MASCULINITY IN CRISIS

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After watching Casino Royale in 2006, I found myself surprised at the many changes it made with James Bond. I remember asking a friend of mine, what were they thinking? Compared to Pierce Brosnan’s finesse, Bond became more of a brute through Daniel Craig. 

As usual, he fought the bad guys; and just like all Bonds, he’s strong and centered. He’s not afraid to laugh in the face of adversity. But what I was surprised at the most was that he fell in love, got romantic, said cheesy words, and got hurt in the process. I’m thinking; isn’t he supposed to not fall in love?

I mean, he’s Bond! On top of being a spy, the implicit idea is he doesn’t fall in love; women only fall in love with him. He doesn’t get hurt. He’s the one who breaks hearts and doesn’t get betrayed. He’s supposed to do all the world-saving without pooping. He’s supposed to be this super cool dude like Dos Equis’ The Most Interesting Man in the World, like his personality is so magnetic, he’s unable to carry credit cards; or that even his enemies list him as their emergency contact number.

His portrayal in Casino Royal is completely different from his predecessor. Despite the raw masculinity Craig portrayed, he became more vulnerable. He became more human. You’ll see Craig’s Bond make a lot of mistakes, and is ready to receive hits whenever he has to; at the same time, he’s not afraid to show or process his feelings, which made his character in the movie great at poker in the first place. Reading people is a tough skill that takes years of experience, and often you need to understand your own emotional motivations -and how they manifest- to be really good at it.

It took me a couple of years from then to realize what made Casino Royale such a great film as it’s now often considered as best Bond film of all time. A lot has happened to me personally in those years, and I appreciate very much how the new portrayal of Bond resonated with me and, without a doubt, to a lot of men as well.

A lot of us men are constantly searching for our identity. Society itself has this expectation that we always have to be tough, cool, and appear perfect in everyone’s eyes. For as long as we can remember -whether through fist fights in the parking lot in high school- or recovering from a heart break, we’re always told to be a man.

But what does it mean to be a man?

I wouldn’t be the first to say that we men are confused these days on how to live and express ourselves. Expressing our emotions alone is scary or shunned because it has always been portrayed as weak and needy. The media plays its part as well, in enabling that unrealistic expectation. We’re expected to be everything that we can be just to feel valued.

However, these many societal expectations placed upon us, and the expectation of appearing perfect always and strong has come with a high price. There’s no other way of putting it, repressing emotions just messes everybody up. And the idea that we can’t embrace our imperfections -such as making mistakes- removes any sense of acceptance that we are humans with limitations. Hence, the continued prevalence of toxic masculinity. You know, men acting tough and cool, but they aren’t really tough and cool. Hiding behind a tough exterior but still fragile from within. Acting gangsta or pretending to be alpha but continuing to live life lacking the social and emotional maturity to connect with others without needing to harass, especially women.

Masculinity isn’t about a lack of emotions. Among other things, it’s an expression of a more focused and driven energy brought about by our physiological make up and by how we grew and evolved as protectors.

Currently, masculinity is not understood as a by-product of a man who went through pain, adversity, and learned from the many uncertainties of life -which are practically what makes for a genuinely strong yet sensitive, experienced man, mentally, emotionally and physically. Masculinity, instead, has become an act of overcompensation.

For the longest time, we men no longer realize that we are enabling the idea as well, that we are superhuman. That we always have to be tough and strong, and we must remain emotionless. We must not make mistakes and we must always be right. The expectation has become too high that men have difficulty forgiving themselves, as they commit suicide at a rate five times that of women; rates are always higher too compared to women in any age category.

A shocking statistic that goes by unnoticed is that 40% of domestic violence victims are men, we are less likely to report it, and we’re most likely to be taken less seriously by the police. Because -as you know- we’re supposed to be superhuman, right? The media wouldn’t even pay attention to this. When it comes to seeking help, men are less likely to ask for help compared to women, whether it’s a health issue, or whatever serious problem there is, due to the fear of appearing weak. Men also have a slew of problems in spite of their gender privilege; they’re highly likely to become addicts, narcissists, die on the job, and become homeless. Men, compared to women, have a shorter life expectancy, in the US and globally.

I remember camping with a group of friends in college and I had just recovered from a really bad flu. The van that we used to trek the side of a mountain got stuck in the mud. My first instinct was to help, but I couldn’t, because I was still relatively weak. I did mention it to the others, especially to the women in the group, as I knew they would be more sympathetic, but I remember the other guys looking at me. While there were women who were okay with me not helping to push the van, other women didn’t seem to have an answer. So I thought, fine. I did end up helping to push. Be a man right?

Of course, the men in the group did the pushing while the girls stood by the side. It’s not that they weren’t willing, but rather, there was only enough space to push the van from behind. Thankfully I saw a bag of gravel not too far on the side of the road nearby and asked the other guys to spread rocks around the wheels to help the van gain some traction and get unstuck. And it did the trick. (Thank you, McGyver.)

