The destructiveness of the modern idea of masculinity

I am a man. I grew up a male, and I’m certainly not unhappy with who I am. However, I am very disturbed about how males are viewed and taught how to be.

I wrote this letter to my grandmother regarding my strong dislike of today’s concept of masculinity. Given that she is from another generation, this assumes that I am talking about heterosexual men; some of what I say here may apply less to queer men; however, even so, I think all men feel the pressures I outline here.


One of the things I’ve come to feel strongly about these days is that the way we as a society train our men to behave and think is rather disgraceful. I know, partially because I was trained in much the same way, but also because, now that I have gotten a chance to come outside of myself and find my oneness with the world, I see what little is expected of men, and the excuses that people make for them, especially women.

It is said sometimes that if women ruled the world, we wouldn’t be such a warlike species. I don’t think it’s that simple; however, the thought does resonate with me, for it is true, women are, generally speaking, much better at finding ways not to fight and get into conflict—because they are so trained.

In this wonderfully transformative past year, I have made–and recovered–lots of good new friends. Lots of wonderful friendships and connections. Dozens of them! People I can trust, with whom I have shared my life details, the sordid as well as the splendid. And you know what? ALL of them are women, with three exceptions, and those three are definitely exceptional among men, that’s for sure.

I wrote the following in an online discussion group I belong to:


Certain things are typically considered “feminine” things:

* Taking a non-competitive mindset, as opposed to a winner-loser one

* Letting go of control

* Crying

* Subtleties…things like tone of voice, the way one carries oneself, light touches, etc.

* Tolerance of/comfort with ambiguity, as opposed to “either-orism”

* Deep listening

* Looking pretty

* Making a real effort to come off as gentle and nonthreatening

* Being friendly, approachable, and OPENLY compassionate

* Steadfast, silent patience and devotion

As young girls, women get a full education in these fine things. Guys don’t. As a result, guys tend often to be harder around the edges, more one-dimensional (at times, I said!), less able to let go of control, more impulsive, etc. I need the subtlety of not always having to think of everything as “foreplay” if it doesn’t involve intercourse. I like spending lots of time on subtle things, things like whispering in your ear, caressing your shoulder and neck, feeling the touch of your hand on my back, watching how you look at me… most guys my age (late 20s) have no clue in this department. It’s all a rush to explode.

This extends to social stuff. The black-and-whiteness of many guys’ mindset forces me to quickly define an interaction as either sexual or not sexual, RIGHT AWAY. With women, once they see that I am not like this, I find tremendous comfort, such that, if it’s right, I can hug and hold a woman, maybe kiss her a bit, without us ever having sex or even having to talk about having sex. Just a nice, intimate moment, all the clothes remaining on. THAT is why I generally pick female company first…a more open mind, more possibilities for more kinds of good interaction, physical or not, without having to think of “penetration!”


The reason I wanted to share this is to perhaps give you a window into the raison d’être of certain people of my generation such as myself–queer people. “Queer,” among us, is no longer a slur–it’s a state of mind, and to us it’s actually a positive term. Anyone can use it, unlike the N-word, for example. “Queer” does NOT mean “gay,” though it generally encompasses gay and lesbian culture. It probably most simply means “anything but completely straight.” There is a movement in modern music called “emo,” short for “emotional,” which emphasizes, among other things, the concept of men being openly emotional, sad, and “not together,” unlike social norms dictate. [My cousins] will be able to tell you more about emo if you ask them.

I have found that, among folks of my generation who are much more conscious and aware of the world around them, there is a desire to break out and be your own person. To shed the cruddy teachings that permeate and infest our brains with habits we will later come to regret deeply. But we don’t always know how… especially the men out there.

Isn’t it a shame that men are always suspected of being threatening? You know what I mean, right? Where I work, in the Pediatric Clinic, ALL of the nurses are women. There are NO male nurses… only doctors. Why is that? What are we teaching our children about men? What are we teaching our boys that they are destined to become?

Even in these modern times, young men are left thinking that this is masculinity:

* Being egocentric: a defect generally, but in terms of masculinity this is considered a healthy attribute as long as the male is intelligent as well. Society is now more accepting of women being this way than before, but this is still something that men actually learn growing up that women do not. Women who live more egocentrically get there on their own.

* Being ambitious: this goes in line with egocentricity; it’s more or less ok for a woman to be ambitious, but not encouraged the way it is for a man.

* Being in control: men are supposed to always “keep it together,” always in control. If a male admits his insufficiency to control a situation before anyone but God or a VERY good friend, he will be perceived as being unmanly. This is STILL true, by and large.

