Masculinity, similarly to other aspects of one’s identity, is being intensively discussed in contemporary society. It has undergone significant development in the last few decades which has been reflected in and accelerated by the media. This essay explores the reasons for this - it refers to historical development where appropriate and discusses the consequences of the fragmentation of male identitities.
The essay starts with a brief discussion of masculinity as a term. It will draw on theories and show how the understanding of the concept changed over time. It then moves to describing...
define terms masculinity, masculinities
If it has been believed that in the past, only one version of masculinity existed, it has theoretical background in the philosophical view of essentialism. Essentialist philosophers argued that every (material) thing has its own (abstract) essence. Essence represented the fixed, unchanging qualities of the object.
When this thinking is applied to the discussion about men, it helps us to understand where the ideas about a “natural” masculinity that is same for all men comes from. If “man” is the physical representation, “masculinity” is the essence that defines him. So for example, if “masculinity” is defined by the society as behaviour that is sexually and physically aggressive, dominant, confident and avoiding the show if emotions, men that do not conform to these qualities are arguably less manly.
John Beynon, Professor in the Cardiff School of Creative & Cultural Industries, argues that this still reflects in “commonsensical assumption that masculinity is a standardized container, fixed by biology, in which all “normal” men are placed, something natural that can be measured in terms of psychological traits and physical attributes” (Beynon 2002, p. 2).
From the late 20th century, this thinking has been increasingly criticised and finally identified as not valid. it was replaced by anti-essentialist ideas that argue that there is no essence to all men and that their identities as men are constructed during their lives and shaped by the society they live in via social interaction. This theory if social constructionism opened up new possibilities for exploring masculinity and its many variations. This was reflected in the shift from the term “masculinity” to the plural form “masculinities”.
Beynon also explores the topic further: “Masculinities is composed of many masculinities... Masculinity is alway interpolated by cultural, historical and geographical location and in our time... the conception of a uniform masculinity and even sexuality is no longer held to be fixed or innate” (Beynon 2002, p. 1).
Before we move on to describing the changes that happened in the society, it is important to outline the role of media in shaping one’s (masculine) identity. They shape how we think about masculinities on a number of levels.
Television, radio, print, advertising, online and other media influence the...