Friday, June 8, 2007

Masculinity and/or Femininity

Talk about explosive words. These terms pack a lot of powder and conjure many images of heroes and heroines, dominant and submissive behavior, wild and domestic natures, deep thoughts and deep feelings, and, of course, sexuality.

Last night, I had a discussion with two other male friends about faith. During the conversation, one said about men that failure to recognize and develop our masculinity was a prominent problem in today's society. We need to remember that we are men and that means being masculine. In addition, women continually test us and frequently destroy that characteristic in us. It isn't that they want to destroy it. Rather, they want to be sure we're sturdy and dependable in our masculinity. Most men fail the test.

Consider this analogy. Have you heard of the 'terrible twos'? A child will only feel secure when a parent responds firmly, yet calmly, to his or her first attempts at expressing independence using highly emotional and erratic behavior. If the parent maintains gentle control and the child feels loved and that authority has been properly maintained, both of them benefit.

To make matters worse, these characteristics, masculinity and femininity, are represented as outward appearances by mass media. We seem to glorify and hold in high esteem those few individuals who qualify as genuine heroes and heroines. They have matured in their masculinity or femininity. What's more, maturity itself seems to be completely optional for most people and probably more relevant for college professors. In general, it seems too difficult to bother endeavoring to be mature. "I have enough to do."

I looked on my bookshelf and discovered I had accumulated a mass of books that at least touched on the subject of masculinity, especially from a spiritual perspective, if they didn't address it directly. (Part of my motivation to buying and reading such material was to clear the confusion created by my upbringing. I didn't have a very well-developed sense of identity. See Sweeping Dust Bunnies for some insight into my past.) I've gained a lot of insight from these books. But I'd like to hear, and share, the insights of those who read this blog.


What are your thoughts about these terms? Are men not masculine? Which ones are? Do women test men? (Is this a well-kept secret that should remain so?) When are women feminine? Should these characteristics be understood and sought? Or, should we seek a balance with some of both? Deep in your heart, what characteristics do you desire for yourself and your partner (whether or not there is a partner)?

20 comments:

Amel's Realm said...

Hmmm...tough questions. I won't go into details as I'm pretty confused about this masculine/feminine thing.

However, I love a man who can cry in front of me. I love a man who dares to show his feelings in front of me. It's the intimacy that I crave for.

I don't know much about masculinity. What is masculinity? I know what masculine guys look like, but what are their characteristics? I love a man who'll fight till death for our relationship. I love a man who'll meet me halfway. I love a man who REALLY listens to me without cutting me off, without giving me any advice if I don't ask for it. I love a man who doesn't snap at me when he's worried about me. I love a man who shares his darkest, deepest secrets/dreams/longings/fantasies/past with me.

When it comes to femininity, well...there are men who can make a woman feel SO feminine (even if they've NEVER felt "too" feminine in their entire life compared to other women). :-))) I salute those kinds of men. How do they do that? Hmmm...well, it's the way their eyes light up when they see us (women), the way they make us (women) feel comfortable being ourselves even with some fat deposit here and there, the splendid way they make love to us (by learning about what we like).

OK, I guess I've rambled on too much he he he...I don't think my comment truly answered your questions, though, but I just want to share my thoughts. :-)))

Dwight said...

On the contrary, Amel, I think your comment answered the questions very well and in your own way. Thanks! Being genuine is very much appreciated (at least in this blog) and that was quite evident in your writing. It was personal.

I particularly enjoyed the way you described the type of man you love, and "men who can make a woman feel SO feminine...," but didn't bother to assume which of these characteristics, if any, were masculine. The experience is important, not the definition. Perhaps the only importance in defining the term is so that we can think of the things you mentioned, and not what the media would have us believe.

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts - all of them!

Amel's Realm said...

It's MY pleasure. :-)))

I love your posts, even though it made my brain work hard he he he...LOL!!!

I'll come back for more brain exercise. :-)))

rp said...

I think my issue with how the terms masculinity and femininity are perceived is that there is implied a dominant/submissive roll, or strong/weak, protector/protectee relationship rather than balance.

I was brought up in a female dominated household. It wasn't that my mother emasculated my stepfather--he wasn't around until I was 11! It was just that we were her kids, so she was in charge. Not a very balanced dynamic, but I was a kid...

