I recently googled “How to do my taxes” (Because apparently taxes are a thing and I’m in my early twenties so who knew) and the very first article was on the website “The Art of Manliness.” It was essentially an article stating that doing taxes is a “man’s” job and once you know how to do them, you can finally step into manhood. This made me pause and reflect on a number of recent experiences and issues I’ve encountered in terms of “manhood” and “masculinity.” In a society so forward-thinking and progressive I am continually shocked by people’s assumptions and ideas of gender and societal norms that accompany these roles. How in the world are taxes a rite of passage into manhood, and why would that ever be the FIRST article that google displays? Certainly people everywhere, both men and women, google tax information on a daily basis.
Similarly, I recently participated in a TV segment in which I got my eyebrows groomed by a celebrity eyebrow artist. The woman doing my brows was going on and on about how the “guybrow” is becoming more popular but she is sworn to secrecy about the identity of her male celebrity clients and therefore isn’t allowed to discuss her work with men. She stated that these men were so afraid of what labels or threats to their masculinity they may receive that we could discuss it no further. This is very surprising to me. I feel like men in general, not to mention Hollywood celebrity men, are embracing grooming and advanced personal hygiene more than ever before. With publications like GQ, Details, and Men’s Health, along with popular culture influences like the 2012 documentary film Mansome, by Jason Bateman and Paul Rudd, men are being drawn to more “feminine” experiences like manicures, facials, moisturizing and of course the ever growing phenomenon of “manscaping.” Therefore, it surprises me that there are still such stigmas about what men should and shouldn’t be doing.
Now, whether to trim your nose hair or not is not a definitive factor in establishing gender norms, but these ideas highlight the growing cultural acceptance and tolerance (or lack thereof) of different types of men in society today. As an active supporter and member of LGBT rights and the LGBT community I am in constant conversation and activity surrounding gay people in relation to straight people, but as this dichotomy is lessened I feel like the dichotomy between gay men and straight men is growing. Not in terms of acceptance, but in terms of roles and societal assumptions.
Many men are struggling to find their identity because they don’t want to be perceived as gay, and as more people stand behind the LGBT community and when being metrosexual is growing in popularity, the lines are blurred. Therefore, many men stick to the traditional aspects of a “man” and in that place they remain safe. They watch football and drink beer (and only secretly wax their backs) and are safe to be a “man” in the eyes of society. However, because straight men are the majority, I struggle even more to find my own sense of masculinity and place in the male world. Now I am all about grooming and blasting some Katy Perry while I agonize over what to wear for a night out, but I also confess that I was in a fraternity in college and enjoy beer and getting riled up for the Super Bowl and can have just as much fun going to a pub with some guy friends as I do in a club, dancing with some girlfriends. So where does that leave me? I find myself in the constant struggle between being “too manly” for my girl friends and gay male friends, but being “too feminine” for many straight males. Again, not in terms of actual acceptance, but in terms of personal identity and belonging. So why does this keep happening to men in our society? Why does it matter? And this struggle for masculine identity is universal in all men.
Upworthy posted a video recently about the danger of using the phrase “Be a Man” to young boys and the toll it takes on personality formation and ideals growing up. It depicted voiceovers of people saying things like “Don’t be a pussy” “Sack up” “Don’t show your emotions” “Bros come BEFORE hos” “Don’t be a fag” and countless others. The video continued with psychologists and sociologists stating how the idea of masculinity is so built up that men cannot have a secure formation of self or emotional well being. One psychologist noted that this stems from a society that doesn’t put higher values on caring, empathy, emotions and relationships. Priorities are placed elsewhere and it has tragic consequences.
The desire to achieve a level of masculinity is only furthering the dichotomy of gay men and straight men. Countless LGBT rights groups are protesting or boycotting the Sochi Olympics due to Russia’s anti-gay laws. On January 13th, Goodluck Jonathan, the President of Nigeria, passed a law that criminalizes same-sex relationships. Although this is outside our country, there are many places in the US that are still shockingly anti-gay. “No Promo Homo” laws are in effect in eight US states such as Utah, Arizona and many places in the south in which it’s against the law to promote homosexuality in any way.
This conversation of homophobia and people being crazy is for another time, but it does show that although we have come so far and seemingly get more and more tolerant and progressive each day, we are hardly there yet. It’s time we stop with the ideas of how men should and shouldn’t behave. It’s time to stop thinking of labels and think of people. Just like every human, every man is different and it is vital to accept people for who they are and not how they act. A “man” is not a collection of specific traits – whether gay or straight, athletic or not, groomed or ungroomed – a man is just another human being.
Check out the Upworthy video here!
Also for some comic relief, watch Sue Sylvester comment on the blur of male gender lines here!