* Being impatient: again, this is not generally desirable in a human, but in men it is thought of as natural, especially if the impatience is refined. Men can be “patiently impatient,” whereas women are supposed to wait and adapt and consider everyone else and be silently patient.

* Being strong, mentally and physically. Nothing wrong with wanting to be strong—but why is this a “male” thing? Moreover, the masculine idea of strength fetishizes it: yes, men are human beings and as such they are weak, but they’d better not be publicly weak! So, when they feel weak, rather than letting go and say, weeping about it or talking it out, men try to continue featuring strength through showing rage, raising their voice, commanding, competing, etc. The message is, yes, you will be weak sometimes, but don’t ever actually act weak. And men should not generally be threatening, either, but it is considered more masculine to have a [potentially] threatening disposition than to look weak.

* Looking at women as pieces of meat: masculinity norms accept and even welcome thinking patterns that objectify women, and it’s not because men watch porn or have some innate boy gene that makes them act like horndogs, but rather the other way around: our culture encourages men, as part of the “men are aggressive, men are egocentric” acceptance, to think of women in the most simple, objectifying ways. It’s not like women don’t ever get these fierce, animalistic thoughts… it’s totally natural to feel that primal sexual instinct no matter who you are. The thing is that, women are taught how to temper this primal thinking, whereas men are pretty dumb to any such notion. Sometimes they know they should hold back, but they are never taught how. Even warm-hearted, nice guys usually have little to no idea, and it goes in line with the fellow masculine ideas of egocentricity and ambition that it’s ok for men to be like this, because boys will be boys. Rubbish, I say!

So—from the above, what we can see is that there is no room for softness in masculinity, even now. A more even-tempered, more sophisticated hardness is ok, but not actual softness, weakness, submission, vulnerability, letting go, things like this.

This damages men. It also damages the relationships men get into, and the people they love and those that love them. It’s a terrible imbalance, and one that is not easily rectified when the entire society takes this imbalance as being normal.

All of us can benefit from being soft and working on the so-called feminine qualities.

The greatest change I have been able to make in my life recently has been the acceptance I have of my wonderful feminine qualities. Now I am able to listen, to take on a healing, nurturing tone, to be vulnerable and share vulnerability with someone. I don’t have to always keep it together; sometimes, I can be light and airy… and submissive. I can let go. I can cry. I don’t have to act “like a man” or dress “like a man.” I can be handsome, but I can also be pretty, too, and I rather like being pretty! Yes, I look and feel good in a skirt, and while I won’t be showing up at work like this for obvious reasons, every now and then it’s nice to put one on and dance in it. Not to “cross-dress” or pretend to be somebody I’m not, but rather, to give myself the chance to be all of myself. That is what queerness is all about, and it’s beautiful and liberating.

I never knew it was ok for me to be like this. Now, there is no other way for me to be.

It’s nothing that my family did. I had wonderful parents–parents who were very open and rather undogmatic regarding my development. It’s just that—this is what seeps into a growing boy’s consciousness, no matter what parents he has. This is what he sees all around him, that is taken for granted. The one-dimensional, narrow-minded, thudlike, uncouth, jagged, grating idea of masculinity and what a “man” is.

There is a Supremes song that has a line, “why don’t you be a man about it, and set me free?” Setting free involves letting go, which is a feminine quality. In order to “be a man about it,” the man has to fight with his emotions and hold them down in order to let her go, rather than harmonizing his loving emotions for her with her happiness and giving her what she is asking for out of love. See how screwed up that is?

We men risk getting trapped in this straitjacketing concept of what we should be, and it’s a damn shame. It’s no wonder men commit the majority of violent crimes and rapes… we are never given the full set of tools as children and young adults to deal with ourselves properly. Wouldn’t it be so much better if we relegated this antiquated, repugnant concept of manhood that we still abide by to the dustbin of history?


I want to make one thing clear here: I am not against all concepts of masculinity. I simply feel that today’s version of masculinity is very often detrimental to developing loving, positive energy, because it is modeled around exclusion and lack of openness. I have also written a more positive, less rant-based post on what I think men and masculinity truly should be.

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26 Responses to The destructiveness of the modern idea of masculinity

  1. Pingback: 10 reasons we often think negatively about sex « Positive Juice

  2. ocbenji says:

    Great Post! I whole-heartily agree. I have a 5 year old son and as much of a role model as I am for him, its hard to help him understand all of the things he consciously and unconsciously learns about “being a man”.

  3. Mitch says:

    I don’t like the way our society blames everything on the parents. Especially if you are a single parent, there’s no way you can account for everything your kid is exposed to.

    This is not a fact that people are generally so comfortable with, but I think the parents that are aware of this but not paranoid about it are in a much better position to talk to their kids with an open mind about what they are exposed to, and will probably have much more effective critical conversations with them about things like sex and drugs later on.

