If masculinity refers to traits that reflect "maleness", like beards, an aversion to being a princess, enjoying ownership of a penis, then arguably, masculinity is innate to people who are male. That's a statement that sounds logical, but it's not socially supported. We have traits that we consider masculine, such as "courage" that could arguably be equally applicable to women, and as we talked about earlier, traits are assigned masculine or feminine nomenclature based on social rules, but it's generally accepted that some of these traits are inherent, while others are learned.
So which is which?
Well, that I can't answer for you. Additionally, it puts an interesting challenge ahead of young men and women as they endure the frothy hormonal river known as puberty. This is the time when biology gives you sex organs, and society edges into the territory of giving you sexual association, I.E. "You're becoming a man, so here's some responsibilities and shit."
Not only are you somewhat unsure of what you're becoming, barring some sort of religious initiation into adulthood, it's unlikely you're given any real guidance as to what your rites of passage are. You're given a peek into the adult world by learning how to drive (unless you're me), you may experiment with sex and drugs, but it's really up to you to figure out what it is that will make you a man or woman. For people like my friend, what makes you a man or a woman is probably taking a back seat to what makes you you.
Put that person figuring out their identity, let alone their masculinity, in a room full of other pimply faced neophytes learning about what kind of person they are and what kind of person they want to be, and they'll probably compare notes 'n scrotes. (I don't know about that last part actually.) Some changes are inevitably going to happen to all of you; facial hair, body odor, the discharge of your goody goo, oily skin, so on, but even these happen in varying degrees as your hormones go through their inner operetta. As you observe each other, and than those older and younger than yourself, you'll begin to create ideals and shape, at least physically, what your idea of masculinity is.
Unfortunately, while all this is happening to you, you're also going through the very peculiar and somewhat recent psychosocial development of "Adolescence."
We live in an era where you don't have to help your pa on the farm the second you're physically able, or start working on your family with your child bride. You're much less likely to die before you hit thirty, and more or less, your survival is taken care of to whatever degree of economic success your situation provides. Your body is taking it upon itself to grow up, but you can still lounge around, play X-Box and watch TV while dipping your toes in experiments in adulthood.
Adolescence is arguably a first world indulgence. It offers us a tremendous opportunity at a fairly young age to figure out what makes us happy. To be honest, I don't think any of the same things make me happy now that did when I was 15 with the exception of writing, so... Take that however you will. Nevertheless, we have time to cultivate ourselves as individuals while our bodies endure their awkward metamorphosis. We know our brains are developing, but we're given time to steer the course for our neurons and figure out what we want to be good at, and essentially, what kind of person we want to be.
It's during this time that some boys will discover how much they love playing football, some will pick up a guitar and some will focus on getting laid as much as possible. This is where you start learning who you are as an individual, but not necessarily as a man. During adolescence, you're searching for your identity, not your masculinity. Masculinity is biologically happening to you, but as a culture, it's arbitrary assigned to you at varying degrees. Most likely, the boys who show athletic or academic prowess will be awarded more cultural "Masculinity", because, again, we award more of it to those who conform to the social ideal of a man. That skinny, long haired stoner who drops out of school to become a jazz pianist on the streets of LA could end up with a full beard, the voice of a bear and sperm that could impregnate a coconut, but because he isn't the mainstream ideal of a man, his masculinity would be challenged on a social level.
For less of a parody example, consider people like my friends. They have since grown into some pretty muscular, appropriately hairy, ostensibly masculine bodies, went through an adolescence where they were high voiced, awkward and interested in their own little worlds more than women. It wasn't that they didn't have the same drives as other people, they just didn't want to get laid more than they wanted to play music, or make art. I know at least a couple of them had high school girlfriends, but the relationships ended badly, adding further pressure from people around them to the idea that they hadn't attained "true masculinity". Couple their romantic issues with the more rewarding feelings they got from being artistic, or into yoga, or drugs, or whatever, and you've laid the framework for their own doubts about their orientation. Being gay starts becoming synonymous with not being engaging or particularly engaged with the opposite sex, and for some people, that definition fits them pretty well.
I doubt anyone who bullied my friends were aware of what they were doing, and I doubt either side would consider it bullying. It draws a pretty stark conclusion about you though, without offering any kind of reprieve. You must be gay, because you're not very good at being a man, or attaining that ethereal quality that instills you with masculinity. Again, this ties into our heteronormative social structure where gay men are by no objective measure considered "Lesser men", because their masculinity is somehow invalid if they wear pink or work out to impress other men and not women. I imagine all of the people who would, intentionally or not, assert that someone "isn't man enough", would be pretty hard pressed to explain their reasoning to someone else in any provable way, let alone assert how doing the opposite could help a person become masculine. Not to mention, if doing the opposite felt wholly disingenuous to someone, you've essentially confirmed that they're not a relevant human, and I fear the repercussions of that kind of self loathing, though I won't draw any parallels here.
There are loose and aging ideals of what it means to be a man, typically tied into the old fashioned roots of getting a house, having kids with whatever the best wife means, doing well in your career of choice. As our society moves away from celebrating this traditional, Mad Men Template of success, not to mention shifts towards a more equal partnership between genders, whatever it means to "achieve your manhood" becomes even harder to define. There's a huge disparity between what it means to create equality between sexes (and orientations for that matter) and our understanding of that process on a large scale.
In the United States, there is no ritual, no rite of passage outside of religion, and we're living in an age where many are drifting away from their faith in favor of what they've learned from science. A religious rite of passage seems like just as much of a facade as any other religious ritual to someone who doesn't genuinely believe in the deities and doctines behind it. Becoming a man is just a thing that happens when it's sort of sad to be doing what you were doing as a teenager, like trying to be in a rock band or working at a fast food joint because you don't want to go to college. What we don't take into account, socially, is how happy those burnouts are versus the people still ascribing to this outdated path laid out for them by their previous generations. Manhood is a biological state and/or a social status, but not mutually exclusive.
The only arguable rite of passage, the thing that severs you from childhood, is the loss of your virginity. This throws us back to our original query; why should losing your virginity as a homosexual somehow qualify you as being less masculine? (This area becomes even more gray and diluted for women, but that warrants its own five part essay, if I ever feel the need to write about it.) If you have trouble with this, or less interest in it than some people, you risk having some arbitrary amount of your masculinity stripped away from you, or you're accused that it never applied to you in the first place.
These are qualities, I hate to say it, of the patriarchy.
The patriarchy isn't just terrible for women; it's putting strange pressures on men, and what it means to be a man, and discourages any interests or challenges to the social norm. By holding on to this phantom standard for what it means to be and is expected of men, who in turn are the power wielders because of this expectation, even the faction that the power systems in place are designed to cater to will inevitably experience heavy turmoil.
These are very old systems that, I honestly believe, inevitably have to give way at some point. Unfortunately, the point where we're at, is going to lead to a lot of confusion and antagonism as people are sieved through changing social norms. Fluctuations in our understanding and opinions of sexuality, identity, gender, and cultural progress as a whole are only going to compound the issues for the next few generations. This leads us to the next, and possibly most uncomfortable part of this piece...Moms and Dads.
About A Blog
I'm a Denver Comedian, occasional cartoonist and person of interest to someone, probably. These articles are really too long.