[quote]“You can't measure manhood with a tape line around his biceps.”[/quote]
Photographer Chad States created a project called Masculinities: He placed an ad on Craigslist seeking people who identify as masculine, then met them in their homes, photographed them, and asked them to describe why they’re masculine. States’ subjects (who range from male -- gay and straight -- to female to trans) link their masculinity to a variety of traits and attributes: self-reliance, speech, posture, emotional strength, the ability to care for a woman or even their mistreatment of women.
By contrast, Nir Aieli’s photo project, Men, placed men in poses and contexts that are more reminiscent of a female subject, and tried to capture emotion, gentleness, vulnerability -- things more traditionally associated with femininity and “at odds” with masculinity.
But is masculinity merely the opposite of femininity? In other words, is it simply about defining what it’s not? Must they be at odds? And is masculinity the result of aesthetic manipulation or is it acquired via a career choice?
One of States’ subjects believes that a man must be dominant in a profession to be masculine. And by society’s standards, if a man elects a traditionally feminine career, he can still be masculine, but ONLY if he rises to the very top (think chefs, hairdressers, designers). Though some studies are showing that the smartest amongst us are gravitating toward gender atypical careers -- so look out for the rise and domination of female developers and male nurses.
These mixed messages about the performance of gender can have grave consequences: a recent study concluded that men who murder their families are most likely to have done so because of a “crisis in masculinity.” They are told to “be a man,” but often don’t know what that means in a culture where women are increasingly “the richer sex,” and traditional male roles are disrupted.
Several brands are doing their part to turn back the clock and create reductive clarity in these otherwise confusing times: The Dockers “Wear the Pants” campaign, particularly this manifesto, reminds us that vegetables are emasculating and that chivalry is linked to wearing ill-fitting khakis, not genderless acts of selflessness. Bud Light commercials shame men who don’t conform to the traditional masculine ideal. Dr. Pepper Ten ushers in a return to the old boys’ club, assuring us that -- lest we think it’s just another wussy diet soda -- their product is very much not for women. The Old Spice man bares his chiseled abs, rides motorcycles, knows how to work a power tool, and through it all: he smells like a man. These (wildly popular, viral) campaigns are troublesome not just for their anachronistic sexism, but also for what they do to men.
So despite an illusion of progress, how far have we really advanced? Why can women embrace masculinity and male-dominated arenas, but men are shamed for espousing traits traditionally associated with femininity? As you sort out your own complex relationship with masculinity, here are some tips to guide and inform you:
Read: Masculinity is not just about forceful domination -- it’s also about being better husbands, fathers, and men. The Art of Manliness, a site founded by a husband and wife team, believes that being a man is about more than sex and a six-pack. They offer guidance around skills, manners, and principles for the modern man.
Watch: In Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity, Jackson Katz offers a disturbing and enlightening reading of the social construction of masculinity -- and how even women are dangerously complicit. And for a much lighter approach to the topic, Will Arnett and Jason Bateman bring you Mansome, a comical look at male identity in the 21st century.
Wear: For timeless, masculine style, turn to brands like Double RL or J. Crew’s In Good Company section, or stop into the J. Crew “Liquor Store” for a curated selection from their men’s shop. Because classy is always masculine.
Tell us how you define masculinity in the comments below.