How do you define your masculinity/femininity?
In lieu of the recent Gillette ad, and seeing as the conversation around it has stirred the pot quite a bit, I wanted to propose a conversation where we start from the very beginning:
Without yet talking about subsets, variants, or interpretations of masculinity/femininity (toxic or otherwise). How do you define it for yourself: what makes you masculine or feminine, or what parts of you would you describe as such, do you feel that those things go as universal descriptors or are they specific to your case?
There may also be some deeper questions in here about where you think you gained this conception (your family? your immediate circle of contacts? Role models?) or who you think best embodies your ideal definition of your gender.
I think a large part of masculinity is an element of stoic-ness. This can be toxic when taken to the extreme, as in men who are afraid to show emotions to any extent. However with moderation, I believe having good control over one's emotions, being objective, and being able to take things in stride are very good qualities.
Funnily enough I've had the complete opposite experience from my parents: my father was clearly the more emotional, intuitive person compared to my mother who taught me to value reason, moderation, and always trying to attain an objective truth as far as possible.
But I would argue some degree of stoicism seems common for most people who identify as men, in as far as they are often expected and expect to be able to weather the metaphorical storm: to remain calm in urgent situations or times of emotional duress, or in the face of somebody else losing their temper. But those are just my personal observations.
That is expected because Stoicism as a school of thought is built upon the perception of masculinity in the antiquity. That same perception is the one that is being deconstructed and destroyed today.
Those are good things for any gender.
I'm not sure I should comment, since my experience is that of an outlier on gender norms, and I've refrained from participating in the whole "toxic" x or y discussion.
But as to masculinity: physical strength, stoicism, risk-taking, a preference for dispassion over emotional expression, willingness to get dirty, mechanistic worldview, hierarchy, rigidity, individualism, competitiveness, goal-orientation.
As to femininity: collaboration, ego suppression, aesthetics, cleanliness, safety, concern for others' feelings, flexibility, accommodation, holism, openness to experience, emotional expression, attention to children, family and community.
I'll concede that these are stereotypes, expressly embodied by my parents, and generalized through observation of society at large. We conform to, and expect, what is common.
And to the extent that I think of myself as somewhere in the nebulous space between defined genders, I'll note that none of the characteristics I've attributed to "feminine" or "masculine" are intrinsically negative. But all of them can be negative, or "toxic", when taken to extremes.
I always feel like part of the conversation we do not have when discussing toxic masculinity is trying to establish where the line truly lies between (non-toxic) masculinity and the former. Personally I've always defined toxic as the state in which one justifies behaviour that is detrimental to others as being inherent to one's gender and therefore an inevitable, or even desirable, result. But I'm not sure that this is actually in accord with academic definitions or common vernacular?
That's a really important statement.
The idea that violation of other's rights and boundaries is "natural" gender expression, and not an avoidable breach of the "do into others" Golden Rule, is the root problem.
Beyond "natural" gender expression, it seems like sometimes really damaging behaviour is even encouraged. For example encouraging your kids to resort to physical violence as a means of solving problems with their peers.
I used scare quotes on "natural" because the social and cultural components of permissible, encouraged gender expression are at the heart of the controversy, not the minimal, often biased, knowledge we have about human gender biology. Do not get me started on sociobiology and behavioral genetics - these are pseudosciences in fancy white coats.
There's nothing intrinsic to gender biology which says one set has to settle arguments with fists and the other with guileful submission. That's all programming, not hardware.
Edit: more specific link added in reference to the "pseudosciences" claim.
No I understand, and I agree. I was just saying that excusing bad behaviour it seems like often we actually encourage bad behaviour. Like it's not just "natural" (i.e. logical and unavoidable) but "actually a good thing you should go out of your way to do". If that makes sense.
I feel as if my answer, as far as masculinity goes, is the same as your own, though I also find @tesseractcat's answer very agreeable.
My only nitpick would be that cleanliness is most certainly a quality of both men and women. Having a father who spent several years in the Navy and other family members who served in other branches, I can tell you that cleanliness and organization of one's possessions is one of the most stressed qualities beaten into the mindset of a solider, no matter the branch or role. The ability to flawlessly make one's bed every morning, perfectly, and keep one's possessions and living space organized, perfectly, is an attention to detail and quality of determination that screams masculinity to me (though it is most certainly not limited to men, and neither is military service).
