Masculinity takes a beating fairly often in both the media and in a lot of research. George Carlin once referred to “the continued pussification of the American male,” and Dennis Leary spends a good portion of No Cure for Cancer talking about the changing tide of American manhood and the lack of the tough-guy John Wayne figure in modern male culture. Of course, gender identity is not static. These days being a man is less about working with your hands and more about working out at the gym, less about aggressive fighting and more about aggressive trading. Basically, as men have gone from cigarettes to luffas, masculinity has been redefined for the 21st century. Essentially, metrosexuality is nothing more than a hyperreal acceptance of certain aspects of traditional masculinity, but it also becoming the paradigm.
A study from Psychology of Men and Masculinity attempts to determine what gay men associate with masculinity and how they feel masculinity affects their self-image. Data was collected nationwide and answers were grouped based on similarity of responses.
The results were in some ways surprising to me. In two of the questions, one asking how self image is positively affected by traditional ideas of masculinity, the other asking how traditional masculinity positively affects gay men’s relationships, the most popular answer was “There are no positive effects” (24% and 30%, respectively), but a plethora of responses were available when discussing how masculinity negatively affects self image and relationships.
I would have presumed the opposite. There are a number of gay men among my clientele at work, and most of them balance masculinity and femininity very well. In fact, the feminine gay man is rate at my office (maybe 3-5%), and that says a lot. I work with people with HIV/AIDS, and about half of my population is gay.
Common statements about the negatives of masculinity include “By being gay, you’re not a ‘real man,'” “It restricts ones expression of emotion,” “fear of appearing feminine,” and “it restricts open expression and communication.” Positive statements include talk about the expansion of the concept of masculinity. This is one positive that I can see.
My father is a truck driver. He doesn’t use moisturizer. He doesn’t work out. He quit smoking recently when he was diagnosed with lung cancer, but before that he consistently smelled like a bar. Like you would imagine bikers would smell. Dad’s concept of masculinity is based on John Wayne and Steppenwolf, Clint Eastwood and Zeppelin, the Hells Angels and D-Day.
My concept of masculinity comes from my father, but also from actors, musicians, and public figures that have hit the scene since the early 80s. Bill Gates is considered nerd chic, and things that were acceptable when my father was growing up are no longer acceptable now. For instance, when my father was growing up the concept of being gay was completely antithetical to masculinity. Now it is becoming mainstream.
One problem with the article: I wish the gay men used in the study would have been asked to self-identify as masculine, feminine, or neither. That would give us a better sense of who is saying what in the responses. Do we have masculine gay men who are having trouble with their masculinity, or are we seeing feminine gay men answer questions about masculinity?
Francisco J. Sánchez, Stefanie T. Greenberg, William Ming Liu, Eric Vilain (2009). Reported effects of masculine ideals on gay men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 10 (1), 73-87 DOI: 10.1037/a0013513