Social Question

MissAnthrope's avatar

What is it about masculinity, that it seems to be so easily threatened?

Asked by MissAnthrope (21401 points ) December 18th, 2010

@Simone posted this article about redefining our views on fertilization. It’s a fascinating article from the biological perspective, but it’s equally fascinating in a sociological/anthropological way.

One of the main threads of the article is how our language regarding fertilization and the interaction between sperm and eggs is skewed, incorrectly, to reflect our views regarding gender. We use strong, manly, virile, and potent imagery regarding sperm and rather unexciting, passive, lady-in-waiting terms for the egg.

In the article, Dr. Martin (the researching anthropologist), mentions a few times that men aren’t comfortable thinking their sperm are anything but warriors conquering that egg. It got me thinking.

Now, being gay and never having had a boyfriend, my intimate knowledge of men is more limited than, say, a straight woman. So my views here are based on observation and, yes, generalization, but I’m hoping you can forgive and/or look past that to get to the heart of what I’m asking.

It seems to me that one of the important qualities of being male is one’s masculinity and that a lot of interesting male behaviors stem from trying to keep up the appearance of one’s masculinity or from feeling that one’s masculinity is threatened. I feel like a lot of stock is placed in men toward the importance of “being a man”. For example,

- having such a difficult time admitting one’s sperm isn’t strong
– that one might not be fertile/potent
– how embarrassing it is for a guy to be missing a testicle or both
– feeling threatened by male homosexuals
– feeling threatened by the idea of being penetrated despite the fact that prostate stimulation is apparently quite pleasurable
– strongly preferring to be the ‘strong’ one, the provider, “the man”, “the protector” in a relationship
– I can think of loads more, but we’ll go with that for now.

It seems like there’s a male culture of… I’m not sure how to put it… requiring an invulnerable masculinity. If a man doesn’t stack up, he can feel low self-esteem and self-worth, simply for not being “man enough”. It’s this desire, almost a need, to be “a man” that I find really interesting and that I’m hoping to understand.

So.. why this comparison of masculinity all the time? Why is masculinity so important to men? And why does it seem to be something that’s easily threatened?

And anything else that you might consider a propos or interesting.

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21 Answers

iamthemob's avatar

It’s all wrapped up in these ridiculous dangly bits that aren’t really physically protected very well, and subject to the dangers and whims of nature. Men get very scared when these dangly bits, and any social trappings associated with them, are threatened.

rooeytoo's avatar

I have often wondered about this myself. Another example is that it is an insult to males to be called girls or ladies but women are constantly being referred to as “guys” and think nothing of it. Women wear men’s clothing often because it is often more comfortable and versatile than women’s, but most men are terrified of even wearing a female color such as pink, much less actual female clothing. Of course who in their right mind would wear itchy lacy underwear or stiletto heels???

I think eons ago men created this condition in order to attain and maintain superiority and now they feel compelled to continue it. Until there are more simone’s in the world who raise their children to be what they want to be instead of caricatures of what culture and society say they should be it will be the standard.

MissAnthrope's avatar

@rooeytoo – Exactly!! Good point.

@iamthemob – Also true. The dangly bits do seem to be heavily entwined in the whole masculine picture.

Zyx's avatar

Men survive best when trying their hardest at everything, as is to be expected. I’m just surprised women don’t have it (as much). Maybe because pregnant bellies are even more vunerable.

DominicX's avatar

Isn’t it interesting how none of the bullet points you wrote really faze me at all? I couldn’t care less about any of those things. There’s nothing threatening to me about being submissive or “small” or effeminate or homosexual, but then again, I am homosexual. :P I think that has everything to do with it.

I think this does have its basis in evolution. Evolutionarily speaking, men are the more aggressive stronger ones who provide. So most men have this idealized masculine form that they are constantly trying to be (I’ve definitely felt the effects on that in the past, being teased at school for doing “girls’ things”, or being made fun of for being weaker and smaller than the other guys). And since they are constantly striving toward this image, which can be difficult to attain, and can sometimes only narrowly be reached, it can be quite easy to lose it.

MissAnthrope's avatar

@DominicX – You bring up an interesting perspective that hadn’t occurred to me. It makes a lot of sense to me that none of those things would bother you, because you are secure in your gender, both masculine and feminine sides. You’ve also probably spent a lot more time thinking about it, as I have, than most straight people.