As a girl-child, I played with dolls, etc., but I was taught that I was every bit as capable as a boy, and that in this world, I should take charge of myself, and I did. That is not to say that I am not feminine, I am. I just expect to be approached as an equal.

I think that men have it rough, too. They are saddled with the notion that the only way they can be men is to provide, to shoulder every burden quietly, and be the king of their castle. When they enter into relationships, they find that much of that isn't necessarily true. Hell, even on a chess board, the queen has greater mobility than the game winning king.

My husband is a terrific combination of old world ideas of Greek/Puerto Rican masculinity, and new world sensitivity. He feels bad when he isn't the provider, but respects the one he married. He is strong and sensitive. He is a warrior and a diplomat.

While I am at home with short hair (the picture her is a year and a half old), blue jeans and hand tools, I like to put on a pretty dress once in a while. Sit at a kitchen tables with my girlfriends while the guys take over the tv room. There are aspects of the defined roles that we all fall into, but for me, having the option to exist beyond them is imperative.

Dwight said...

Thanks for the very thoughtful comments, rp. You said you were feminine. You also said, "I just expect to be approached as an equal." How do you resolve the two? For example, are your expectations different depending on whether you're referring to your relationship to your husband or even a friend, versus someone you just met?

Also, in the list of descriptive words about your husband was the remark that he respects you. Do you feel/think this respect is related to or distinct from masculine and feminine traits? Or, to put it another way, is it that he respects you (you feel respected) specifically because he can put aside assumed roles of the male and female?

rp said...

Why does being feminine (and a wicked flirt) imply that I shouldn't expect to be approached as an equal? Man and Woman, masculinity and femininity ARE equal, just different. Where we get into trouble across the board, whether with the sexes, races, or religions is equating difference with inferiority. That my husband CAN be the dominant force doesn't mean he SHOULD be in all cases.

We have a 19 year old relationship that has worked based on the respect we have for the strengths we each bring to the table. At no time have we disparaged the other for the traits we show that may be considered inconsistent (or consistent for that matter) with our physical gender (with the one possible exception that I deride him for really liking the Three Stooges--he is sooooo above that).

We are each other's touchstone. Where we come at the end of each day to find strength and comfort. That we each still turn to the other is what matters.

rp said...

Don't mean to be argumentative, Dwight. I do really enjoy a thoughtful debate though.

Holly said...

I think that you hit on a certain level of truth when you say that women test you, but I think there is a direct relationship between the test and your discussion on maturity. Whether some subconscious artifact, or some literal test of her mate, a woman needs to know that if she produces children, they will be taken care of properly.
To this effect, the ability and willingness to pay bills and provide for a family (of any size) is obviously a significant goal of testing maturity. A certain level of "immaturity" might contribute to a more loving and attentive father and husband. A balance between the two is the secret.
If you want to be completely fair, I think there is also some innate drive for a man to find a woman who will, either produce attractive children, or otherwise has characteristics integral to the raising of his children. I'm clueless on the particulars of the male selection process, but I'm pretty sure that it is related to the prevalence of a restuarant called "Hooters" in some way.

So I think that men are "masculine", or mature enough, solely to pass the woman's test. The woman in turn is "feminine" because she wants you to give her the opportunity to test you. Beyond that, I'm certain there is a variety of physical/biochemical reasons for our actions and perceptions of gender. (Hormones, Pheromones, etc.)
I do think that you can achieve pretty much anything you put your mind to. The key is making sure your motivations are for the right reasons. If the changes will make your life better, and another consequence is that they attract a mate, then you could achieve that goal with an ease of mind. Working towards something that you want solely to please or attract another person, sounds false and likely to fail at some point.
Is there some compromise between the two gender roles, a balance between the two, within the same person? I'm not entirely sure there can be. I suppose I don't have enough experience in the matter, but it seems there is a well established social order that has endured to some extent, despite efforts to change it. That seems important somehow, as though perhaps we aren't supposed to change it.

Sighs. I think I just heard my biological clock tick, as I stared at the comment box wondering how to finish all this.
And I still have 30 lbs to lose and some plastic surgery before I can apply at Hooters. What a pity.
(That is sarcasm... just in case you didn't catch it.)

Holly said...