I wasn't striving for generalization, just my own impressions. The masculine is orderliness, the feminine is both tidiness and hygiene.
[Subtle definitional distinction between "orderly" and "tidy" here: "orderly" implies that there's an objectively correct order; "tidy" implies the order required for the comfort of others.]
Oh totally, I just figured that, instead of making my own comment, which would be more or less the same as your own, I would just offer up the thing I would change to fit my opinion and leave it at that.
That's a really good way to put it actually. The specificity is much better than just "cleanliness."
I would add as a masculine trait to be handy, i.e. being able to fix things when they break around the house/office.
That's part of why I included "mechanistic worldview" - the belief that everything is understandable, is composed of discrete, replicable components, and can be rearranged or repaired as desired.
I've never really given much thought to defining my gender. I'm a man. I've always known that. Everyone and everything has told me that since the day I was born, and I've never felt any need to challenge that. I just am.
I have a lot of mental traits which are often associated with masculinity, but I hesitate to say that they're what make me a man. For example, I'm very assertive. However, that's just as likely to be a reaction to circumstances in my childhood and adolescence as anything else ("I won't be pushed around any more!").
For me, it's physical more than anything. I have a penis. I have a beard. I have XY chromosomes. I'm therefore defined as a man.
I know that these definitions are not inclusive or required for someone to be a man. There are men without these things. But, while I accept that some people who may look like women are actually men, I don't pretend to understand what makes them men. I don't know how a girl just knows she's actually a boy. I accept it, but I don't understand it. I don't know what would make me feel like a woman.
However, I am aware that some recent studies have indicated that transgender people have brains which resemble the brains of their self-identified gender. That tells me that gender resides in the brain - but I don't which part of my brain or which aspect of my personality is what makes me a man.
I'd always take these kinds of conclusions with a grain of salt, studies of the brain rely a lot on intuitive assumptions or statistical inference because actually observing them in action is still somewhat complicated. And while some intuitions have proven true over the course of time, they've had to be somewhat more nuanced compared to when they were first put forth conclusively (especially notions like left-right brain divides)
There isn't evidence of structural distinction between brains in male or female bodies.
I don't "feel like" a man or woman - I can express behaviors and traits of both genders without feeling obliged to restrict myself one way or the other except as needed for acceptance and safety.
But those acceptance and safety concerns are drilled in and reinforced as earliest, deepest learning, to the point that most people never think to question the received ideas about what makes a man "masculine" and a woman "feminine", or the distinction between self-image and outward presentation.
Self-image is one of the weirder realms of neuroscience. Oliver Sachs is highly worth reading here, and it's not unlikely that there's some wiring of self-perceived gender related to proprioception.
There is. That article says:
"the group identified 29 brain regions that generally seem to be different sizes in self-identified males and females. These include the hippocampus, which is involved in memory, and the inferior frontal gyrus, which is thought to play a role in risk aversion."
"This means that, averaged across many people, sex differences in brain structure do exist, but an individual brain is likely to be just that: individual, with a mix of features."
"“There are differences between men and women when you look in large groups, and these are important for diagnosis and treatment,” she says."
"If a neuroscientist was given someone’s brain without their body or any additional information, they would still probably be able to guess if it had belonged to a man or a woman. Men’s brains are larger, for example, and are likely to have a larger number of “male” features overall."
"And in both adults and children, this measure of “gender” also correlated with SG size, albeit in just as complicated a way as the correlation between “sex” and SG size."
"This finding—that brain structure correlates as well or better with psychological “gender” than with simple biological “sex”—is crucial to keep in mind when considering any comparisons of male and female brains."
Even though your articles do refute the simplistic idea that a brain is either wholly female or wholly male, they also raise the point that there are parts of the brain which correlate with femininity or masculinity...
... which supports the studies which have shown that transgender people have brain structures which correlate to their felt gender rather than their biological sex.
"In the mid-1990s, his group examined the postmortem brains of six transgender women and reported that the size of the central subdivision of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc or BNSTc), a sexually dimorphic area in the forebrain known to be important to sexual behavior, was closer to that of cisgender women than cisgender men. A follow-up study of autopsied brains also found similarities in the number of a certain class of neurons in the BSTc between transgender women and their cisgender counterparts—and between a transgender man and cisgender men."
