Why Hypermasculinity Affects Everyone
By: Dorcas Onabanjo Illustration: Kelly Marcelle Malka
I recently watched that episode of Friends where Ben kept playing with a Barbie and Ross was trying his hardest to coax the Barbie from his unassuming, one year old. Ross wanted him to play with more “manly” toys, such as a GI Joe. It instantly reminded me of the absurdity of gender stereotypes, but then upon further reflection made me think of hypermasculinity and how it’s something that we should get rid of in 2018. The jump between the two might seem vast but bear with me.
What is Hypermasculinity? Well, hypermasculinity is the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior such as an emphasis on physical aggression, strength, unexpressed emotions, and sexuality. It’s the ideology that says, “for a man to be ‘truly’ male, they need to be brawn, brave and brutish.” This idea is detrimental to men, women, and everyone in-between.
Hypermasculinity can manifest itself in many forms. I first noticed this behavior through its representation in song lyrics., concerning sex between cis individuals. The words “smash”, “beat” and “hit”, are all common euphemisms for sex. Does anyone stop to think that these are all rather aggressive terms for an act that’s supposed to be pleasurable, intimate, and fun? Yes, yes, there’s a fine line between pleasure and pain (My kink is showing! You can also wave your handcuffs guys, I won’t judge.) But these terms aggressively reinforce male dominance and its relation to male virility. What’s worse is these terms and this language has made its way to the everyday vernacular of you and I. The idea that smashing, beating, and hitting are great ways to describe sex lead back to one word – hypermasculinity. In our world, it is seen as masculine to show physical strength and it is seen as attractive to be “masculine.”
These are all aggressive terms which when uttered sound violent but are then normalized through pop-culture. This leads to the idea that aggressive sex is ok because these violent words have permeated your brain and you now associate sex with violence. If you like it rough, fine, but using these terms makes it seem as though rough sex is the norm for everyone, and if you don’t like it that way then it’s an issue. Sex is an intimate act and for it to be portrayed consistently as aggressive perpetuates rape culture and the belief that male-dominated sex is the norm.
Language shapes the way we see our world. If we are constantly utilizing violent euphemisms and terms for sex, it normalizes aggression in sex. However, when 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually assaulted before the age of 18, this poses a real problem. It says these words, when put into action, are ok despite the fact you might not want to engage in that particular flavor- vanilla is just as nice.
Song lyrics are not the only facilitators of hypermasculinity. The media as a whole plays a role in reinforcing hypermasculine stereotypes whether it’s through films, tv shows or even news broadcasts. I’m going to highlight two examples; the Big Bang Theory and the man who holds the nuclear war codes for the United States of America, your ‘Celebrity in Chief’ as Charlamagne Tha God so “affectionately” calls him, Donald J Trump.
There is a constant theme throughout The Big Bang Theory of a hero-like worship of comic book characters who exude strength and masculine attributes. Often the characters- although extremely intelligent, view themselves as less than because they are not as physically strong as their comic book heroes nor as “manly.” They did not excel at typically masculine pursuits such as sports and therefore view themselves as less than manly and deserving of ridicule. The show strengthens the hypermasculine narrative. As does the leader of the Free World, one would hope that the person elected is open-minded, someone who comes to disrupt negative social constructs and fights for the rights of all (Excuse me while I laugh and cry from across the pond at the current situation). Anyway, Trump and his tiny, tiny hands have only strengthened the hypermasculine narrative; if we aren’t discussing his “locker room” talk and normalising that behaviour, the government, and media are saying it’s ok for him to ridicule his opponents “Liddle Marco” and brag about having a “bigger” nuclear button. Yes. Because the bigger the button, the less likely mutual annihilation is… Hypermasculinity is everywhere and it’s up to us to swim against the norm and say this is not ok. How can we do this? By first recognizing, the role we as women play.
Women also facilitate the issue. Yes, you. You who identifies as a woman, who this blog is directed at. When you say, “I want a tough guy”? That enables hypermasculinity. When you say, “I don’t think that’s manly”? That enables hypermasculinity. When you say, “Grow a pair”. That enables hypermasculinity. When you say, “Don’t be a pussy.” That enables hypermasculinity. All these phrases and more are detrimental to the psyche and emotional growth of men – and everyone else.
All these phrases work on the premise of stereotype. Stereotypes which enforce the idea that for a man to be a man he must be “tough” and “manly.” What is the definition of manly? A definition that has been socially constructed for us over time to reinforce the idea that anything less-than “tough” or “physically strong” is feminine and so therefore bad. Grow a pair. Don’t be a pussy. Actually, when it comes to the matter of strength—a pussy or a pair of testicles? The pussy wins. Being able to stretch to 200% its normal width is pretty dope. Babies come out of there. You kick a woman in her vagina and she doesn’t double over on the floor in pain. Women bleed out of their pussies for more than half their lives. Yet, I digress. My point is that describing a person as a “pussy” in a derogatory way is enabling hypermasculinity and it needs to stop. These responses to men are normally given when they display any form of emotion. A third of men suffer from depression and some researchers argue that this figure could be higher but men are less likely to discuss their issues and so suffer in silence. Be the woman who says it’s ok for a man to speak about his issues and to validate his feelings and emotions, for him to show stereotypically “feminine” traits because eventually, they won’t be stereotypically “feminine” when both sexes openly display them.
Hypermasculinity does not only affect heterosexuals but gay men as well. For gay men, the idea that a ‘top’ is dominant and a ‘bottom’ is submissive, is wrong and frankly stereotypical. Assuming that because a man who is physically strong in nature is dominant and thus a ‘top’ again reinforces gender roles that then reinforce hypermasculinity. Additionally, a study found that the way in which straight men discussed women was similar to the way stereotypically masculine gay men described effeminate men. This shows that hypermasculinity is not restricted to straight men, this hypermasculinity can result in sexually aggressive behaviors as already stated. Rape amongst gay men is something that is often forgotten. The idea that a man could rape another is not thought of when in actual fact, it is prevalent with 26% of gay men experiencing rape. That is almost a third. Hypermasculinity is not only seen within gay culture but crosses gay and straight cultures. Hypermasculinity can at times go hand in hand with homophobia, as gender and sexuality fuse together. The “normal” and consistent narrative is that gay men are effeminate, a trait that is to be rejected by men if they want to be seen as “manly.” We can trace this back to the idea that homosexuality is only constituted by femininity. Homosexuals were and are persecuted and so to avoid this, men need to compensate which has resulted in a overexpression of typically male traits such as physical aggression, physical strength, and a rejection of emotion.
Hypermasculinity affects everyone. At its core, it is anti-female. It states that stereotypical feminine traits are lesser and if you display them as a man, you are therefore lesser, again painting women as second-class citizens. It enhances and mobilizes the patriarchy in a constant and consistent belief that men must be in power and so, therefore, are natural leaders which we know is false (ever heard of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Boudicca, and Angela Merkel?). It affects all men, women, and everyone in between from all walks of life: race, religion, affluence, sexuality. And it needs to be stopped.
In short, hypermasculinity is bad. Let’s “smash,” “hit,” and “beat” it out of 2018.