Is There Such a Thing as Precarious Manhood?

What is manhood exactly?   Despite images of “real men” from movies, television, and magazines, the various “masculine” stereotypes set an imposing standard for men in modern society to follow.  Everything from Chuck Norris jokes to John Wayne movies suggest that there is only one “real way” for men to act and feel with anything else being condemned as “girly” or “unmasculine”.     

Though sex-role stereotyping begins at an extremely early age (pink for girl babies, blue for boys), most Western societies seem to be becoming less rigid in applying these stereotypes to children and adolescents.   However, boys and girls perceived as being overly feminine or masculine are still ostracized in many high school with harassment, bullying and even outright violence being more common that we’d like to admit.   Certainly most traditional religions allow little deviation between respective roles for men and women, ranging from separate “coming of age” ceremonies for boys and girls to traditional marriage vows outlining the different “duties” for men and women.

Oddly enough, the same social trends that have encouraged women to become more assertive and break down traditional barriers between the sexes have triggered a backlash as far as men are concerned.    Men are now being accused of becoming “too soft” and  their status as men seems more fragile than ever.    Anything that suggests feminine or submissive behaviour is taken as proof of this softness, and often includes the rise in equal status for sexual minorities, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people who are blurring the traditional gender lines.

At least, that is what a  special issue of the Psychology of Men and Masculinity is proposing.   Presenting the results of a recent forum, the issue describes some of the issues associated with being masculine in today’s society.    In the lead article by Joseph Vandello and Jennifer Bosson of the University of South Florida,  manhood is describes as a fragile state that needs to be earned and which can be easily lost or taken away.   More controversially, they also suggest that a similar situation doesn’t exist for women since womanhood is “typically  viewed as a status that follows naturally from biological changes and that, once earned, remains secure.

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.



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