The Nature of Masculinity

In between pauses of my episode of Kindred Spirits, I’m treated to commercials of men’s razors, glinting silver like a sword, and cool colors of navy, dark green, and black coating the background with blue shaving gel applied to the chiseled guy’s face. A woman strokes his jaw and is all over him in awe. What this tells me is that to be a man, you must avoid lighter colors like lavender or pink because it’s too feminine; you must shave with a razor that looks like a powerful weapon; you must attract all the ladies based on your looks alone. Masculinity has evolved from male strength, power, and avoidance of softness—but has it always been so? The answer is no. Comparing the most recently discovered Sapanawa tribe of Peru to the men of globalized societies, we see that masculinity is not always about dominance and bravado as we have come to expect in most civilizations of the world.

            Let us begin with masculinity in our culture today.  Since we can remember, boys play with action figures, Nerf guns, and wear darker colors like blues, grays, and black. They have to be tough and strong, playing sports to accentuate their greater physical stamina. As they get older, they must attract as many women as possible to be cool and respected among other men. They become the head of the family, where they make the most money and make all the big decisions. When conflicts arise on the international stage, they sign up for war to defend their nation and to demand respect through intimidation. They must be cool and rational, never allowing their emotions to interfere in anything because that is a weakness attributed to women--and heaven forbid they degrade themselves with femininity. They generally do not do housekeeping or prepare meals. Dressing, bathing, and keeping up with children are rarely if ever their responsibility because those things are seen as women’s duties. Basically, traditional expectations of masculinity call for power over others, a shunning of emotional sensitivity, and maintaining social superiority in every aspect.

            Now let’s take a look at the most recently discovered indigenous tribe, the Sapanawa of Peru and the male roles within their community. They are the most primitive people known today because they remained untouched by the modern world up until 2014. So we can learn a lot about what some ancient peoples lives were like by observing them and understanding their tribal structure. In the documentary “First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon” the mannerisms of the men, including its leader, are very expressive and feminine. They protect the tribe with simple spears, but that strength doesn’t make them superior to women. It is because of how much they care for their women and children that they will fight to protect them and it is not something they glorify. They hunt for food and when they return they help with whatever needs to be done; there is no distinction of what is man’s work and woman’s work. They are very tender and nurturing of the children and wives, showing deep sensitivity without shame.

            Clearly, the roles of men differ greatly, but it goes to show that what we see as the natural order of masculinity isn’t natural, but social constructs. Men don’t need to display bravado, superiority, dominance and a lack of sentimentality to be strong and respected. They can be gentle and participate in all areas of home life without losing respect or strength. Their society benefits greatly from their contributions and nurturing. Thus, what we see as masculinity is very questionable because if men in another society can act like that, then why can’t men in our society demonstrate the same? It’s not their nature, so it must be social conditioning, the way we raise boys to think of themselves and others. These ideas we have of gender roles is very harmful for everyone involved because boys are taught to be aggressive and women to be subservient. This also causes men to develop a deep sense of insecurity over their more gentle natures so that they must suppress those aspects of themselves to be socially accepted and it is very sad. We must consider how our ideas of masculinity work throughout a lifetime and consider what can be changed and improved upon for a healthier and happier lifestyle.