"In another study published in 2008, Swaab and a coauthor examined the postmortem volume of the INAH3 subnucleus, an area of the hypothalamus previously linked to sexual orientation. The researchers found that this region was about twice as big in cisgender men as in women, whether trans- or cisgender."
"study led by Julie Bakker of VU University Medical Center and the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam that examined neural activity during a spatial-reasoning task. [...] Bakker and colleagues found that trans boys (who had not been exposed to testosterone, but had had female pubertal hormones suppressed) as well as cisgender boys, displayed less activation than cisgender girls in frontal brain areas when they performed the task."
"What we found is that, in several regions, cis women, male-to-female trans, and female-to-male trans have thicker cortex than cis males, but not in the same regions," says Guillamon, who hypothesized in a 2016 review article that the brains of cisgender women, transgender women, transgender men, and cisgender men may each have a distinct phenotype. “The cortex is vital for gender.”
It's not as simple as "female brain" and "male brain". Instead, there are individual sub-structures within the brain which correlate with femininity and masculinity.
I sat down to define both and realized that "masculinity" and "femininity" are kind of becoming obsolete.
I find that many of my peers are exhibiting traits that are both historically masculine and feminine.
Thus any definition would be wrong because it puts someone in a cage.
If I had to use a word to define each I'd say:
Both are equally needed in our society. This is not to say femininity doesn't include logic or masculinity doesn't include emotion.
It is just to say as a whole these are the defining traits.
edit: I believe the key to being a a successful human being is combining masculinity and femininity in your mind. 90% of the population will never achieve this. androgyny is the true path to enlightenment on all life's endeavors. thank you.
Let me say that the actuality of each gender's world incorporates both logic and emotion, it's just a question of what is rewarded and encouraged when expressed publicly. Expressing anger is masculine; logic within the sphere of the domestic is feminine.
I. I agree with your first sentence and I said the same thing in my post
II. Expressing anger is NOT masculine. Everyone expresses anger.
III. "Logic within the sphere of the domestic is feminine" is an antiquated idea in my opinion.
I'm just calling balls and strikes as I see them (to use an antiquated American baseball metaphor).
Quite a few men of my acquaintance don't think anything is abnormal about getting shouty and in-your-face, but are otherwise impassive. It's quite distinct from feminine expression of anger.
I've seen women who were helpless, simpering balls of fluff until it came to the organization of their homes and children - yes, that's still a thing. (A lot of Texas-style femininity hangs out on the toxic fringes with the Texas-style masculinity.)
But as you implied, it's roleplay, not something intrinsic to either gender.
Colour me female, then! I keep a very organised house.
I feel as though the very act of separating logic from emotion as a dichotomy is already not really congruent with general reality. People are never fully logical nor emotional, nor does one preclude, exclude, or override the other. More and more we are coming to an understanding that these two "poles" actually operate in parallel in ways we might often not even be conscious of.
I would agree, to an extent, that in classical western notions of masculinity vs. femininity the two are often opposed and thus we are culturally inculcated with the notion that as men we should be logical, while as women we ought to be more emotional. But I feel like that has more to do with cultural heritage and assumptions that reach back for almost millennia than any kind of objective truth.
I guess I'll be the odd one out when I say that I don't particularly think of any trait to be masculine or feminine.
I understand in the abstract why people might say "being assertive is masculine" but the very first thing I think of when this is mentioned is all the assertive women I've known. I think of the societies in which women are taught to be assertive and I think about all the men I know who are not assertive.
People are the way they are from a combination of genetics (how their brain is wired to think), upbringing (what they were taught was correct to do, by their parents, their peers, media, and other influencing sources), and epigenetics (the environment, for example, has a large effect on your expressed genes). Humans are complicated individuals and the influence of these factors is going to vary from person to person to the point where it seems trivial and pointless to try and ascribe a characteristic to a gender.
Even if we were to consider what women and men typically do, the context is set within a society which we are familiar with. Men in America certainly act differently than men in Africa, but I would argue they act pretty darn differently than other first world countries to. These societies influence how men and women "should" behave, and in that aspect there is no true masculinity, but rather "american masculinity". Or, to be more specific, "american masculinity in 2019", as masculinity has changed over time as well.