In addition to that, in terms of your physicality, you may not fit the heterosexual male ideal, but lucky for you, I think you fit the homosexual male ideal pretty well. :)

iamthemob's avatar

@MissAnthrope – I think a lot of that also comes from the fact that most gay boys have to be very, very aware of what “displays” of masculinity are…cause if we slip, they’ll know somethings different.

Seeing how much of masculinity is really walking a certain way, enjoying certain things, etc…well, it’s difficult to say that that’s something I don’t feel secure in because I could give two shits about doing all that right…I’m confident in my masculinity because I don’t need to do any of that to know I’m a man. That, and the fact that gay men have bigger dicks on average than straight dudes.

Cruiser's avatar

It’s all about bigger is better. Imagine being a guy and growing up constantly comparing yourself in all aspects of “bigger is better”...bigger muscles, bigger paychecks and especially in the men’s shower? Then women say size doesn’t matter and just when you are comfortable with how you are, other girls will say size does matter. HS make up your minds already!! ;)

Blondesjon's avatar

It’s not masculinity. It’s ego and both genders display it in equal measures.

I’m with @DominicX, none of those bullet points bother me or my perceived manhood. You could also very easily adjust those bullet points to apply to similar female insecurities. In the end it comes down to whether or not you have your eye on what’s truly important in life.

Regardless of your gender, if you are secure in who you are as a person everything else is gravy.

MissAnthrope's avatar

@Blondesjon – It’s ego, sure, but ego that’s tied into “masculinity”, whatever that is. Hence my question. I know that saying this is a generalization and I also knew that I’d more likely than not find guys here to whom this doesn’t apply, hence my warning.

These things could be applied to women, but they do not affect us in the same manner, or at least in my observation. When a woman loses a breast to cancer, yes, we feel a blow to our womanhood, but other women don’t think we are less of a woman. You see what I’m saying? Guys are super embarrassed to admit they have one or no balls, or that they’re impotent, or whatever. My point is these feelings, in general, run much deeper than they do in women, at least in terms of the ego and them feeling okay with their manliness and who they are.

Also, please let me clarify about the word “generalization”: I know what I’m saying doesn’t apply to every guy. I’m talking about a general atmosphere, not individual experience.

noodle_poodle's avatar

well I dont think that all mean are so petty about the whole masculinity thing…a lot are but not all of them. I suppose when you boil it down masculinity is just a collection of traits that are traditionally useful. In by gone days and alas still somewhat in todays life women were considered weak and inferior so showing any signs of femininity would be showing inferiority by deafault. Nobody likes to think that other people are better than them as that way lies insecurity. In fairness if you think about it doesnt pay to advertize weakeness in many situations (the further back you go the more important it is) and to scare off rivals or attackers it pays to be fearsome and agressive and therefore probably evolved to be good traits to have as a male…more so if the animals we evolved from were lived in heirachical groups which they probably did…we think of ourselves as different from animals but were still pretty much just shaved apes. Besides femininity has a lot to answer for as well in similar ways.

noodle_poodle's avatar

@MissAnthrope Actually I reckon a lot of women would take loss of a boob as a blow to womanhood they just might not admit it. A blow to the ego is a blow to the ego. I would argue that men and women are not so very different at all, that they and their egos are very similar but express themselves in different ways due to cultural schooling and upbringing.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Of the men I’ve known then none has based his masculinity around what his parts and/or sperm can do. Now the outward social face they put on is something else, sometimes very separate from how they see themselves and what they enjoy or are comfortable around/with as sexual beings.

I think maybe back in my grandparents time and before then men felt their reproductive potency was more strongly tied to their feeling of manliness or success but not so much now.

rooeytoo's avatar

@noodle_poodle – with breast cancer striking approximately 1 in 9, there are many women walking around with only one breast or no breasts. You just are not aware of it. Most manage to survive (literally and figuratively) very well.

wundayatta's avatar

I’ve never been able to be masculine by the tradition measures thereof. I’m not strong. I’m not tall. I care about feelings. I’m not macho. I actually listen to women. My wife makes more money than I do, and if it weren’t for modern technology, my impotence would mean I couldn’t have genetically related children.

I don’t particularly like men because of the games guys play all too often. Occasionally I’ll come across someone who is both smart and somewhat sensitive, as well as being male, but that doesn’t happen all that often. Anyway, I’m clearly a traitor to the cause.

