The concepts of masculinity and femininity have a long and convoluted history in Western society, with traits often interchanging between “masculine” or “feminine” as time passes. However, our society still holds these gendered categories as necessary tools for determining if a person’s behavior is “normal” or “acceptable” for their perceived gender identity. While associating oneself with specific “masculine” or “feminine” traits is a big part of how people define their gender identities, some of the biggest issues arise when it is deemed “inappropriate” for someone to exhibit any traits of the “opposite” gender.
Take for example men who exhibit a strong sense of emotional sensitivity, a trait that is typically aligned with femininity and women. Men will often face ridicule from other men (and sometimes women) for being “too sensitive” because they are more comfortable or more prone to cry, or because they show a sufficient amount of emotional understanding when talking to someone about an issue they’re having. The ridicule and societal backlash that men face for such “inappropriate behavior” will cause many men to try to shut out any semblance of femininity in their daily expressions, especially when subjected to gendered slurs and, in some case, physical violence and abuse.
As TBINAA’s West Anderson wrote last year in an article on the basics of talking about gender, gender is much more multi-faceted than just being “masculine” or “feminine.” From assigned sex at birth, to more antiquated notions of gender roles, to the effects that toxic masculinity have on everyone, and to the rejection of gender as a simple binary, gender and gendered traits are more obviously than ever social constructs than “unwavering facts” of our lives. For men, especially men who are supportive of intersectional feminism, it is necessary to understand the importance of being comfortable with and loving our own femininity.
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Although our societal norms would have men believe otherwise, “acting” feminine or doing “feminine things” does not make a man “less of a man.” Although our gender identities are often aligned with masculine and feminine traits, those traits do not have to completely define our gender identities. In the same way that women can be more “masculine” in both their mannerisms and way of dressing but still identify as women, men can be more “feminine” and still identify as men.
The idea that acting feminine as a man would make him “less of a man” stems from, at the very least, two myths that have permeated our culture for decades.
The first myth is based around the idea that masculinity and femininity are mutually exclusive and opposite—you can’t be a “true man” if you possess too many feminine qualities.
Like I said before, there is a stigma for men who are “too” sensitive or “too” emotionally open, or who are into “feminine” things such a fashion or makeup. Society expects all men to be “manly,” which is usually associated with physical strength, being emotionally stoic, enjoying sports and cars and action movies, amongst other things. However, men can be “manly” but still accept and love being feminine.
The other myth that hinders men from being more accepting of femininity is its negative association with gay men due to the ever-present homophobia that exists in our patriarchal culture.
Gay men are seen as inferior to straight men because gay men are typically seen as inherently “effeminate,” meaning they exhibit more “feminine” traits, which means gay men can’t be “real men.” This myth exists within the gay community itself, with more “traditionally” masculine gay men often subjugating more “effeminate” gay men (e.g. the “no fats no fems” trend). The fear for straight men, though, is that if they are perceived by anyone as “too feminine,” they’ll also be perceived as gay, which, for many straight men, mean failure to be a “real man.”
What men who struggle with this “balance” of femininity and masculinity need to realize is that there is no “balancing” necessary. Being feminine and accepting femininity as a man is more than just possible, it’s something that is beneficial for everyone we interact with. There is no need to feel like you are giving up your masculinity by loving your own femininity, rather you are allowing yourself to be more empathetic, more caring, and more understanding to other people’s experiences.
Speaking of being more empathetic and understanding, it is important for men to love their femininity because it can actually help the women and other more feminine people in their lives.
Once you understand that femininity and masculinity are not mutually exclusive, the next important step is learning how to actively recognize and call out the ways femininity is seen as a negative aspect of our society.
The same traits of femininity that can help make men more empathetic and understanding people are the ones that lead our society to make women and other more feminine people out to be “lesser than” compared to men. We have seen this play out plenty of times within the last two presidential elections, where candidates such as Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein, Michelle Bachmann, or Sarah Palin had their identities as women, and their femininity by association, called into question as potential hindrances to being a successful president rather than focusing on their actual policies the way critics do with male candidates.
On the other end of gender-based mistreatment toward femininity, it is important for men to also recognize the ways that masculinity is lauded in our society. Men are respected more for traits such as their athleticism, shown in the ridiculous amounts of money male athletes make compared to female athletes, and stronger personalities, which we see in the way older men get more work in Hollywood than older women. On top of those disparities, our society promotes the more toxic aspects of masculinity and hypermasculinity. This leads to men who are so focused on being masculine and “manly” that it means others are suffering for it, often because of the negative energies or direct abuses that occur as a result of the aggression and entitlement associated with hypermasculinity.
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If men can learn to take what the patriarchy calls “flaws” in femininity—empathy, sensitivity, emotional honesty, etc.—as well as help dismantle the societal support of hypermasculinity—extreme bravado, excessively dominant, entitled, etc.—then everyone is better off.
We have to understand that being feminine, or at least loving the femininity that we possess, is good for the people in their lives that we care about and ourselves because it helps everyone be better people towards one another.
So, if there is something that you think is too “feminine” for you because of what society says, maybe it would be worth it for you to find ways to help squash that idea and enjoy what you want to enjoy. Men should be free to wear skirts, put on makeup and nail polish, practice radical empathy, and be all-around more caring and sensitive with others without feeling as though they are giving up their “manhood.”
You can still be a man and be feminine, and it’s up to men to work towards this idea being a culture-redefining reality rather than just a seemingly unattainable societal goal.
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[Feature Image: A dark-skinned person wearing a button-up, sweater, glasses and fedora with a fade low cut stands outside in front of a restaurant while holding a low smirk at the camera. Pexels.com]