The debate surrounding the masculinity crisis is a complex one. It ranges from believing that masculinity is merely a social construct that should be done away with in order to promote a more successful, accepting society, to the belief that masculine behaviors are inherited through genetics, carefully shaped over millions of years of evolution. At it’s core, the question is this: are men born distinct beings quantified by the term “manly,” or are they taught to be masculine? Is masculinity even real, or is it something that we as a society have created?
In my opinion, the argument for pure biology on any subject always comes up short. I mean, it’s a bit crude to think that the only thing that separates a man from a woman comes down to genitals. I understand that in the strictest sense that is how we separate boys from girls when they are young. Be that as it may, there are differences that we can observe later in life that distinguish boys from girls.
Early life for boys and girls starts out much the same. Infant boys and girls eat, sleep and poop. Girls develop speech and fine motor skills more quickly than boys, while boys tend to master gross motor skills at a rate faster than girls. There do seem to be some differences even in young boys and girls that we can observe. Still, each child is individual even in this well documented subject, and it’s not necessarily indicative of anything distinctly masculine or feminine.
On the flip side, I and the other mothers I know are often talking about the differences between boys and girls, often within ears reach of our children. Girls are louder, boys think the entire house is their play area, and even seem more aggressive. By the time school hits, there are significant differences in boys and girls, with the vast majority of boys becoming the subject of disciplinary action and girls being relegated to the humanities and arts rather than encouraged to pursue math and sciences. Are these beliefs shaping the differences in the sexes, or are they really present and adults are simply taking note?
Here’s the deal: the male and female brain do not show major differences. They are human brains. We can learn the same things. For all intents and purposes, our minds are just as capable as the other. We do have differences in hormone levels. Can these bear the brunt of responsibility for masculinity as forged over years of adaptation?
It seems that there are enormous differences when we look at statistics like who commits more crimes, which gender has the most recorded genius level IQs, and who is the more peaceful sex, but there are those who believe that this is a result of social teaching, and not the core makeup of a man or a woman. Women may be made to believe they will be bad at math, so they do not pursue it. Men may be made to believe they are made to protect and to be aggressive, so they value learning to fight. Could it be that we make our children what they are, including how they live out their gender in the world?
Still there is a spiritual argument, one that argues a sort of yin and yang belief. Men and women are the balancing forces of creation. They are like morning and night, ocean and dry land, and the one balances out the other. Completely opposite, yet complimentary.
Western civilization, with all of it’s individualism and the promotion of academic thought has lost something, and the crisis we currently see in men is only one part of the picture. For all of our technology and progress, science and medicine, we have lost sight of the inner life. What can not be measured by the scientific method becomes irrelevant, unusable, and even ridiculous to the trained Western eye. As technology progresses, the need for men is pushed aside. The belief is that there is no longer a need for men to be masculine, or even to be recognized as distinctive humans, a unique counterpart in our species.
Nature versus nurture is a long standing divide on a number of sociological and especially psychological issues we face today. Masculinity has been labeled by some to be a mold-able, cultural and changing concept brought on through social constructs. Others see it as inherited at birth, determined through DNA, and the result of natural selection throughout the millennial. Consequently, one argues that masculinity as it has been known should be destroyed, everything from patriarchal culture is evil, and male social constructs have resulted in the current injustices we see played out today. The other side counters with the idea that macho men have made the world what it is today, forged ahead through hard times, and had the grit to make the real and tough decisions that helped us survive as a species.
Both of these arguments fail to see the nuance seen in men all around the world everyday. More than that, they seem to push aside the need we have as humans for community, and therefore social constructs. In the battle for the individual, we seem to have lost sight of the fact that we are not hatched from eggs, deprived of human connection, and raised as solitary beings. We are social. We require social affirmation and encouragement to become well rounded, healthy individuals. Boys need to understand the social constructs that make them necessary, valued and even loved for the role they play in our society. I am all for redefining the more harmful images related to what masculinity means today. But how do we raise confident men, fathers, and fellow human beings if there is no place for them in our society?
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Mother, Writer, Dreamer