If I could go back, I would say “See? Gender, penis, or toughness has nothing to do with this problem.”

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Since the dawn of civilization, men are often the valued gender. The ruler must be a man. If you need an army, you need men. If you need laborers, it’s men who are expected to do the work. When having kids, the more the men, the better. For instance, in China, the first born is preferred to be a man, traditionally. I remember many of my Chinese friends telling me stories of how their grandmothers or female relatives were thrown in the garbage because they weren’t males, especially due to the one-child policy. Though the policy began to be formally phased out in 2015, it would still have a long way to go, and as of late, it still happens in India and Pakistan.

For the most part, a lot has been expected of men. We’re expected to carry our family name, bring honor, and respect to the family. We’re the ones who would go to war and die. Or take the most difficult jobs. Perhaps these are the reasons why we might be the more violent gender. It has something to do with our physical nature.

But then as societies evolve, we’re seeing that strength or physicality is not the only thing that matters, or that it is not that needed as much as it was before. You don’t have to have an Adonis body just to be an engineer, lawyer, doctor, rapper, entrepreneur, or whatever profession you can think of. Unless it’s a field requiring physical fitness or strength like in sports or construction, or modeling. But even with modeling, we can even dare say that if there are plus size female models, there should be plus size male models too like Bob below.

I’m too sexy for my shirt! Too sexy for my shirt! So sexy it hurts…

As many in the manosphere would say, the traditional roles of men have always been the protector, provider, and procreator. The traditional metrics of being a man is how strong he is, how much money or resources he has, and how much he is sexing the womenz. Men are needed to be strong because of how wars or outside attacks are historically prevalent. Men are usually the hunters or resource managers, expected to provide for their cave wives and cave kids. And babies need to be plenty because usually, after a war or an outside attack, many would be killed. And the mortality rates for babies and kids -or in general before the advent of science and medicine- were very high. Catching a flu hundreds or thousands of years ago is like getting cancer with no universal healthcare, because the politicians you voted for are too busy being cigar jerks.

But nowadays, within the framework of a more evolved society, physical strength isn’t a necessary feature. Cool and high paying professions don’t necessarily require a man to be so brawny. Having a lot of money is good, but getting there often costs a lot in the connection department, and women are now more than willing to pay their fair share. And the need for making a lot of babies isn’t needed anymore, as survival and mortality rates have gone a long way in a positive direction. In spite of the dangerous polarization that is happening globally, the world is actually becoming more peaceful in the context of human history.

Since the Harvey Wenstein scandal broke out, a lot of rich, powerful men were exposed for their creepy and sick behavior. It just confirms what a lot of mental health professionals are saying, that our obsession with work and money compromises our identities and a lot of our social and emotional needs, which then leads to rich men becoming controlling assholes; creepy and irresponsible. Strength isn’t the only answer. Success and power isn’t necessarily the answer. Measuring a man’s worth by the number of women he has slept with isn’t going to make him feel complete. If anything, it supports what feminists have been telling us the whole time; patriarchy.

However, it’s important to note that the problem isn’t necessarily just because of men; naming the problem after men can also be divisive. The problem must be seen as a human one as well. For instance, the “son preference” can be perpetuated both by men and women. Men growing up with toxic masculinity also had bad maternal figures. It’s a mix bag of problems on both sides, where labeling only leads to division. It’s just that, when too much focus has been given on the label, or on one side, we end up overlooking many things, because we have to look at everything. Everything needs to be addressed.

It’s exactly what happened in 2014 when over 200 girls were kidnapped by a militant group called Boko Haram in Nigeria. It gained a lot of publicity internationally with the help of many celebrities and First Lady Michelle Obama. What was not heard of or publicized was how Boko Haram, in February of the same year, killed between 40 to 59 children. Many of them were shot in their sleep. Some were gunned down. Others had their throats slit. Kids were locked inside some buildings and were burned alive.

All those who died were boys. The young girls were reportedly spared and told to flee.

The overvaluing of men has led to their objectification, and much to the detriment of their lives. The traditional metrics of masculinity have become nothing but compensatory measures to hide big problems addressing the quality of life such as income inequality, healthcare, fair wages, labor rights, and so on.

There is no set definition for masculinity. It’s no longer as hardcore as before but like many things, masculinity is constantly evolving. Thus, there is a continuous need for cooperation and discussion on all sides on how we define our roles and perceive each other without shaming, or getting stuck with stereotypes or labels or human created constructs. We don’t even realize that men have become as disposable as much as they are valuable. Husbands can’t become husbands. Fathers can’t become fathers. Men have no role models to look up to, and are confused. Men think they have to build skyscrapers to win acceptance and womenz. Men work too much just to feel secure.

The worse of all, the problem of society is named after us.

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MAC RIVERA

MAC RIVERA

Writer and researcher on advanced self-development, currently exploring many fields of human knowledge. On this site, you will find his writings and perspectives about our society & culture, many of which are counter-intuitive, but backed by experience, common sense, and science.
MAC RIVERA

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