On a related note, I don't understand gender either. I call myself a man because it's an easy descriptor based on my biology, but I don't identify as anything but a human, nor do I see anyone else as anything but a human. I pay attention to their background and their behavior to better understand and anticipate, but how they present or how they identify doesn't change my perception of them in the least - they are a human, and I examine them through the lens of their actions and upbringing.
Who are you sexually attracted to? Are you sexually attracted to every type of person equally, or do you have a sexual preference for one type of person over others?
And, if you have a preference for one type of person over others, do you identify as heterosexual because that type of person is a different type to you, or as homosexual because that type of person is the same type as you?
You might view and treat people equally in all other spheres of life, but sex is different. There's no intellectualising oneself out of one's sexual attractions. The amygdala wants what the amygdala wants. That genders you.
I'm more attracted to attractive people than non attractive, but gender does not factor into it.
Bugger. I knew there was a chance you'd end up being bisexual, but I was playing the odds.
Haha, no worries, as I said I'm the odd one out. I also don't really understand monogamy either. I think they're all related to my bisexuality.
Apparently, neither of us are quite as oddly out as previously thought. My attractions aren't gendered, but I'll confess that I find extremes of stereotyped gendered display and behavior unattractive.
I mean quite honestly I find extreme unattractive in general. Extreme emotions, extreme display, extreme reactions, extreme fashion, extreme politics, extreme... anything.
I am a heterosexual cis male. In my view, masculinity and femininity are two big basketss, and traditionally people have put most of the better things in the masculine basket. For me, I don't attach to any of these, and think they are mostly fictional and arbitrary. So I pick and choose based on reason and pragmatics (e.g. if one day knee length tunics became fashionable for men I'd probably be o e of the first to pick them up b/c I hate wearing things in the summer when the damn sun is cooking my balls, but I won't be the one to start it because it is disadvantageous socially; same with leggings, I got a pair for excercising and man are they sooo comfy! If it wouldn't mean constant stares and giggles and even "friendly" people "reaching out" to me, I'd wear them constantly).
Call them "performance compression socks" and you'll start a men's athletic wear trend.
Rather than try to give it an exact definition, I'll try to give an example.
I'm a cisgender hetero man. I recently invited a cisgender hetero woman who I'm friends with (platonically - I'm friends with her husband as well, but he's much more introverted) to an event (bar trivia). The area where this bar is located (Pioneer Square in Seattle) is a bit sketchy, particularly late at night.
My friend asked how safe the neighborhood where the bar is located was. I responded that it can be sketchy, by Seattle standards, and offered to walk with her to her bus stop as we leave the bar, particularly since my bus stop is only a block away.
I personally have never felt unsafe walking through that neighborhood at night, but I also know that I'm a 6-foot-plus dude with pretty strong resting asshole face. I understand how someone a foot shorter than me, and with significantly less body mass & muscle, can feel threatened in situations where I would feel fine.
To my mind, this is a confirmation of some masculine / feminine stereotypes but without the negative aspects of either one. I feel physically safe in most situations, and if I weren't aware of it as 'privilege' I'd probably never notice it. At the same time, I can recognize that people smaller or less powerful than me (stereotypically women) don't feel safe in as many situations as I do. And that means I can and should try to make up the difference.
A friend of mine, as a 155 cm, 50 kg female-to-male transgendered person, was so endangered physically by small size (and an admittedly aggressive temperament) that he transitioned back to female. It's not simply a matter of gender privilege.
I define it mostly as physical characteristics of body. Like, masculinity is associated with a large, muscly, maybe hairy body, big jaw, thick eyebrows, deep voice. A random example. You can put a pink dress on a masculine guy and it won't make him less masculine. Neither will emotions: no one is a robot, emotions are healthy, they are unrelated.
By attributing a hairy body you exclude most Asian or Native American men.
Muscles aren't really reliable "masculinity" markers. I know men who are unmistakably masculine, who can pump iron and juice all day without getting the muscle mass and definition I had from biking and kitchen work.
Sheer physical size is a different matter; it's extremely rare for females to have both height and solid mass in proportion to masculine norms. So I suppose I should add "daintiness" to the "feminine" list.
You could argue that (upper body) muscles are a good indicator of 'masculinity' or at least males.
