Masculinity is a social construct that defines what makes a “real man’ and how men ought to act. The concept of masculinity is not one that is naturally imposed on men, but rather it is manufactured through society. Current standards for masculinity were formed because “hegemonic masculinity embodies a ‘currently accepted’ strategy” (Connell, Masculinities 77). Hegemonic masculinity in today’s society is associated with domination, aggression, violence, athletic ability, and sexual conquest. Men are taught that they cannot show emotion or sensitivity without fear of being perceived as weak or unmanly.
Historically, masculinity is defined in terms of contrast and dominance of “others,” notably homosexuals, racial minorities, and females. “’Masculinity’ does not exist except in contrast with ‘femininity”” (Connell, Masculinities 68). Everything that masculinity is, femininity is not. Masculinity cannot exist as its own entity, it must be contrasted to something, in this case it is femininity. They can even be thought of as antonyms. Masculinity is associated with strength, physicality, power, while femininity is seen as weak, full of emotions, and passive. This hegemonic masculinity enforces a social hierarchy that men are above women and reinforces a misogynistic culture.
I examined the film “Tough Guise” (1999) which discusses the façade that society forces on boys. “Tough Guise” is a documentary film that examines media and culture and how they affect young men, encouraging violent behaviors. Media often portrays violence as a way to gain respect among peers. Many war films and action films, like Rambo, glorify war and violence and bolster the idea that violence makes a man. Sylvester is portrayed with huge muscles and wielding enormous guns as a symbol of masculinity in the 1980’s. Society has taught boys that they need to gain respect from their peers by proving their physical strength and violence.
When young men were interviewed in the film and asked what makes a man “manly,” most of the boys said men should be physical, tough, strong, in control, and scare people. The focus on the need to be tough and physical shows how dominating hegemonic masculinity can be for young men. Boys are submerged in this hegemonic masculinity from a young age. Most boys grow up playing sports, learning from a young age that the winner is the dominant one. Although sports offer many positive experiences, they can also encourage aggressive, violent behaviors. These aggressive tendencies often stem from an inability to express feelings in a healthy way.
Teaching men from a young age to suppress their emotions and to be insensitive can be very harmful. It is difficult to be a successful contributor to society if they cannot express themselves through emotions. Lacking sensitivity and hiding emotions only cause internal struggles for boys. Without a healthy way to express feelings, boys turn to inappropriate or unhealthy forms of expressions. In extreme cases, this can lead to violence inflicted on others. School shootings were widely discussed in the latter half of “Tough Guise.” The shooters profiled in the film, such as the Columbine Shooters, felt oppressed and unable to express themselves, so they turned to hurting others to show how they were hurting internally. Even in recent years this is still the case. In 2014, Elliot Rodger went on a shooting rampage on the University of California, Santa Barbara campus that resulted in the deaths of 6 students. Rodger felt that he needed retribution against all of humanity. These incidents could be prevented if there are steps taken to encourage young men to be sensitive and in touch with their emotions rather than hiding behind their