Defining Masculinity How Masculine and Feminine Differ in the Twenty-First Century

Aimee and Sutter, two high schoolers in love trying to find where they belong within the definitions of feminine and masculine. There’s the Aimee who feels as though she is not pretty, contrasting the definition of feminine. But then there’s the Aimee who dreams to grow up to live on a horse farm, conforming exactly to the definition of feminine. Then there’s the Sutter who drowns his feelings with alcohol and puts up a straight face, conforming to the definition of masculine. But there’s also the Sutter who hates himself for conforming to the definition and not expressing himself. Though these characters exist in the fictional world of The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp, people in the real world today are going through the very same struggle. These characters are struggling to find their way to tailor themselves to the definitions of masculine and feminine in the current day. But how do we define such impactful words in the twenty-first century?

The images of masculine and feminine as people from and
Masculine: “having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness.” (Google Search).

The definition of the word masculine directly links men to words such as aggressive and strong. This creates the standard that in order for a man to be a man, they must be strong. They must be aggressive. Feminine: “having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness.” (Google Search). In order to uphold the expectations of being female, this definition says you must be pretty and you must be delicate. But how do we judge someone who doesn’t meet these expectations? What does society think when they see a woman crying? A woman who fits perfectly with definition of feminine; delicate. What does society think when they see a man crying? A man who defies the definition of masculinity, weak and not strong. “Boys are statistically more likely to drop out of high school and college, to commit petty and violent acts of crime, to attempt suicide, and to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities,” (Kidd). When I stumbled across this fact, I was shocked because I had always thought that it was harder to uphold the expectations of femininity. After all, during my research I had found many more articles about the struggles of women and their image. But, could it be possible that men have been struggling to meet these expectations just as much as women? Could it be possible that all these expectations had led them to commit these “petty acts of crime”? Were they committing these crimes because that is what is expected of their gender when they are angry?

During my research I found plenty on the pay gap and on body image issues for women. But then I found an article that said men had been having just as many issues as women. According to this article, “‘Be a Man’ is something that is easily said, but carries a lot of weight. Slamming a man with this phrase is telling him that he has to bury his emotions and his feelings, to take life on the chin and to never show weakness,” (Lovejoy). The definition of masculine does not say anything allowing men to show their feelings. They have to hide their feelings to put up the appearance that they are strong. Women are expected to be emotional and show how they feel, but men are not allowed to do this according to the definition of masculine. Both genders have feelings, this is a known fact. So how is it fair that only one of two genders is allowed to show how they feel?

If men aren’t allowed to feel or express emotions, then they are just bodies living to uphold their expectations. “Emptiness, dude, that’s what it’s called. And for the rest of your life, they sell you over and over, right to the end when they package you one last time and plant you in the ground,” (Tharp 101). Ricky, from the book The Spectacular Now, says how men are supposed to package themselves into strong and aggressive bodies. But by doing this, you are throwing yourself out and you become empty on the inside. It is expected that men hollow themselves out on the inside and make themselves look nice on the outside. Without expressing emotion or who you truly are, you’re just a body. But this is what is expected by the definition of masculine. Men are supposed to be strong. They are not supposed to feel. Essentially they are just supposed to be strong and aggressive.

In recent years, there have been incredible movements to push for female weight equality within modeling. You will now see plus-size female models in most magazines. But what about men? When you look through a magazine do you see an article about how overweight males are upset because they aren’t given equality? Do you see pictures of plus-size male models? While this problem is improving within the women’s modeling industry, there has been no progress within the men’s modeling industry (Lovejoy). Perhaps this is because men have been taught that they have to remain silent, that they have to suppress their feelings. When females decide something is unfair, they fix it. They throw riots until they are finally heard. Males don’t have this luxury, they have to be tough. They just have to deal with whatever they think is unfair because they are a man and that is what men do.

Plus size model Tess Holiday with her partner, Nick Holliday from

As I was researching I started to think about who invented these expectations. The men and women that are alive today, did not. They were born into a world where this was expected of them. “Conventional masculinity is not natural,” (Nodelman 3). Masculinity is an ideal that was created when humans were first on earth. It was created by people so long ago, yet it still holds today. People alive today did not create these expectations and when they choose to not oblige with them, they are ridiculed. Phrases such as man up, be a man, you’re crying like a girl, and you throw like a girl, are used to make fun of people who choose not to conform with gender expectations. So yeah, there is a choice to not conform with gender expectations. But when you choose it, there are often tough times ahead.

After all this research, my thinking had completely changed. When I went into this research project, I honestly expected to find that gender stereotypes were harder on girls. Throughout the first few days of my research, this was supported. But then I found this one article that explained how many men also struggle with these issues. This article opened up a whole new door of research and behind this new door was a whole new perspective. After further research I came to a conclusion. Conforming yourself to the definition of masculine is just as hard as conforming to the definition of feminine.

Works Cited

Kidd, Kenneth, "Project MUSE - Boyology in the Twentieth Century." Project MUSE

Lovejoy, Jessica. “Body Image Issues Are Not Just For Women.” The Huffington Post. Accessed 11 Dec. 2016. Web.

Nodelman, Perry, “Ways of Being Male Representing Masculinities in Children’s Literature and Film,” Routledge.

Tharp, Tim, “The Spectacular Now,” Borzoi Publication.

Google Search. Google. 5 Jan 2017.


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