If I show you some pictures of bare muscly backs, with no heads or breasts shown, you could reliably tell me which backs definitely belong to men. This is going purely by muscles, so you can assume that all the 'actors' in the photos have more or less the same body frame.
As for people having a hard time getting muscles; It is true that genetics are a factor to hypertrophy. But any healthy person can get muscles if they have a proper diet and training.
This is possibly unrelated but the whole 'Body types' subject is widely viewed as pseudoscience
Aside from the clothing configuration, let me know your thoughts on the gendered presentation of the bodies in this photo.
I'm acquainted with martial artists of both genders, and because of the common training, you can't tell who's who from the back by muscle development.
This is true to a certain extent. The person in the picture you sent could definitely be either male or female.
My point is that after a certain threshold of muscle size, you can reliably rule out that the back belongs to a female. Assuming that they're not using PEDs.
I think that's kinda relative to general characteristics of ethnicity: here there's some great masculinity without body hair. It's also quite an individual thing, it can be hard to come up with a formula of physical masculinity.
I don't think masculinity/femininity/otherity are "mine" per se. I see them as belonging to social categories, being "containers" for a variety of traits and behaviours that a person shows while interacting socially. They're very vague, fluid, many-faceted stuff, and subject to a lot of interplay between the personal and the social.
To delve a bit into the physiques, I'm AMAB, possessing XY karyotype, and those facts predispose me toward certain inner experiences, such as details of sexual pleasure. Meanwhile I think gender identity or traits are more about what those experiences mean to me personally and interpersonally. Perhaps to say that I don't feel I fit into the "masculine" stereotype/identity is to say that I attach different sort of meanings and values to my collection of gendered experiences, as compared with other AMAB persons.
For me, I feel that the physiological aspect of my gender identity is just one of nature's happenings, like eye colour or hair type, but even less noticeable. Sometimes it gets in the way, but that's it, and I can mostly manage -- as myself and a social being.
P.S. I'm back on Tildes! And it's really nice to have this discussion and hear your own stories. This is an interesting thread and we owe it to @clerical_terrors :)
Welcome back :)
I'm always glad to hear stories from non-cis or gender non-conforming people in these cases. I think it provides very valuable counter points to premises we sometimes take for granted.
Interesting. I've always felt masculinity and femininity are, deep down, very personal and that we all have some degree of ownership over our own definitions of them, since I see so many discrepancies and disagreements in how to define them as social constructs.
If it's not impolite to ask: would you consider yourself as attempting to fit your definition and gender performance towards one of these "containers"?
It's totally good to ask!
I think the younger me in their insecurity would try very hard to police themself. This of course only made me more nervous and confused. As I grew and the experiences widened, I gradually came to terms with myself and the fact that those boxes are hella leaky.
Some of the good things about me that I define as my masculinity are:
The bad things:
I tend to see masculinity (as I express it) as assertiveness, willingness to confront conflict as it arises, and a sometimes irrational loyalty to 'my group'--whatever that group might be.
I tend to see feminity (as I express it) as emotional intelligence (the ability to read a room) and a concern with maximizing mutual benefit.
So I do typically see myself as being more masculine more of the time than I am feminine, but I also think time and place and context influence which traits are most prominent at any given point.
I define my masculinity the same way that I define my femininity - on a spectrum together, fluctuating wildly constantly and forever. I stopped worrying about conformity so much and just do what feels good - I want to wear nail polish this week, I wear it. If I want to wear a dress, a suit, a tie, high heels - doesn't matter, I will - because it makes me feel good. If I feel submissive I'll speak submissively, if I'm feeling stoic, I'll act stoic. It's not that hard, and generally I think that far too much has been typed and said about this.
My definition of masculinity is whatever the hell I think my masculinity is. Some men dress as women and have girlfriends. Some do the same and have boyfriends. Some men look and behave just like me, but happen to enjoy sex with men. Unless I explicitly choose to be a woman, I'll still be men if I’m like any of them. But I happen to like women, and I happen to enjoy behaving and presenting myself according to the stereotypical image of heterosexual males.
I don't think that is likely, but if I ever fall in love with a man or just get the hots for one, I'm pretty sure all the other aspects of my gender identity would remain mostly the same.
Never cared much about labels. I do what I want and don't try to fit in to one group or the other.