry” or “Bros before hoes.” However, Sara believes that parts of Guy Code is chauvinistic and is against chivalry, the code of knights. I know what Sara is looking for–she wants a perfect gentleman, but if that isn’t merely a fantasy, then perhaps “gentlemen” is a rare breed.

Then, why do women end up dating jerks? I think that’s a good question, a perfectly valid one. Sara couldn’t quite answer. She knows why girls tend to go out for bad boys–they are unpredictable. And for women like Sara, she loves the challenge of taming the “wildness” that is wired deep down all us guys. Maybe, that’s the reason we have terms like “whipped,” as in the sentence: “George doesn’t hang out with the boys anymore. He listens to his girlfriend. He’s whipped.”  Is that a particular guyism? That once we are in a relationship, we get domesticated–that gentlemen only exist because ladies teach us how to be one for their sakes, as much as ours?

To be continued.

Photo Credit: Ludinews

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Phallic Symbol? Ties Need To Die…Sort Of

Growing up, I hated wearing my Sunday clothes to church, which consisted of dressy pants, a dressy shirt, and the dreaded tie. Oh the God-awful tie. Wearing the tie around my neck brought me great anxiety. I could feel it choking me, and as a seven-year-old, wearing such an attire was counter-productive.  It restricted movement and especially my playing time with other kids. It felt as if you were imprisioned in your own body.

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As a twenty-three-year-old, I still hate wearing such clothes, but I’m less dramatic about it. I

understand the arguments of wearing your Sunday best. Most conservatives argue that if you look your best for a wedding, a party, a business meeting, job interviews, and a court hearing, then shouldn’t you also look your best for God? Okay, I’ll take that. But I’m thankful that God doesn’t judge me by the way I look, God examines the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). God could careless how we look, He sees our hearts. So perhaps looking our best is really a cultural thing, it’s a performance that we do to maintain the status quo, to not insult those whose culture follows such traditions.

But it got me thinking about the dreaded tie. I pray to God that I won’t have to wear a tie to work each day.Why do we even wear them? Who thought about this crazy contraption that allows us to willingly place a noose around our necks?  I’ve always thought that they were worn to cover the buttons. However, when I eat a fancy dinner, I have to toss my tie over my shoulder or remove it entirely–so the tie just isn’t that practical, is it?

As a psychology and sociology major, I tend to see things differently. Perhaps the tie is a phallic symbol since the pointy end of the tie directs our eyes downward towards the genital area. I mean it makes sense in Western culture. Guys boast about such things all the time. We have huge egos. In other cultures, other things are done to display masculinity and power. Perhaps the tie is simply a Western thing.

I’m no historian, but legend has it that ties actually came from a military regiment from Croatia around the mid 1600s. After defeating the Ottoman Empire in The Thirty-Year’s War, the Croatians visited King Louis XIV in Paris. They happened to be wearing handkerchiefs made of silk around their necks as neck cloths, which were originally worn to warm up the vocal chords of those who did public speaking. The king took a fancy at their fashion, and immediately had everyone in the palace wear these neck cloths instead of the lace ruffs they usually wear. Some believe this may be where the word “cravat” (“soft necktie”) comes from because the French word for Croatian is “Croate.” And the rest, I guess is history…or legend.

And fast forward four centuries and we’re back with the tie as we know it today. As a twenty-three-year-old, I appreciate the tie, even if I hate it. I appreaciate how it can be a fashion statement and help me display my personality or sense of individuality.

There are all kinds of ties, some colorful, some boring. Some ties have words, some have pictures. But there’s a tie out there that suits you and your mood and what ever message you are trying to send, like ex-president Bill Clinton.

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Today, I wore a Burberry tie to complete my Harry Potter outfit. Apparently, Burberry is a brand that is looked down upon by the British. But here in America, it’s still pretty popular. Wearing the tie with a nice white dress shirt and some grey shorts made me looked more like a Catholic school boy though. I need to find a real Hogworts tie. Maybe I’ll go for a Gryffindor one.Yes, ties are remarkable.

Photo Credit in Order: TracyEdwardWeymer, CostumeCraze

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A Knight of Bromance: How Masculinity Has Changed Over the Past Fifty Years

On a warm spring afternoon, the serene setting of a grassy knoll was interrupted by the sound of clanging swords.  Ten male figures, dressed in medieval garb, each possessing a shield on his left hand, and clenching a sword with his right hand, proceeded to attack each other from opposite sides. As the battle for victory grew more intense, a figure with a crown on his head shouted, “I, King Peter, demand the return of the women you’ve kidnapped and enslaved now!” “Never,” responded the five on the left side as they continued fighting. Minutes into the fight, a middle-aged woman approached the center of the battle and said, “King Peter, the dentist office called. We have to drive now to get there in time.” King Peter looked at the woman and pleaded, “I’m trying to save the women of Narnia from the evil Lord Miraz…mom!” I know what you’re thinking: Phones and cars didn’t exist during the Middle Ages, and Narnia is a place you find in your walk-in wardrobe. You are quite informed.

