Masculinity: What Does It Mean to You?

By Nisha Chantel
SOTG Love+Sex Editor

Masculinity has been a much-discussed topic in recent weeks. I have also had a few debates with male friends that fueled my desire to write about this topic.

During one such conversation last week, I was asked to offer my definition of masculinity. I found myself struggling with this request. I took a moment to pause because I didn’t want to give a flippant answer. Instead, I needed to spend some time examining my thoughts. 

Whereas there is no clear definition of masculinity, there are many commonly held characteristics associated with it—many of which, I find troubling and flawed.

In just the last six months, we’ve seen 19-year-old Tiarah Poyah, a college co-ed, shot down during this year’s J’Ouvert Caribbean pride celebration in New York for daring to rebuff a man’s advances and a Philadelphia mother, Joyce Quawaey, tortured and murdered in front of her kids by her ex-policeman boyfriend for challenging his efforts to subjugate her.

How are flawed—or toxic—masculinity and these tragic deaths connected? Both scenarios highlight the unfortunate belief that a man’s masculinity is tied to his pursuit of women* which I find frighteningly problematic. In fact, I blame this belief for Poyah’s and Quaweay’s violent deaths.

A woman who exercises agency over her own body should never have to be perceived as threatening to another person’s ego or another’s fragile relationship with their own self-worth. In other words, when masculinity limits a woman’s right to exercise agency, it becomes oppressive and can lead to disastrous consequences.

So, what is masculinity? It’s worth noting that masculinity is a social construct—a belief shaped by common perceptions and cultural norms of a society. Social constructs vary widely, which also means that it becomes difficult to agree on a common concrete definition.

What, then, is my personal definition of masculinity—if I must?  Masculinity
…Is kind
… Appreciates
… Is safe – emotionally
… Is safe – physically
… Understands
… Comforts
… Celebrates
… Communicates
… Is present
… Listens
… Is gentle
… Admits faults
… Admits fears
… Cuddles
… Dreams
… Is honest
… Stands in truth
… Speaks up for beliefs
… Speaks up for others
… Supports
… Seeks to understand
… Knows the strength in quietness
… Has integrity.

Do you notice that not once did I mention a gender-specific pronoun or a penis? Any idea why? My definition does not link masculinity to the state of having a penis or what a penis can do. Instead, my belief about masculinity is more aligned with an awareness of our collective humanity.

I want you to recognize and celebrate your humanity. Limiting your yourself to such narrow definitions is disheartening. I want you to soar. I want you to fully enjoy all life has to offer without such incredibly dangerous beliefs.

I want you to be free. We want to feel safe.

Editor’s Note: The use of ‘Women’ here is italicized above because this designation generally limits masculinity to cisgender, heterosexual males.

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Masculinity: What Does It Mean to You?

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