The following was written by a friend, exploring what masculinity means for him, as a contribution for one of my blog posts. I snipped bits out of it to use for the post, but wanted to present this to you as a complete piece, because it’s lovely.

Help! I’m a victim of gender stereotyping!

I’m in Homebase with my Girlfriend and we’re looking for a colour to go with the dark red that we’ve already got for the spare room, something light to balance it out. I suggest a yellowish terracotta, to which she is amenable. She suggests a light lilac which I’m really not into at all. “Why?” she wonders, because usually I like purples. I think about this and all I can come up with (to my great dissatisfaction) is that it’s, well, a bit girly.

Now, I don’t think about masculinity a great deal and neither do I consider myself particularly overtly masculine, so this knee-jerk reaction of my machismo reflex left me a little perplexed. I think cats are cute. I like flowers. I can appreciate attractiveness in other men. I occasionally wear make-up and not only when on stage! In fact, while I’m thinking about all this I’m applying hand cream.

My own masculinity is something I’m hardly ever aware of. I never look at myself and think “I feel masculine”. However, when I think about it, I have some very obvious and immediate ideas about what constitutes masculinity in others.

Firstly and most obviously there’s the physical stuff. Heavy build, tallness, deep voice, prodigious facial and bodily hair, and heavy musculature. Next we come to behavioural traits. Aggression, Insensitivity, competitiveness, self confidence and a propensity for taking risks. In fact the most masculine man I can think of is probably (cliché alert!) James Bond.

Trouble is… He’s a dick.

A thing I read recently which made a great deal of sense to me is that you are born male but you become masculine. Now I’m not saying that this is the whole story and certainly the idea will only take you so far. We are, to an extent defined (though not irreversibly or inescapably) by our biology, the hairiness, body development and aggression, all being linked to testosterone production, for instance. But what it made me think about is the extent to which, from cradle to grave, our culture stamps it’s definition of what makes a man or a woman upon us. When you’re a boy it’s all blue clothes and Action Man and not crying and later, when you’re presumably a man, prodigious beer consumption, football and lighting your own farts. It’s owning a flash car, having a lucrative (or exiting, or dangerous) job and shagging a sexy woman. She might even be your wife. Come to think of it, fuck Bond. The most masculine man I can think of is probably some bloke from a car commercial.

The thing is, I don’t own a car. I’ve never been unfaithful, I can’t stand football, and I’m not a secret agent, an astronaut or a cowboy. This guy has nothing in common with me whatsoever. Does this mean I’m not masculine? I know I said that I don’t think of myself as masculine as such but neither do I consider myself particularly effeminate or epicene.

So where do these definitions come from? I think they’ve been around for a long time but that we’ve kind of mislaid the point. In some belief systems and mystical traditions, the complete(d) individual/ascended dude/whatever is often represented by the “Holy Hermaphrodite”, exhibiting both masculine and feminine physical traits and having achieved an identical balance between the less tangible ones. This represents the balancing and unifying of opposites and complete and perfect understanding. This is repeated across cultures. It’s certainly seen in shamanistic cultures from Siberia to the Indian sub-continent. Similarly, I see the masculine/feminine qualities as extremes that no one should aspire to embody as much as strike a balance between. Furthermore, just because they are on average more common in one gender than the other, doesn’t mean that they aren’t an integral part of both. There are some incredibly aggressive and competitive women and men in the world and they’re all equally unpleasant Without aggression or competition in the mix though, no one would ever win a game or strike a deal.

So I suppose in the final analysis, That masculinity and femininity are incredibly useful, but extreme examples of traits that we all, male and female, exhibit to greater or lesser degree. The trick is to transcend the stereotypes and find the worth in containing an equal balance of both.

And then you’ll be a man my son 😉

Leighton Williams
February 2012