However, before you report me to the Medieval Historical Society for historical inaccuracies, the events did happen in history—my history. As boys growing up, my friends and I often got lost in our imaginative role-playing games, constantly visiting our Narnias to live out our boyhood. If we weren’t playing Narnians versus Telmarines, we played Cops versus Robbers, Cowboys versus Cattle Thieves, and other similar variations. No matter what the scenario or time period of our games, we instinctively knew our roles as “wannabe” men—it was our duty to save and protect women.  But do American men still believe this today, or is it lost like a raindrop in the ocean? Looking at only the last fifty years, historical, economical, and social factors combined and intertwined have influenced how men are men today—American masculinity is slowly changing.

The question of what being an American man means in this day and age intrigued me so much that I conducted an online survey of male and female college students aged eighteen to twenty-three. Although their responses aren’t indicative of the rest of society, the fact that they are college students gives us a snapshot view of a particular stage in life, an in-between stage where they barely left adolescence, and barely entered adulthood. In other words, they are still influenced by society and are still solidifying their identities. One male respondent said the obvious: “Men must have a penis.” But it’s not like we can go around exposing our genitals every time our masculinity is questioned. For all the respondents, having a penis was essential and necessary to being a man, but having a penis wasn’t essential or necessary to being masculine. A couple of females used the words “strong,” “brave,” and “courageous” in their description of an ideal masculine man. One female said that men should be “protecting and putting the best interest of the woman above himself.” Interestingly enough, men responded quite similarly. One male responded simply that men must be “strong, fearless, and confident.” A couple of male respondents commented on how being a man meant doing something active, like “being sweaty, lifting heavy things, [and] not asking for directions.” Both men and women had similar answers to what it means to be a masculine American man.

When I asked my respondents what gave them this impression of manhood, it wasn’t a surprise that the words “parents,” “school,” “books,” “TV,” “movies,” or “Disney” were common answers.  All these words described agents of social construction. Masculinity and femininity are socially constructed, and gender exists based on how people act (Connell 1996). It is for this reason that masculinity varies from culture to culture and across time—what is considered masculine in Madagascar may not be considered masculine in China, or in England, and what is considered un-masculine in 18th century America may be considered very masculine today. It is for this reason that both male and female respondents, being raised in America and holding American values, had similar answers. It is also for this reason that masculinity isn’t just my story or the story of other men. Rather, it is a story that equally affects us all, women included. A man is a woman’s father. How he raises her can affect her perception of herself and how she perceives others. A man might one day be a woman’s husband. How they interact with each other depends on how they perform their roles. A man may one day father her children. How both decide to display their parenting skills affects how their children will turn out today. And of course, every man is a woman’s son. How she raises him will affect how he will treat men and women. Studying masculinity is studying how men relate with women and other men.

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Photo Credit: Bout Review

As I step out of the wardrobe to leave my boyhood Narnia, I return as a taller, wiser twenty-three-year-old Indonesian American man. I was astounded to learn that “masculinity” isn’t a homogenous set of characteristics, nor an absolute construct, but rather that multiple masculinities exist (Connell 1996). Individual men don’t “possess” a particular masculinity, but they are constantly and dynamically being constructed based on historical and contextual factors through what they “do” (Frank 1995, 2). Yet, it’s difficult to see that other forms of masculinity do exist in America, when I have to be judged and live up to one particular kind of masculinity—the kind of masculinity that is constantly sweating in the gym, talking non-stop about sports, or when agitated, is ready to pulverize someone with a high level of testosterone. Sociologists have a name for it—they call it hegemonic masculinity, a form of “institutionalized masculinity [that] is ‘culturally exalted’ above all others” (Anderson 2008, 604). Hegemonic masculinity supports heterosexuality; homosexuality is its antithesis. Therefore, when I talk about masculinity, I speak specifically of heterosexual males. Both the male and female respondents in my survey reflect a hegemonic masculine mindset when they answered that men must be “strong.” Hegemonic masculinity places some men with domineering power over others, while simultaneously placing women subordinate to them (Connell 2005). It’s not a surprise that the ratio of female-to-male earnings for full time working is still less than men—77 cents on the dollar (“Press Release”).

