The purpose of this paper is to discuss the social and cultural significance of the construction of masculinity.
The separation between sex and gender is a recent distinction. It is very important to recognize the differences between the biological and social meanings which create this separation. Sex is the biological differences between males and females. This includes the differences in genitalia, and the roles of each in reproduction. Gender, is the societal classification of masculine versus feminine. Thus, gender is a result of cultural and social views, based on society’s views of sex (Nanda and Warms, 2002).
There are four main concepts when dealing with masculinity. In studying the related topics of male identity, manliness, manhood and men’s roles, most reports will fit into these categories. The first is anything that men think or do, is by definition, masculine. Secondly, anything that men think or do in the name of being a man, is masculine. The third is that some men are going to be assumed to be manlier than other men based on existing notions. The fourth and final concept or category is, anything which is womanly, cannot be masculine, and masculinity is anything that women are not (Gutmann, 1997).
Throughout this paper, there will be an emphasis on the achievement of masculine ideals. These ideals are, being a good father, a good athlete, male bonding, becoming a good man and being a “real” man.
Being a good father is central to the idea of masculinity. There have been many studies done on the variety of fathering experiences. In Ireland, men are brought up to feel deficient as fathers and awkward around young children (Scheper-Hughes, 1979). In a more recent work by Scheper-Hughes, she wrote of fathers in an urban Brazil shantytown. Fathers as she wrote, are the men who provide infants with powdered milk. This milk is affectionately known as “father’s milk” (Scheper-Hughes, 1992). These examples show the differences cross culturally in the different views men have of masculinity and the roles of a father.
Success in competition and sports is a large factor in the evaluation of a man’s masculinity. So much so, that in New Zealand where rugby is the sport, not being able to play the sport is devastating to the men there. Being born with haemophilia is devastating to the father-son relationships there. In many cases, participation in rugby is a family tradition, and breaking that tradition is a point of sore content (Park, 2000). Mothers in New Zealand would indicate that other team sports would suit fine, but among the fathers and sons, there is agreement on the fact that rugby is the only way. The rise of rugby as a symbol of masculinity in New Zealand goes back as far as 1905, with the creation of the national team, called the All Blacks (Sinclair, 1986). The sport of rugby is played with relatively no protective gear. The men playing are fast, big, powerful men. Even men in peak physical shape succumb to injury easily in this sport. Rugby, in New Zealand has come to be a symbol of the dominant, hegemonic masculinity there (Park, 2000). It is not so very different in Canadian society either. Men dream of coaching their sons in hockey and playing the sport with them as they grow up. Recently there has been a call from many in the sports community to lower the age at which kids may start body checking. Some say it is so that they will learn how to check properly so as to decrease injuries to the young boys. Others believe that it is nonsense, and will just make the sport more violent. In women’s hockey, checking usually results in a penalty. This could be seen as a way to keep the checking to the big masculine males, not something that a woman should be doing.
Male bonding is a strong enforcer of masculinity. The term male bonding was first used by Lionel Tiger in 1984. He used the term to describe the times that men need away from women, to enforce feelings of camaraderie. Male bonding is an activity which has evolved over thousands of years - with biological roots – for the purpose of creating and maintaining alliances (Tiger, 1984). Male bonding also allows for men to gather and have an outlet to gage their own masculinity.
State institutions can play a role in the development of masculinity. In Bolivia, young men from the rural areas are placed into the military by conscription. The majority of these young men are members of minority groups ( Gill, 1997). Like minorities in other armies in history, they are the infantry who will be in the line of fire, while the dominant group members of their society remain out of harms way. Despite this fact, many young men are eager to serve. Military service becomes a step in which young males can develop their manhood; it symbolizes ones power and instills in them a courage needed to survive life’s frequent challenges (Gill, 1997). On page 529 of Gill’s article, she argues:
"The state, through the institution of the armed forces, conjoins key concepts of masculinity and beliefs about citizenship that are claimed by many of the poor as they simultaneously accommodate to domination and assert their own interests vis-à-vis each other and the dominant society. In this way, conscripts are not only men but civilians too, and all notions which are non-masculine are ridiculed and slighted."
Being a good man is vastly different than being good at being a man. Being good at being a man implies an excellence in performances considered masculine, while being a good man can be thought of as merely being born male (Gutmann, 1997). Striving for masculinity isn’t avoiding traits deemed as feminine; rather it is men achieving what only a male can achieve. A man’s identity is not solely based on his anatomy, it is also an accumulation of traits and characteristics which men work on for most of their lives.
In today’s cultures, there are many assumptions and conceptions of what a real man is. On television, they show us commercials of men with large bodies and rippling muscles. There are programs with men who have deep voices and make grunting noises while adding motorcycle engines to their lawn tractors. An almost universal concept, the concept of a “real” man, has led men to believe that the “real” men are daring, heroic, aggressive, proven to be virile and controls women.
Young children growing up observe gender stereotypes from adult culture, then practice, re-invent and reproduce them, incorporating them into their play habits ( Kikvidze, 2003). Kids will grow up thinking that this is what they must become, and it will be reinforced as they grow older and learn more about the social world. The need to test or prove manhood is known as the manhood puzzle (Nanda and Warms, 2002).Manhood is viewed as a precarious position, in which men are always being tested. This leads to the hyper masculine construction of “machismo”. This macho is seen as essential to the role as a male, the role of protector, procreator and provider to one’s family (Nanda and Warms, 2002).
In conclusion, the social constructions of masculinity take different forms, not only from society to society, but also from one institution to another. The way in which man becomes a more masculine man is very important to the individual and to the society. Inside the view of masculine, is everything that is important and in some instances trivial, to the lives of men. It includes the fears of being a good husband, a good father and a good provider for the family. It also includes the will to be seen as a strong individual, competitive and powerful. In short, it is all ones fears and hopes.