Masculinity: A Virtue Enmeshed

Masculinity is normative, as certain behaviours are considered acceptable in societies and characteristics of a social identity called men. 

Masculinity is normative, as certain behaviours are considered acceptable in societies and characteristics of a social identity called men. 

Masculine: an adjective very visible in our daily life, in our vocabulary, media, and print literature for a socially constructed identity called a man or having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with a man.

We often hear comments on the identity of a boy/man such as “Kaisa ladka hai, ro raha hai”, “kaisa ladka hai pit kar aa gya”, (What kind of a boy are you, crying/getting beaten up) “ladke ho ladkio ki tarah kyu chal rahe ho”, (Why are you walking like a girl?) and the most famous “mard ko dard nahi hota” (a man does not feel pain).

All of these dialogues build a context around specific expectations about how men (should) behave, what clothes men (should) wear, how they (should) walk and talk, what kind of sexual relationships they (should) have, social interactions, and other kinds of choices. It depicts that the ideas of ‘masculine’ virtues are enmeshed in our social structures, practices, rituals, and customs just like some other ideas of femininity. These ideas are very real in our society.

In brief, it is about normalising and embodied practices, making identification with a certain idea of the male body.

Masculinity, as an idea, is not singular and constrained to a particular time and space. It is plural and it is interpreted differently by different groups of people and for very different purposes. Hence, masculinity differs with time, space, age, socio-economic class & caste, and occupations.

One cannot see masculinity in isolation, it is visible in our social structures and relationships in relational terms, mediated through a context of differentiation and power. It is a system of stratification and building hierarchy. Masculinity is normative, as certain behaviours are considered acceptable in societies and characteristics of a social identity called men.

In brief, one can understand masculinity in three domains. One, masculinity as a social relation embedded in a context, in which there is an unequal distribution of power and privilege over other identities. Second; defining masculinity concerning binaries vis-a-vis femininity and to look at the different characteristics, spheres, behaviours, actions, and ideas of appropriateness associated with a specific gender. It helps us to understand and ask what are the things that make men more masculine in those binaries. Third, how do boys develop certain kinds of subjectivity as future men?

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The larger question here concerning the above-mentioned domains is how masculinity is shaped among boys. These virtues and imaginations of masculinity are reproduced, restored, and functions via different institutions.

One such institution this essay focuses upon is School. School is an institution that links family and state, it legitimises the distribution of opportunities & resources as well as cultural values among the students. Different elements in the school participate directly and indirectly with the daily life of the students of every gender, such as curriculum, textbooks, extracurricular activities, peer groups, interactions with teachers, and other verbal & visual practices. Concerning these elements boys pick or form their identities which involve self-fashioning techniques, how they should look like, what games they should play, with whom they should be friends. We see enforcement on the choice and selection of toys, clothes, acts, hobbies, and many more roles by social norms and rules.

A very common example is that boys should play sports. Sports are about physical strength, teamwork, and played in the public sphere, hence it gives a scope to display all those characteristics. Such incidents are also inspired by main-stream media culture and unequal division of labour and access to public-private spaces at home/in families.

In opposite to that if there are boys who are not interested in sports or chose not to play any sport particularly we see a representation of labels and categories affirmed by teachers and peers. Labels about being like girls, categories about who plays, and who does not. Meaning, a boy has to play sports and has to refashion their gendered self in a more masculine boy. The men/males who try to set an example of their masculinity by being a sportsman have a particular kind of identity and it holds power and knowledge. The power we see here is about symbolic control conveying ideas using language as a tool to construct a dominant identity like themselves. In such situations, peer pressure and expectations play an important role in shaping identities. These are subtle and pervasive but direct and forceful as well.

The identity is not limited to choice and representation. It comes to a self-being with a particular kind of body. We see people making fun of slim boys, sports teachers scolding boys who had no interest in sports, teachers making remarks about boys from humanity background, teachers scolding boys with long hair (like girls), and boys fighting among themselves to show their strength and power as a dominant quality.

Many things like that happen daily and we see that there are destined roles and virtues and men pursue them through negotiations and struggle and thus confirm validity. Many of them try to change themselves to overcome the fears of their school years. Fear for being marginalised, fear from being categorised, and not seen as the desired male. Adolescent boys have desires to have a particular identity, and these desires shape their behaviour to look at themselves and others. A desirable form of hetero-normative masculinity. A result of the social practices and institutional practices which made boys as boys.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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About the Author


I am a Post Graduate in MA in Education from Ambedkar University Delhi. My MA thesis focuses upon the Visual Graphics in Elementary Textbooks of Social Science, their goals and objectives. I am a former read more...

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