On reading rp's discussion...
See, I knew that I didn't have enough experience in the matter. :)
She seems to argue a good case for dual gender characters. Though I think her arguement for treatment as equal goes back to the discussion of a certain level of maturity. Perhaps she has proven that necessary maturity level to her husband, making the equality between them possible.

Dwight said...

rp, I didn't take it as being argumentative. No explanation necessary. Rather, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate the way you often express your ideas from a personal perspective and with examples.

Shall we then say, "EQUAL but DIFFERENT"? Equal in the sense that one can expect to be treated with respect, regardless of gender (race, religion, etc). Different, not as a result of superior / inferior status, but from having "strengths we each bring to the table." In that regard, I think a distinction is useful in that the terms, feminine and masculine, refer to the latter (difference) and not the former (equality).

I would debate, not argue, that while equality and respect are ligitimate, masculinity and femininity refer to the differences. That is, they are part of the "strengths we each bring to the table." Why? I think these differences are what attract us to each other. I can have respect for anyone I choose, but what attracts me to someone in particular? Mostly, conscious and subconscious recognition that the differences somehow complete me, though I may already be complete. (Granted, completeness is a process and not a state.) Furthermore, I am more attracted to someone, at least initially, who's feminine traits (in my case) are apparent to me but not exaggerated. What would make the relationship work, as you said, is the respect we have for each other in addition to loving these differences.

What do you think, rp?

BTW - See this essay for a treatment of this question in contrast to the Mars and Venus idea: Masculinity-Femininity:
Society's Difference Dividend
. I think it highlights much of what you're saying regarding respect, and more. It covers some details about preconceived notions of roles based on societal acceptance (probably due to what is considered popular).

On the other hand, in this research paper, "The authors test the idea that patterns of masculinity-femininity (MF) help sort adolescents into romantic couples. Using a nationally representative sample of adolescents in Grades 7 to 12 from a probability sample of secondary schools in the United States, an MF measure was constructed by selecting a set of questionnaire items demonstrating sex differences. For each respondent, the probability of being a boy was predicted. Respondents identified opposite-sex romantic partners within their school. When the partner identified also was interviewed, the authors were able to create MF for both members of the couple. Trichotomizing MF scores for each sex, it was determined that couples with a very masculine boy and very feminine girl are most likely to have sex, and to have sex the soonest. The couples for which both members are in the average MF range for their sex are the quickest to break up. The pattern of MF is a strong influence on the behavior of adolescent romantic couples." (Masculinity-Femininity Guides Sexual Union Formation in Adolescents

PS - Liking the Three Stooges is neither faminine or masculine. I don't know what it is. But, it certainly challenges the respect I should have for the person who likes them. Perhaps the Three Stooges truly are inferior and not deserving of equal treatment. :-)

Dwight said...

holly, thanks for the in-depth comment. Wow! I think you expressed a lot of insight into the connection between the conscious relationship and the biological aspects of attraction. Thanks!

It is particularly interesting that you said, "a certain degree of 'immaturity' might contribute to a more loving and attentive father and husband." It fits very well with the other concepts you discussed such as a man's innate drive "to find a woman who will, either produce attractive children, or otherwise has characteristics integral to the raising of his children."

Perhaps, you've uncovered clues to the process of growing in general. As a healthy young man (emotionally as well as physically), even a high level of maturity is not going separate him from a strong sense of delight and playfulness in a young wife and small children, helping to make him an ideal husband and father (along with a strong sense of responsibility). However, that same degree of 'maturity' might be inadequate for an older gentleman, especially to properly guide a teenager, and to continue to respect and be respected by a wiser wife. At the same time, the 'maturity' that could be reached by an older gentleman would not be appropriate for starting a family. The playfulness might seem like too much or even foolishness that he has grown out of. This would explain the overwhelming drive to marry young (20's), father children soon after, and continue to mature as we grow older. There's a purpose to the process.

Before anyone beats me up, I fully realize that life is often very different from the scenario described above, and that there are many exceptions to what would be defined as 'maturity', 'proper guidance', 'ideal spouse', etc. Not everyone holds the same definitions, or has or even wants the same opportunities. If this describes you, what is your view?