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Photo Credit: Entourage Episodes

The United States of America contains about 148 million men (“Age and Sex”) Over the past fifty years, each generation of American men has been constantly bombarded and raised with images and icons for hegemonic masculinity. The smooth, ever-so charming and constantly womanizing James Bond is seen bedding his next Bond girl. He’s praised as a player! The broad-shouldered, gun-toting Rambo is seen raising the death toll of bad guys in four movies.  He’s honored as a badass! Then, there’s King Leonidas, the visibly toned and muscular leader of Sparta, who along with his courageous and equally toned and muscular 299 men, hack thousands of bodies like a Friday the 13th wet dream. He’s revered for his brutality! Womanizing, revenge-seeking, violent—they all present aspects of the hegemonic masculine psyche. Hegemonic masculinity also praises men for their self-reliance, sense of adventure, toughness, and aggressiveness (Donaldson 1993), and punishes them for hugging another man, discussing their feelings, or even shedding tears (Coles 2008).

We raise men in a culture where “boys don’t cry.” If a little girl falls down, gets injured, and starts to cry, we let her cry. We may even try to comfort her. If a little boy falls down, on the other hand, we tell him that crying is a sign of weakness, and if he wants to grow up to be strong and tough and be a real boy, he cannot cry. Tom*, a twenty-three-year-old political science major is tall and skinny, but he can handle the physical aspects of playing football. He recalls how he cried when his high school football team hazed him. From then on, he lost the respect of the team and was constantly ridiculed for his weakness until Tom finally decided to quit the team. Tom said, “Men don’t tolerate crying, unless you get kicked in the balls or a loved one dies. Anything else shows weakness, and real men don’t show weakness.” When Tom cried, he broke a rule from the “Guy Code” and “Man Laws.” These are sets of rules for how men are to behave in their interactions with other people, and especially with other men. It is somehow passed down and understood by all men. “Bros before ho’s,” which is putting your brothers first before a woman is part of these rules. Knowing bathroom etiquette, such as knowing where to stand and urinate at the urinal when in the presence of other men is another (Kimmel 2008). Though these rules for accepted manly behavior may seem ridiculous, they can also lead to dangerous consequences.

There is a dark side to “culturally exalting” hegemonic masculinity. With men chastised for showing or sharing their emotions with others, they become depressed. They bottle up their frustrations, until one day, the bottle develops too much pressure and bursts. Hegemonic masculinity is partly responsible for making suicide the eighth leading cause of death for men. It’s only the sixteenth leading cause of death for women (“Suicide in the U.S.”). Hegemonic masculinity glorifies violence and the subordination, and unfortunately, men are responsible for 92% of all domestic violence incidents against women (“Domestic Violence”). Good and bad, it is a glimpse of the masculinity we venerate; one that is visibly alive and well. However, men are no longer made up of “frogs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails.” Out of the sunrise, new forms of masculinity are being illuminated, enlightening us of men’s potential masculinities.

As I observe a group of ten-year-old boys playing in my aunt’s backyard, I discovered that boyhood games hardly changed since my childhood. The fighting, the aggression, and all the elements to hegemonic masculinity are still all there. Yet, the ending to these games is quite different. Damsels are no longer in distress—they do their own saving! Thus, as American women and femininity has changed over the last fifty years, becoming more “Supergirl” and displaying more “Girl power,” American men and masculinity is slowly changing in response. Hegemonic masculinity is taking a back seat for once, allowing an anti-hegemonic masculinity to finally be noticed.

Sociologists don’t have a word yet to describe this new kind of masculine phenomena, but I like to call it the “snuggle-softener” masculinity. Metrosexuals are under the umbrella of this type of masculinity. Webster’s Dictionary defines metrosexuality as a “heterosexual male given to enhancing his personal appearance by fastidious grooming, beauty treatments, and fashionable clothes.”  In 1994, British journalist Mark Simpson first coined the word to respond to the growing advertisements geared towards men, stating that “masculinity is more mediated, more commoditized, more exhibitionistic, more self-conscious, and more tarty than ever” (Simpson 2005). Men are becoming more vain, more concerned about how they physically look and how they dress. However, men are also becoming more soft-hearted, more sensitive, and more open to their feelings. In fact, new words are added to our vernacular to document these changing masculinities, and Hollywood pokes fun at them.

