[OWLS] The Social Construct That Is Masculinity
Hey guys! Welcome back to another OWLS blog tour post. Chances are if you are reading this it’s because you were redirected here from Takuto’s post about Haiji from Run with the Wind. I swear I need to get on that sports anime ASAP! Also, as you guys might have noticed, I have been deviating away from anime when writing these posts. The reason being that I haven’t watched anime in eons (but I’m getting there!)
For April, the OWLS theme is “Masculinity”
Last month, we explored the meanings behind the terms “feminine” and “feminism.” This month, the OWLS bloggers will explore the concept of masculinity. We each have our own definition of what it means to be masculine and we will explore our definitions using “masculine” characters from various pop culture fandoms. We will discuss how these characters are “masculine” or show signs of a masculine persona. We will also share our personal stories about the amazing men that supported us in our lives, as well as share some of our experiences growing up as a man or knowing men who struggled with the masculine identity.
Like our guys during the “Feminine” blog tour, I signed up for this month but had ZERO idea what to talk about. I briefly considered the yaoi genre but that would mix masculine and feminine themes and I wanted to keep this post centered on Masculinity. In the end, I ended up remembering some books that I read for one of my history classes that focused on masculinity
Masculinity in the WW1 Era
In Men of War: Masculinity and the First World War in Britain, Jessica Meyer mentions that she’s going to be looking at how “British servicemen who fought in the First World War used their experience to define themselves as men” and while she doesn’t go into much detail about her findings initially, she does mention that “this book demonstrates how the war affected social and cultural understandings of what it was to be a man in the era of the First World War”. Meyer plans to prove her thesis by examining diaries, letters of condolences, letters sent home, letters to the Ministry of Pensions, and memoirs.
In the first chapter, Meyer examines letters that men wrote to their families and found that they generally contained details of their discomfort and danger, their reactions to the war experience, and how the war was changing them. Aside from content, Meyer also found that men still retained their domestic identities of wanting to protect loved ones, causing them to censor and manipulate their words to reassure their families and dear ones. As Meyer continues to analyze these sources, she comes to learn that each one tells a different story depending on who they are intended for and each one adds something new to the construct of masculinity, sometimes even contradictory ideas like we see in the letters to the Ministry of Pensions.
When soldiers returned from the war, they were expected to return to their roles of breadwinners and to not complain about their wounds, however, many soldiers came back with some form of disability that prevented them from doing so. Those with physical disabilities often couldn’t go back to their jobs and those with mental disabilities (shell shock) were ostracized. The stress of having to keep psychological disabilities hidden from employers because of stigma, the belief that not being cured after a certain amount of time meant men were “lazy indigents attempting to rely on state for support”, and that there was extreme scrutiny from the Ministry on the wounded, caused even more stress for men.
In their society, being able-bodied and self-sufficient were still definitions of masculinity but men were being forced to rely on the state and to express (in letters) that they no longer had these qualities. As a way to still keep the image of being masculine, men would highlight themselves as “heroic citizen soldiers who had willingly sacrificed health and future for the state”. They also used their diaries to create memoirs since it was still seen as masculine for men to be the educators of their communities.
In Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker 1914 – 1918, we follow Louis Barthas’s experience during the First World War. Even though Barthas doesn’t state his stance as an educator of the future until the end of the book, making comparisons like equating the war to the Flood and the fatherland as Satan clue us into his message. He continually describes soldiers as “no longer citizens, but beasts of burden” (non-human comparisons) and their situation and the people who have forced them into the war as uncaring to the loss of life: “This barbarous order which led us to the slaughterhouse wasn’t signed. It was anonymous, like a simple note to a servant. The scoundrels who wrote it were also cowards!” However, even though Barthas has taking a mainly negative stance with war, we can also see he’s a soldier who wasn’t completely immune to the way society expected men to die during wartimes: “I was going to die in this hole, with no glory, no beauty.”
One of the traits Barthas exalts as being masculine as the war rages on is the developing comradery between men. Barthas talks about helping soldiers write letters home, to the point that “we all knew each other’s wives by their first name” and Barthas felt so strongly about his men that he constantly felt guilty for failing to save them, or for saying something that would unknowingly lead to someone dying.
In comparison, Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger is nearly an opposite view of the war. While Barthas condemned the war, Jünger seemed to relish the experience and even when he was injured on multiple occasions, his enthusiasm never wavered. When Jünger is first heading out, he talks about why he views war the way he does: “Grown up in an age of security, we shared a yearning for danger, for the experience of the extraordinary. We were enraptured by war.” He does talk about feeling changed once he’s arrived, however, unlike his comrades who weren’t feeling as enthusiastic, Jünger “felt irresistibly drawn to the site of the calamity” and the closest he felt to fear at that moment was just confusion.
