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From “boys will be boys” to “boys can be…”: Some thoughts on masculinity
I was about 3-months late to the party when I read Alice Hine’s deep investigation of the incel community’s relationship with masculine beauty in early August. While I was writing this series of blog posts, I came across an Instagram Story that my friend posted. He posted the cover of the May 2019 issue of New York Magazine: the image was of a young man who had a bandage wrapped around his face. He had a strong jaw and chin; he had a suntanned, golden-brown complexion, European features, and full lips. In bold, black serif font, the cover read: “This Is a Chad”. Featured in the The Cut, the article is a deep-dive into the incel community’s fixation with body image, cosmetic surgery, and desirability in a patriarchal world. What resonated with me the most was the fact that the young men featured in the article would never be satisfied with their appearance no matter how many times they went under the knife. And after some reflection, it was clear that the reason for this was not because of body dysmorphia.
Hegemonic masculinity is a fantasized masculinity of strength, stoicness, heterosexuality, and hypersexuality that is so pervasive that we unknowingly subscribe to it. What is more is that by subscribing to the rigidness of this fantastical gender expectation, we perpetuate it. We allow the idea to thrive1. As one of the Education Program Assistants at the Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office, I was asked to do some work on masculinity. In this blog post and the next, I share some of what I have learned about masculinity. And in this blog post and the next, I talk about “boys, men, and masculine-identifying people.” I wish to respect the nebulousness of gender and the lived-experiences of transgender, gender-conforming, non-binary, and two-spirit folks who identify as masculine2.
Hegemonic masculinity is rooted in patriarchal notions of strict gender roles and in misogyny. Boys, men, and masc folks repress their emotions in fear of being perceived as feminine and, therefore, unmasculine or feminine. Our society revers hegemonic masculinity as the ultimate vision of excellence; other forms of gender expression and other genders that strays from that framework – be it a different form of masculinity or masculinity’s opposite, femininity – becomes a threat to hegemonic masculinity. This is what makes hegemonic masculinity toxic.
This matters in anti-violence work.
For one, sexual violence harms people of all genders – that includes boys, men, and masc people. The trauma of sexual violence is overwhelming. In a culture that not only denies voice to Survivors but also erases the presence of male and masc Survivors from many conversations about sexual violence, male and masc Survivors are often unable to cope with their trauma in healthy ways. Much research suggests that the rigidness of idealized masculinity in Western culture has contributed to the increased rates of poor mental health among young men. For another, toxic masculinity is so suffocating that many young men turn to incel communities for solace, and that is a big freakin’ problem.
Boys, men, and masculine people must engage in healthy ways of coping and engaging with emotional vulnerability, and they must understand that they will not be emasculated when they engage with healthier masculinity. Ultimately, the goal is to end gender-based violence and to end it with boys, men, and masculine folks.
Leslie’s Top 5 Resources About Masculinity:
Here are some thought-provoking resources that I would like to share:
TW: Mentions of mental illness, substance and alcohol abuse, and suicide.
- I was referred to this article by Alex, the coordinator of the Healthier Masculinities Program at the University of British Columbia. Holloway explains that toxic masculinity creeps into the lives of boys literally even before they are born. She outlines how toxic masculinity torments boys into their adulthood. Importantly, it highlights how toxic masculinity robs boys and men of their human-ness.
TW: Bullying, transphobia, homophobia, mentions of suicide.
- A podcast engaged in challenging the adage “boys will be boys,” Jonathan Reed of Next Gen Men ponders with the question, how we can stop men from becoming violent? His solution? We must discuss masculinity and manhood with our young masculine folks while they are young. In each episode, Reed interviews boys and experts about boyhood and masculinity. Breaking the Boycode is refreshing because it validates the naturalness of emotion in boys.
- This is another article referred to me by Alex. Mark Greene writes about the importance of platonic touch. In the Western world, men do not show physical affection with their friends. Put simply, the science shows that touch makes us feel better. Hegemonic masculinity does not subscribe to these notions.
TW: Domestic abuse, sexual violence, childhood sexual abuse.
- On the Road to Healing is a series of zines about men who unpack their ideas about gender and masculinity. The essays and poems are very personal and shows how men can process their emotions and trauma in a healthy way.
TW: Audio-visual content featuring scenes and dialogue about violence, sexual violence, victim-blaming.
- Some of my favourite video essays by Jonathan McIntosh, also known as Pop Culture Detective, are his critical investigations into portrayals of masculinity in popular culture. He explores several subjects in his videos, including sexual violence, rape culture, and toxic and healthy masculinities. For those who want some recommendations of where to begin with McIntosh’s essays, I suggest checking out The Adorakable Masculinity of The Big Bang Theory and The Subversive Boyhood of Steven Universe.
This blog post seeks to challenge notions about gender that we take for granted. Let us begin a conversation about healthy masculinity in our goal to end gender-based violence.
This is blog post is part one of a two-part series on masculinity. To read part two, click here.
Leslie, Education Program Assistant, SVSPO.
1The hegemonic masculinity that I refer to throughout this blog and the next is one that is also white, able-bodied, cisgender, and heterosexual. Hegemonic masculinity looks different in different places and cultures. And though the world becomes more globalized, the hegemonic masculinity that I refer in this series of blog posts is contextualized by settler colonialism, whiteness, and the “West.”
2While a number of the resources and readings that I highlight focus on boys and men, a few of them also recognize the complexities of gender beyond what is assigned to people at birth.