BTW - I think the prevalence of establishments like "Hooters" is related more towards excessive immaturity rather than an overriding biological need to scope out child-rearing qualities. Personally, I prefer my groceries in paper, not plastic. [wink]

rp said...

I never did fall for a traditionally "masculine" guy, and I was always rebelled too much against overly girly girls. Still can't stand to be around them. I also don't think I consciously thought about whether my love interest was husband/father material right off.

I love tall, strong, smart, available men who can fix what's broken, hold the door open, give up his seat to an old person, and have a good relationship with his mother. He can defend himself and his family from all external strife, including his mother. He's a good father. Pretty much the guy I married, except, I do the fixing.

What HE wants is a strong, smart, available, compassionate woman who can fix what's broken, speak her mind, deal with his mother, raise his children well.

What we both wanted was for each of us to see what needs to be done, and just do it, without assigning girl job or boy job labels to it. It would diminish how we feel about ourselves as man or woman. What we wanted was full support for what we were doing.

In the movie 300, there is a scene where Queen Gorgo sees Leonidas off to war. They have a very passionate marriage. She is a Spartan woman, not given to frilly displays of womanhood. They look at each other full in they eye, and he walks off. She calls after to him, "Spartan!" He answers her, "Yes, my Lady?" "Come home with your shield, or on it." My husband is convinced that's me. He goes off to war with her full love and support--an additional shield. That's my husband.

I have probably missed the point entirely here. But I think especially important for 21st century urban or maybe just urbane men and women to set aside centuries old notions, and get on with the business of living the live that is actually in front of us. The only constant is change. Humans sometimes have a difficult time coping with that, to our peril.

Amel's Realm said...

Hi, Dwight,

I've tagged you with a Thinking Blogger Award.

Check this out:

http://ailema4ever.blogspot.com/2007/06/thinking-blogger-award.html

Michelle said...

I found you through Amel's tag. :-) Interesting blog!

Masculine and feminine mean gender, to me. Beyond that I really find it hard to define.

I don't really see any character traits as "masculine" or "feminine". If a man is protective and caring we call him a "father-figure" If a woman is protective and caring we call her "motherly". The trait is the same, we are the one who try to differentiate by creating seperate words for each gender. If a woman is agressive or a man agressive... what words do you think of? I'm betting that once again the words were different - to describe the exact same trait of agression.

Dwight said...

Michelle,
Thanks for following Amel's link to my blog and posting a comment. Let me first address your response, then I'll visit your blog.

Interesting thought about the traits, but here's what I wonder. Are the traits called 'protective and caring' used here as labels only? In other words, we might say that a "father-figure" is protective and caring, but is he protective in the same way a "motherly-figure" is protective? Is he caring in the same way? Perhaps, even if the method is different, possibly very different, the motivation is identical. Truly protecting and caring comes from the same sources: love and maturity.

Think of a child in a healthy family. He or she has different needs that are met by the father and the mother, but not the same need from either person. There are times when the child feels a strong need for protection or caring from the father, and times when the child feels a strong need protection or caring from the mother. In this case, the recipient of protection and caring makes a necessary distinction. It even depends on the gender of the child that may determine what kind of protection and caring he or she needs.

So, are the different words meaningful in that they communicate ideas about the different methods used? Or, should we simply use "parental-figure" regardless of the gender so that we understand the true motivation for the trait? What is the purpose of the words 'masculine' and 'feminine'? Are they imposed labels or do they express real differentiations?

Regarding aggression, we could raise similar questions. Are men and women aggressive in the same way? That is, is it expressed and received in a similar manner? On the other hand, we may observe similar, if not identical, motivations for aggression.

Thanks for posting, Michelle. I enjoyed the exchange. Any more thoughts?

Victorya said...

Hey, I found you through Amel as well :)

Interesting debate, and I don't have an answer, only my viewpoint.

There is a physiological difference between the genders, between the way each processes information and develops physically, mentally, emotionally. I think it's a disservice to deny this.

In terms of 'masculinity' and 'feminity' I think these are just societal expectations placed on each gender, and they've changed throughout time (to some mild degree. Remember, Darwin said a female was an undeveloped male)

The thing is, is it really just male and female? I know in the native american culture there are 'two-spirits' which inhabit the abilities of both genders.