Self-explanatory

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By adding the word “man” or its many variations to a word traditionally ascribed to the female gender, or by being a portmanteau of words, the new word becomes accessible to men. It becomes “manly;” something men do. This process led to the creation of Menglish, which is “a language used of, by, to, and about men” (Bingler 2006). Man bag is one, simply a shoulder bag worn to the side by a man (Longley 2004). Man date is another, which encompasses two straight men that meet up for a social outing away from a traditionally masculine setting, like drinking at a sports bar (Lee 2005). When men travel together on vacation, they go on a mancation (Morago 2006).  When a man gets paid to take care of other people’s children, he is a manny, a male nanny. (Fray 2005).  To manscape is to shave and trim a man’s body hair (Horiuchi 2003). Male rock stars use guyliner, eyeliner that is designed and specifically used for men (Hall 2006). Most men would be afraid of having a boyzilian, a Brazilian bikini wax for guys (Wee 2007), but apparently some men get it done. And then there’s the ever popular bromance, a merging of the words “bro[ther]” and “romance,” which the Collins English Dictionary defines as, “a close but nonsexual relationship between two men.” Skateboard magazine editor David Carnie coined the word in the 1990s when he observed the kind of relationships that were flourishing between skaters who spend many aspects of their lives together (Elliot 2007). The word has since taken a Hollywood spin. The MTV show, “Bromance,” features Brody Jenner, son of U.S. Olympic swimmer Bruce Jenner. He goes on several man dates with each male contestant and mancations with all the contestants to search for his new best friend in a style akin to “The Bachelor.”  Paul Rudd and Jason Segel star in 2009’s “I Love You, Man,” pokes fun at bromance as Rudd searches for a male best friend to be the best man at his wedding. There are also real life examples of bromances in Tinsel Town: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Brad Pitt, and Matthew McConaughey and Lance Armstrong—they’ve become Hollywood’s new power couples. All these new socially constructed words would not have existed if traditional masculinity (hegemonic masculinity) was not being challenged. Why is masculinity changing now—what is the driving force? As mentioned earlier, Professor Blye Frank (Frank 1995) of Dalhousie University states that masculinity is constructed based on historical and contextual factors. Over the past fifty years, significant historical, economical, and social changes have occurred which had a direct affect on men and their masculinities.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, America was experiencing various forms of revolution. Among them was the famous Civil Rights movement, which protested racial discrimination and racism against African Americans. While racial discrimination was being fought, simultaneously, a sexual revolution was growing.  Sex, a traditionally taboo subject, was now openly discussed. And with the invention of the birth control pill, women were sexually liberated as sex outside of marriage became more and more socially acceptable (Allyn 2001). Some women resorted to burning their own bras as a form of protest. They clothed themselves with feminism, demanding for equality.  They were Wonder Woman in the flesh: strong, independent, and able to compete with men. While women were becoming more equal, men were left with anxiety, confused with what it meant to be a man. The Feminist Movement was the rock thrown into a pond causing ripples, leading to a chain of events that affected both economical and social factors, and ultimately changing men and masculinity.

The places where men could validate their masculinity with other men are dwindling as women compete for the same jobs. Over the past fifty years, “virtually every all-male college went coed, the military integrated, as did police stations, and fire houses, and every single profession and occupation” (Kimmel 2008, 18). When I was a boy, my dad said that as a man, I would one day have to provide for my own family. But, like many men, women’s independence has threatened the traditional gender roles. Women became competing “bread earners.” According to professor of sociology Michael Kimmel, of State University of New York, Stony Brook, “men who once found meaning and social value in their work are increasingly pushed into lower-wage service occupations…men experience their masculinity less as providers and protectors, and more as consumers or ‘ornaments’” (Kimmel 2008, 17-18).

However, there are unattended consequences to women’s newfound freedoms. With women working, there is a delay of childbirth. With the invention of contraceptives and condoms and with premarital sex being socially acceptable, men and women are able to have sex without consequences with whoever they want, whenever they want (excluding sexually transmitted diseases of course). “Hooking up,” having a relationship without any obligations or expectations, has become the new norm. These abilities allow both men and women to delay marriage to their 30s. According to the 2007 report by National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, the average marriage age for men is 27, which is also caused by men and women who pursue higher education (Bindley 2008). Divorce is another reason for the delay in marriage.  Men and women lack positive role models for marriage, and as a result, marriage lacks its appeal. Why are divorce, a delay in marriage, and the rise of singlehood important in studying the changing American masculinity? One word: consequences.