Is masculinity easily threatened? I’m not sure you should treat a willingness to get belligerent as being threatened. I think that men like to threaten each other, or consider themselves as threatening each other rather than being threatened.

Of course men need to be strong all the time, which means they never have problems. Since they never have problems, they never need help. Being helped is so not a masculine thing to do. So no counseling, no doctors, we gotta do it all on our own, unless we’re the boss, in which case we get to tell others what to do. It’s all about being the top dog. I guess. I’m not quite sure why.

I guess it helps them get the girls. Or a certain type of girl. The girls that admire that kind of masculinity; that strength.

Of course, there are other types of women and other types of men. There are smart, strong women, who aren’t afraid to be themselves, and there are men who love women to be smart and strong and to let themselves express everything they think is necessary to express. Usually, but not always, these kinds of women don’t like the macho kind of man.

Sometimes they like a different kind of man. One who doesn’t need to dominate them to prove his strength. A man who respects them and their intelligence and their abilities. A man who is willing to listen, and who knows when to shut up instead of always trying to solve problems. A man who is willing to share the duties of the household, instead of “helping out around the house.” I could go on, but you get the idea.

Anyway, it’s a different notion of masculinity. A man who doesn’t see his masculinity as being tied up with muscles, money and machismo. Instead he wants equality—to be a part of a team, with no expected roles—and everything worked out together as needed. Maybe there’s a house husband, or a house wife, or maybe they both work. But whatever they do, they do is as a team, each respecting the other equally.

Ok. Enough smarmy crap. I’m beginning to feel like a snake oil salesman. All I can say is that if you want a certain kind of woman to be interested in you, that kind of way of being in the world really helps.

ratboy's avatar

I wish that I balls to refute this, but I’m just not man enough.

nikipedia's avatar

I have to disagree with the basic premise of this question—the article about aggressive sperm and passive eggs. I had an anthropology professor in college who said the same thing, and I brought in my intro biology textbook and pointed out that it unambiguously described the egg as an active participant in the fertilization process. I definitely think sexism exists in our society, but I’m not sure this is a real case of it.

That said, I think women place as much of their egos in their femininity as men place in their masculinity. Wearing feminine clothes, not speaking up for fear of looking like a “bitch,” wanting to be pursued rather than the pursuer, blah blah blah. Women are just as guilty of this.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I may be a bit slow on the uptake, I just realized how ancient that article is.

@nikipedia – Well, you may be right. As I’m sure you know, I study biology as well, but I believe your field (and your knowledge) goes much deeper into human biology than what I’ve studied. I haven’t studied human reproduction in a very long time and my advanced bio class didn’t much cover it either. That would have been the place for me to get updated on new advances in the field. Anyway, if you feel that this atmosphere of passive egg/active sperm has passed, then I find that awesome. I just hadn’t experienced this, myself. (also, as a side note, the woman in the article is the author of ‘the most popular college textbook in the field’ and I’m wondering if maybe the text you had was written by her?)

LuckyGuy's avatar

Men evolved that way because women preferred and chose to mate with men with those characteristics. If women had decided they liked flashy feathers men would be strutting like peacocks.
The impotent males didn’t reproduce and their genes died off.

Except for removing it form my body as often, and in as many ways, as possible, I never gave much thought to my sperm.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@DominicX @MissAnthrope While I do agree that some queer people have taken the time to question gender norms and think a bit more introspectively about their own gender and gender identity & expression, I’d caution against thinking that it is somehow inevitable that queer people would have less issues with their genders being threatened. As to your general question, @MissAnthrope, I think both of the major genders are threatened if their expression of the norm is questioned (so here, I agree with @Blondesjon). For men, it might be about how they’re not manly enough, but for women it might be about that mustache they forgot to shave (obsessively) and they’re no longer seen as ‘real’ as ‘real’ women are. We are all trapped by incredibly limiting gender ideals that don’t exist, in reality and men are no more limited by it than are women. Gender roles and expressions are easily threatened because they are not stable and aren’t definitive; there is no solid foundation, it’s all questionable and it’s pretty arbitrary. That’s why they’re constantly reinforced through policing, through jokes, through comments and bullying – there is no other way for them to stay in place, to matter.

BoBo1946's avatar

Men who are secure in themselves don’t have to prove anything. Besides, being a man is much bigger than his masculinity! Anyway, I was breast feed….and drive a small red sport car!

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