Associating oneself with specific “masculine” or “feminine” traits is a big part of how most people define their gender identities. However, some of the biggest issues arise when it is deemed “inappropriate” for someone to exhibit traits of the “opposite” gender.
Take, for example, men who exhibit a strong sense of emotional sensitivity. This trait is typically aligned with femininity and women. Men will often face ridicule from other men (and sometimes women) for being “too sensitive” if they 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 cases, physical violence and abuse.
As we know, of course, 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 has on everyone, and the rejection of gender as a simple binary — gender and gendered traits, now more than ever, are understood more as social constructs than unwavering facts of our lives.
For men, especially men supportive of intersectional feminism, it’s 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.
“Be A ‘Real Man'”: Two Myths Debunked
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. According to this myth, 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, and enjoying sports and cars and action movies, among other traits. 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, means 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 beneficial for everyone. There is no need to feel like you’re giving up your masculinity by loving your femininity; rather, you’re allowing yourself to be more empathetic, more caring, and more understanding of 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 negative in our society.
Femininity, Masculinity, and the Role of Sexism
The same traits of femininity that can help make men more empathetic and understanding are the ones that lead our society to characterize women and other more feminine people as “lesser than” compared to men. We have seen this play out plenty of times in politics, such as when Hillary Clinton had her womanhood and femininity identified as potential hindrances to being a successful president rather than focusing on her actual policies, as critics do with male candidates.
It is also important for men to recognize the ways masculinity is lauded in our society. Male athletes make ridiculous sums of money compared to female athletes, and 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.
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If men can learn to take what the patriarchy calls “flaws” in femininity —empathy, sensitivity, and emotional honesty, for example —as well as help dismantle the societal support of hypermasculinity — extreme bravado, dominance, and entitlement, to name a few — then everyone will be better off.
We have to understand that being feminine, or at least loving the femininity that we possess, is good both for the people in our lives and ourselves, because it helps everyone be better towards each other.
So if there’s something you think is too “feminine” for you because of what society says, 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 making this idea a culture-redefining reality rather than just a seemingly unattainable societal goal.
[Feature Image: Photo of a Black person wearing a white button-up shirt, dark grey sweater, black bow tie, glasses, fedora, and necklace. They are standing outside in front of a city building. Source: Pexels]