    It’s tough though, because there must be so many things… this stuff is just so omnipresent. I think one of the things that helped me later on in life was that my father, as much as he is unmistakably manly in some ways, is also a very sensitive soul who was very open with his vulnerabilities as I was growing up, and never hid himself from me. I had a very good role model in him, so for me I could see later on that men didn’t have to be like the stereotypes dictate. Good luck!

  4. Pingback: Feminism: it’s all about taking back femininity « Positive Juice

  5. Ben says:

    You are a fantastic individual for sharing this and everything on your blog. Thank you for being so thoughtful and thank you for looking into the abyss which is against the tide of mechanized society. You are an inspiration to me and hopefully other males who feel comfortable in their heterosexuality yet trapped in a cultural box of memes.

  6. Joe says:

    This post is terribly-written and hard to follow. Nearly rambling…

    • It’s definitely not your average bullet-point-type post. It was a letter to my grandmother, so it wasn’t originally intended to be on a blog. But sometimes people like hearing that authentic voice beneath the “copywriter,” and that’s what I like to feature every now and then. Most of my other posts, however, are very concise and well-organized. So thanks for your observation… it means I’m mixing it up right!

  7. Rick says:

    Really awesome, eloquently written blog. And this is coming from a 23 year old ‘man’ (!) who has competed in bodybuilding competitions.

    After 4 years of meditation and opening up my heart I can finally see the reason I put on all that muscle.


    Letting life pierce you is a much more authentic, wholesome and gratifying way to live.

    I still train sometimes, but am purposely allowing my physique to become more streamlined – a hybrid between masculine and feminine. A sense of balance. After having trained my psyche to rely so much on my body image for its sense of identity, it only makes sense to change the body as well as my attitudes towards it.

    I am not much of a blog reader, but yours has inspired me to look for more. You’re in my favourites!


    • Thanks for the compliments. I totally understand, and couldn’t agree more about the beauty of being “pierced by life.” Nice metaphor! And best of luck to you!

  8. I disagree. Men will feel best about themselves when they are at their most masculine. And men need masculinity more than ever to carry through their responsibilities at work and at home over the course of a lifetime.

    • This depends on the man… I am not protesting masculinity per-se, but rather the idea of masculinity that leaves no other way to be but this one-dimensional robot. In fact I have never felt like more of a man than since I let myself experience my feminine side. For me, the two poles mix and dance with each other, and that makes me feel secure; if I am out of balance, there are times when I will want to feel more manly… but I was out of balance my whole life before last year, because I never let my feminine side express itself. All men should have this choice–then they would have so much more power, you see.

  9. Ungendered says:

    I was just having a conversation about these very matters when a little while later I dropped by Reddit and found your article linked on the front page. I’m so proud of you for posting this. I was about the same age as you when I really started becoming actively passionate about these issues.Sometimes I feel like I could write a whole book, or a series of books, I have so much to say on this subject. I will wear what I feel suits me even if society has attached a hypocritical gender bias to it. And though I may have trouble at jobs, or get hassled or laughed at, it is better than repressing who I am.. And who I am is just a person. I am not what’s between my legs or what society says a person has to be like based on that. I hope that when I go anywhere, being who I am.. humbly but without apology, that some others who think they can’t be themselves might say “hey, if that person can do it, maybe I can too!” I’m not idealistic to believe I can change the world, but I demand the right to be who I am, and I hope that encourages others to let themselves out of the box that status quo society and the fraternity of men have placed them in.

    • Thanks for the revelations! I love hearing about other people serving as examples and role models. Oh, and though I do identify as male, I could not agree with you more: “I am not what’s between my legs.” Three cheers for taking the truth to heteronormative bigotry!

  10. I, too, wish men were afforded greater freedom to step out of their constricting gender box. But the reason we haven’t seen men change is that from pre-history through today, men have largely conformed their conduct to achieve the goal of mating. That is irrefutable. Lots of women say they want men to be less “manly” and more sensitive and caring. But those same women refuse even to date actual men who are more sensitive and caring precisely because they aren’t “manly.”

    Men certainly can change, and men WILL change — when women (not just a marginalized group of women studying gender in college) want them to change.

    Don’t hold your breath, my friend.

    • from pre-history through today, men have largely conformed their conduct to achieve the goal of mating.

      Slight disagreement there. Men have usually had well-defined gender roles, but that is because the women get pregnant and thus are less mobile, in a pre-industrial context, within the family unit. The modern stereotypes have the same basis: family structure.