I know for myself I don't like the 'highly masculine men' - the body builder big muscles, but I don't like a 'wimp' either. However, this translates to both genders as all my female friends cannot be described as wimpy.

In all honesty, what attracts me to a person of either gender seems to be the same intellectual and emotional qualities. I was once accused of being unable to see race (like that's a bad thing) and now i wonder if gender has become nebulous for me too.

Although, i still think Johnny Depp is hot. And it's his smile as well as devotion to his child that make me think so.

Michelle said...

Hi Dwight

I'm still out on the verdict on whether or not men and women react the same to things like agression. At first I thought I agreed with you, but then when I started thinking about it.. I wasn't so sure. Sorry about the very vague answer, but I am being honest!

What I feel, but as yet have no solid words for, is that there is a core "something" that is different between men and women. My problem is that I fear we often use the whole labelling gender thing indiscriminantly.

What I do find interesting is I that have more men friends who struggle with this than women. Women are "liberated" more than men in this respect perhaps?

A very "macho" woman can still see herself as being a "real woman", as feminine. On the other hand I have several male friends with labelled "feminine" traits who get teased, ridiculed etc. Not gay - just not what some think of as "masculine".

Fascinating topic. :-)

Max said...

Hello Dwight! My name is Max, and Amel suggested your blog! I like it a lot! So, here's my comment on this exact one: I think that men are quite masculine, even those who are homosexuals, because it is inherent to every male-born child ( it's a question of having a penis, of having masculine hormones)! It is interesting to see that men have a very particular way of seeing things, of dealing with several situations, of relating with each other; that women don't and never will (since they have a series of other idiosyncracies inherent to female-born children)! Of course, society tends to say that men who are more sensitive are less masculine than others who aren't; yet one thing does not relate with the other! A man can be sensitive, affectionate in an extremely masculine way!
If a woman is attracted by a man it's because that man is masculine (and remember: many women are attracted to gay men too, although the feeling is not reciprocal for obvious reasons)!

Women test men all the time...but it's part of the mating-dance!

Women are feminine when they dance, when they shop, when they take care of their children, when they love their men...even those who seem to have masculine traits, they are feminine...they always show a side that only women have!
It shouldn't be sought nor understood (for it would ruin the mistery): it should only be accepted!

Every man has yang energy (meaning he has female enegy in him) and every woman has ying energy (the opposite)! The problem is: people don't accept this fact, and that's when we have the macho-men and the radical feminists! When men and women accept the ying-yang fact, they will understand each other just fine! They'll rule together, side by side, without trashing each other over silly matters! Balance shall be regained Universally speaking !God made us equal in terms of energy (not physically, Halleluiah!).

What I desire for me and my partner is love, respect, and understanding! All the rest...oh well, we're only humans!
Cheers!

Max said...

Hey Dwight! I'd like to make a correction to my own words: men have ying (feminine) energy in them, and women have yang (masculine) energy! Cheers!

Anonymous said...

About what's feminine and what's masculine. I think it flows and ebbs just like the tide. For instance, at the very beginning of any relationship, there's the initial attraction. During this time, men tend to 'flex' their masculinity around the object of their desire. And a woman, or should I say, a 'smart' woman allows the man to do this. Do women test men throughout this initial perod? You bet they do. They even set up little 'tests' to calculate a man's response. (What do you think all those late night discussions on the phone to their girlfriends are all about?)But don't get worried fellas..women are pretty forgiving in this area. They realize that few men can 'pass' all of these exams with flying colors. And it's not that women expect you to be perfect, it's simply more like a screening process. Get it? They have to screen prospective males before selecting a mate. Now on the whole, women want a man who makes them feel safe. And they will resort to their femininity to bring out the masculine protective side of men. (Men do the exact same thing, only on a different level). The only glitch is, men aren't as complicated as the female species, so sometimes they miss their mark. (Sort of like football, sometimes you fumble). However, neither side can be faulted for this seemingly 'false' initiation..this is just all part of some grand design. Take a look at the animal kingdom for instance. Males knock themselves out acting expressive, while interested females act docile but receptive. And just as I mentioned before, all this stuff 'flows and ebbs.' Or should I just say that 'it' changes. Because right after marriage and mating, all this play acting goes right out the window. (wink)
Take a clue all you unattached guys.