When I was a senior in high school, I took a Feminist Theory class and we watched Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity, an excellent film by Jackson Katz. It was the first time I had really thought critically about social constructions masculinity and the normalization of violent masculinity. Early in the film, Katz says:
The front that many men put up that’s based on an extreme notion of masculinity that emphasizes toughness and physical strength and gaining the respect and admiration of others through violence or the implicit threat of it. Boys and young men learn early on that being a so-called “real man” means you have to take on the “tough guise,” in other words you have to show the world only certain parts of yourself that the dominant culture has defined as manly.
Masculinity is a topic that really interests and fascinates me. People generally do not think or talk about masculinity, especially not cissexual, heterosexual men. Cissexual, heterosexual men are taught from early on that they need to defend their masculinity so that it is never contested. The greatest insult you can hurl at a man is that he isn’t man enough, that he’s a wuss, a pussy, a sissy, a fag, etc. These insults are used as a mechanism of social control to maintain patriarchal gender norms. Meanwhile, the masculinity of LGBTQ men have been, and still are, consistently attacked.
Masculinity is defined and constructed in such a narrow way and today on Yes Means Yes, Thomas writes about the need for cissexual, heterosexual men to start thinking and talking more about masculinity and male sexuality:
To refuse to talk about it, though, is to be a prisoner of the privilege. The common understanding of male sexuality is a stereotype, an ultra-narrow group of desires and activities oriented around PIV [penis in vagina], anal intercourse and blowjobs; oriented around cissexual women partners having certain very narrow groups of physical characteristics.
The dominant idea and representation of masculinity and male sexuality is that of cissexual, heterosexual, white, upper-middle/upper class masculinity – this also describes the main power holders in our patriarchal society. And Thomas is absolutely right, refusing to examine these narrow, oppressive ideas of masculinity is to be imprisoned by privilege. Masculinity is not natural – it is a sociocultural bind where boys and men feel like they need to posture as bad boys, as tough guys.