A recent series, questioning what it truly menas to be a man, has justed launched over here in the UK. Although I haven’t watched the first episode, and at this point have no intention of doing so, I think that the topic which the series shines a light on is certainly one for thought and discussion.
Perhaps looking at what the traditional idea of what a man should be will give an appropriate starting point. To use a phrase from a headline from The guardian, taken from an article also inspired by this TV series, the original idea of masculinity was, simplistically, “money and muscles”. Indeed, some still see this as the definition of a man, and the qualities which he should have, but I can say for sure that this is not my view point.
I suppose that if you ask a selection of teenage boys [myself excluded in this] what they want for themselves when they’re older, you’re likely to get some common ideas in response. It would surprise me if several of those common responses were not “money” and “muscles”, along with a family, and a PS4, or something along those lines.
Why is that though? Is it because these are their true aspirations? I highly doubt it. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure that there are some aspiring rugby, football or cricket players out there, who aspire to get bigger muscles and a multi-million pound contract with, for example, their national team. Others, however, will immediately respond with those stereotypical reasons for that exact reasons: they’re stereotypical, because that’s what society puts on show. In magazines, pictures of male models, for example, are always big guys with huge muscles and a flashy car. and while that kind of selective magazine content continues to stay the same, so will the expectations placed upon young men, and the expectations young men place upon themselves.
What, then, could we achieve if we could somehow break these stereotypes, detach these ideas from the masculine label? What if, finally, it was acceptable for young men to like something different than rugby, football, boxing and alcohol? of course, I know that not all men are like this – far from it -, but the pressure from society to like “man-things” is overwhelming, and often it’s easier to accept those stereotypes and play the game than go against the tide.
I strongly believe that, if we could abolish some of these “manly” stereotypes, then men who are not considered as “masculine” could finally begin to feel more comfortable, accepted and confident. In some respects, I blame these stereotypical ideas for the stigma that sourrounds young gay or bisexual men, especially in the eyes of other young people. It has become very clear to me, due to the fact that I attend an all boys school, that discussing girls is a “masculine” thing to do, but what about those who, frankly, just aren’t into girls? Suddenly, they can’t be considered as male as everybody else, making them a lesser man.
I don’t believe in labels. Masculine, feminine; manly,girly; boy-ish, girl-ish. Everything from toys to colours, artistic forms to music tastes, and absolutely everything in between have, over the years, slowly been associated with one gender or the other, and I think that’s wrong. In the end, we’re all human, all members of this, honestly, messed-up society. Although i’d personally like to see the destruction of all labels and stereotypes regarding masculinity and femininity, I understand that that would be quite a radical change for society. so, until we can achieve a world without labels, I suppose the best we can do is bend the labels we have as much as we can, until the currently clear borders between them become first blured, and then indistinguishable.