      Women are also shoehorned into a sense of femininity that is narrowly focused around girlishness and innocence, and thus yes, they are implicitly told to orient toward more macho males even though that is so often not what they really want. That’s what feminism is for–to break out of the straitjacket.

      All of us have to change and break out of what we are told is “normal.” There is nothing wrong with being a manly man or a girly girl, but being constantly pushed to permanently play these roles is rather vomit-inducing to think about, I feel.

  11. Ben says:

    While I mostly agree with your very articulate discussion.

    I honestly feel that men who are rigid in the ways you describe are so because some woman has validated them in some way in their life leading up to who they are, at that moment.

    For instance, is it men who fear of being labeled as “gay” by other men, or by women who are subconsciously seeking a carnal-instinctive quality by which their “gaydar” actually is a masquerade for a means of excluding men who don’t display masculinity in a way that is acceptable to them and sexually arousing.

    Just as women burned their bras in the late 60’s in the hopes of shedding the psycho-sexually imposed cultural meme of the “ideal woman” they hold men hostage today by singling out who is a “real man” by excluding them from the acknowledgment of their masculinity or not, by grouping men who dont act within a particular way as someone who “must be gay” .

    I do know that there are more evolved women who are attracted to the more androgynous among us, however few, they do see beyond the “he’s hot” , or “his masculinity is valid” vs “he must be gay” , or “he does not fit my image” .

    The criticism of men by women in this way, while implicit, must be acknowledged … its what keeps men in their emotional cages, fearing the target of the “gaydar” .

    • I honestly feel that men who are rigid in the ways you describe are so because some woman has validated them in some way in their life leading up to who they are, at that moment.

      Women absolutely play into the narrow male stereotype, because it’s a society-wide thing. I just disagree with the tone that can sometimes come forth that “it’s women’s fault that men are this way,” though I don’t think this is actually what you are saying. It’s society’s fault, and society mobilizes all of us to spread its ideas, and of course that very often includes mothers and sisters as well as fathers and brothers.

      • Ben says:

        “I just disagree with the tone that can sometimes come forth that “it’s women’s fault that men are this way,” though I don’t think this is actually what you are saying. It’s society’s fault”


        I diddn’t intend to lay blame (allthough mensrights on reddit do) as I don’t think women intend to do it “to men”. I think it’s entirely subconscious and a biological mechanism that’s innate to humanity. Its the biological call to perpetuate the species. The question I find myself asking… can women authentically find the same “carnal-attraction” toward a male who is comfortable being vulnerable around other people vs. the stereotypical “bad boy” image ?

        Society creates a framework to which typical “males” and “females” have an outlet to seek out whats been pre-defined as acceptable settings to find a partner to satisfy the carnal desire for procreation. It (social frameworks) do little for the emotions, the mind or anything healthy for one’s consciousness.

        There are many people who live “ideological” lives, denying the body’s desires, banishing them into the subconscious, only to have them resurface into something they have shame for and hide at all costs. This is not living an authentic life. I find myself today, in the middle of this dilemma , exploring the variety of experiences life has to offer outside of the typical emotional jail men are in while also acknowledging desires in my self which most of society would find from very normal to taboo and abnormal.

        There is room to observe and acknowledge it all. We have to become accepting of healthy experimentation so that we may be free from shame and also free from subconscious burden.

  12. Shamona says:

    Whew! Hmm… Men… Men… Men… They are just about as hard to understand as women. Each man is built differently and to every man, there is a loving woman. True, men need to get more in touch with their feminine side (as women have gotten in touch with their masculine side)… I am happy you found yourself (this what I got from the letter) but every man needs to find himself on his own. That’s what life is all about… Finding out Who You Are and What Make You Happy.

    • To every man, there is a loving woman.

      I wonder if this is precisely the problem with men that have vendettas against women… feeling like they don’t have one in their life. I for one have pretty much all female friends… I just recently met a guy I get along well with and am psyched to become his friend because I don’t have enough guy friends… but yeah, that strong, patient, feminine love is so necessary, and I’m so lucky to have it in my life.

  13. Pingback: 9 reasons why men are insecure about their penis size « Positive Juice

  14. Pingback: A Daddy That Serves… in Pain: One man’s perspective on loving and giving – and yet, being invisible « Positive Juice

  15. Elbow says:

    This was making all these great points and then you started getting into you dancing around in a skirt.

    Imagine me making an argument for the health of apples: The skin has vitamins A,C,D. The inside is fibery and good for you digestive system. The simple sugars are natural and easy for your body to break down and use for energy. I Like to put one in my butt and one in my mouth and pretend I’m a roast pig. Anyway, apples are good for you!!!

  16. Pingback: 9 reasons why men are insecure about their penis size « Positive Juice

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