bromance

Photo Credit: RyanSeacrest.com

The consequences lead many men drifting in life. Without marriage or children, men aren’t forced to grow up and take adult responsibility (Dugan 2009). John*, a twenty-two-year-old history major from Orange County, loves spending time with his male friends. He’s a muscular-built, football jock-type, with ocean blue eyes and dark brown hair, whose casual sports style runs to a blue LA Dodgers cap and Rainbow sandals. He wants to get married in his early 30s, when he’s done with school and has a stable job that could support a wife and children. Although his own parents are still married, he’s seen a lot more examples of marriages ending in divorce. Every time he hears of another friend’s parents divorcing, John questions whether marriage is really worth it when so many marriages he’s seen end up in divorce.  He and his friends enjoy surfing at the beach, taking a hike, or playing video games to escape the “real world,” a life full of responsibilities and stresses. Men are in a perpetual state of boyhood, stuck in the wardrobe of Narnia with other man-boys because to be a man is to take responsibility, and to provide for a family is taking on a responsibility. Men want to avoid this as long as possible, and thus, “hanging out with the boys” becomes a necessity. Their relationship with other men becomes more important than finding a potential mate. As a result, friendship with other men becomes a sought out commodity during singlehood. This is the rise of bromance.

Feminist mothers or at least some aspects of feminism raised up many of the men in my generation (born in the 1980’s and after). They raised us to believe it’s acceptable for us to talk about our feelings, to cry, and even to hug. Steve*, a twenty-year-old computer science major from San Jose has what I call a “Clark Kent-Superman complex.” He wears glasses and studies a subject considered to be for “nerds,” but take off those glasses and place him at the gym and you’ll notice how athletic, strong, toned, and muscular he really is, especially when he can out-bench men bigger than him. He’s also my workout partner. On my birthday, I met up with him at the James Wooden Center, the gym at UCLA, to work out. I expected him to greet me with a “Happy Birthday!” and a one-armed side hug, the appropriate “man hug” according to hegemonic masculinity. You would hug in an “A-frame” position, where the body contact is mainly in the shoulders. Your right hand pulls in the other man’s right hand as a handshake and acts as a barrier for both bodies from actually touching, while your left hand goes over the shoulder of the other man, slapping his back twice. It may also include a grunting noise to assert your masculinity (Hubert 2007). This hug is brief, has minimal contact, and there isn’t a risk of two crotches touching. I expected this kind of hug from Steve, especially since we were in the gym, a stereotypically masculine setting. Instead, Steve comes to me with a full-frontal hug, saying “Happy Birthday.”

After we hugged, I looked around the gym. Were people staring? Was my manliness being questioned? According to Kory Floyd, associate professor of communication at Arizona State, affectionate behavior “isn’t part of the masculine gender role” because “we socialize men to compete, not to be affectionate” (Hubert 2007). This is where we know hegemonic masculinity is still alive.  Men are still a bit wary with showing any form of affection or emotion, especially in public because their manhood is being judged through hegemonic masculinity. However, a man being affectionate with other men is slowly becoming the new black, so to speak.  Perhaps it’s a positive thing after all. According to Geoffrey Grief, a Maryland-based psychologist, “men who are comfortable sharing their feelings with other men may actually make better partners” (Ogunnaike 2009). That’s great news for women.

Masculinity is socially constructed; it depends on the historical and cultural context of the time, and thus constantly changing. And multiple masculinities exist, despite hegemonic masculinity being the most widespread. Hegemonic masculinity still affects how men behave as men, challenging them to maintain the status quo. As a result, men must constantly prove to themselves and each other that they are men, fostering a culture of men surrounded in aggression and violence. But this kind of masculinity isn’t all bad—the need to protect and provide may be seen as admirable qualities. The knight in shining armor still exists. He wears his armor to protect himself from others because he loathes, yet fears vulnerability. It took a social movement and about fifty years for him to finally remove all the heavy metal. Beneath the armored exterior is a human man, made of flesh and blood, brimming with life and emotions. All he needed was for the time to be right to show a different side to his masculinity. That time is now.

On a warm spring afternoon, the serene setting of a grassy knoll was interrupted by the sound of footsteps. A crowd of people, dressed in modern clothes, each possessing a backpack on their backs, and clenching a cell phone in their hands proceeded to walk up and down Bruin Walk. As the battle to dodge flyers grew more and more intense, a figure with a notebook in his hand began quietly observing the scene unfold.  Looking first at the women, and then at the men, he began writing down his observations of their behaviors and interactions. Minutes into writing, a young and beautiful brunette woman approaches him and says, “Giovanny, the psychologist office called. They think you’re insane! You look like a crazy stalker or serial killer writing down notes about people.” She laughs and continues, “Are you done with your masculinity paper yet?” I shrug my shoulders. If masculinity constantly changes, I don’t think I can ever be done. I looked at the woman and smiled. Then, I glanced at my watch. I’m late for my bromantic man date with Steve. He’s taking me to eat steak—a very manly meal indeed.

© Copyright 2009, Giovanny Panginda

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