There is even a point in the book where Junger says “After only a short time with the regiment, we had become thoroughly disillusioned. Instead of the danger we’d hoped for, we had been given dirt, work and sleepless nights […]. Worse still was the boredom, which is still more enervating for the soldier than the proximity of death.”
While Barthas’s focus on masculinity is on showing emotions and support for his comrades, Jünger’s form of masculinity runs more along the lines of being aloof, unafraid, and not running at the face of danger (to seek it out).
World War II opened up many opportunities for various people and especially women. Since men were no longer available to keep the country running, women had to step up and do “men’s jobs”. They began to work in factories, earn wages, and generally do things that were exclusively male. Even with the return of men from the war, many women still had to take charge of their households because some men came back with different forms of disabilities (missing limbs, deformations, PTSD) and couldn’t perform their “duties”
As the times have changed we have also seen a development in the household structure. Some men aren’t just the breadwinners and the ones who discipline. Some men take on the role of “mother and father” and some take on the role of “housewives” leaving their wives to take care of the financial security of their families, however, traditional masculine expectations imposed by society still exist
Speaking of just my household, my brothers and “my future husband” are expected to be the breadwinners of their families. They are expected to work hard and earn enough money that their wives don’t have to work. Instead, wives are to stay home with future children. There is also an expectation in appearances where men only have short hair (a constant problem in my household as both my brothers prefer longer hair) and “true men” have a muscular build and more body hair
However, just like “Masculinity” evolved during World War I, it continues to evolve now, and I would like to think for the better
I feel uncertain how to phrase the positive changes in gender expectations (or the lack of expectations) I have been seeing recently. I actually hope that one day “Masculinity” becomes a past we don’t go back to but for the sake of this post I will call it “future masculinity”
I first came across these makeup tutorials by boys and men a few weeks ago. I was AMAZED that this was happening and I couldn’t get the huge grin off my face. Like other “masculine” stereotypes, the idea of using makeup and keeping groomed is seen as “feminine” and when a male does things like this, they are immediately labeled as gay (one of the less profane and derogatory terms). One profile in particular that I found said “account supervised by parents” (in this video, the first kid) and I loved that parents were open-minded about topics like this
I had even found videos of grown men with facial hair and less androgynous looks doing makeup tutorials, and they looked Amazing (thank you IG for recommending these videos)
Not only that but a few days ago, this image was going around Twitter with the caption: English actress Naomi Watts takes her “son” out for a walk. Is the willingness to abuse or harm children now a requirement for fame?
Here we can see the two views that are currently warring in society in terms of “Masculinity”. The account that tweeted this believes that allowing people (particularly minors) the freedom to express themselves as they are is equivalent to abuse. However, as I have come to learn, many minors often express feelings of self-hate to the point they have considered hurting themselves or suicide, or (when they become adults) a restlessness over their identity that could have been developed early on
People often believe that children don’t truly know what they want but oftentimes they know more than we do and they are at the forefront of many changes
Do We Need “Masculinity” and “Femininity”?
I’ve had a Facebook account for a couple of years now but since I moved to Twitter, my use on Facebook has declined. A few weeks ago I decided I would start being more active and I’ve sort of done that. While I still don’t post much on my account, I have started to read more of the content on my timeline
One thing in particular that showed up on my timeline was my friend from high school. We used to be inseparable and I loved taking pictures of them. Their singing was beautiful, I knew their family, and they were a ton of fun.
As you might have noticed, I keep using “they” for their pronoun, which I have explained before, is my gender-neutral go-to. While we were in high school this friend of mine used the pronouns “she/her” but on my timeline, they were now being referred to as “he/him”. The part that I felt was particularly revolutionary with him is that he didn’t cut his hair, dress like a traditional boy, or do anything different. He did his hair and wore dresses and was comfortable in his biological female body.
Oftentimes when people transition to males, I have noticed that they get top surgery, they take hormones, cut their hair short, and dress in a “masculine” way. This is perfectly OK and I say do what makes you comfortable but are we only making these changes because we continue to uphold these notions of masculinity and femininity? If masculinity and femininity didn’t exist, would people still feel the need to create these changes?
This is something that has been spinning around in my head for a while and something I plan to talk about more in detail on my blog once I get my thoughts cleared up.
Welp! That’s all I have for now. I know, this post got really long! And I still don’t even know if I got my point across. But what are your thoughts on Masculinity? or anything I babbled about in this post? Next up on the schedule is Matt who will be posting on Wednesday!
The WW1 section of this post is part of two essays I turned in for class. They have been edited and severely shortened for this post