Being a Big Wheel — Man, Manhood and Masculinity

Sexual harassment crosses all boundaries of gender, age, religion, ethnicity, size and ability–  a similar statement can be made for sexual predators. That being said, there exists a factor consistent among most offenders, and that is gender. However petrifying and devastating it may sound, relevant data has consistently shown that number of male sexual offenders exceed the females by an overwhelming majority. Moreover, not only sexual crimes, but 80% of all crimes including theft, drug trafficking etc., are committed by men.

This raises the question of why men are more likely to commit crimes as compared to women. The answer to this drives us to further question the basic notions of masculinity that have been ingrained in our society for a long time. This is an important exercise, as different cultures and different periods of history construct masculinity differently– the concept of masculinity in the West is not the same as its concept in the East; homosexuality is included in the definition of masculinity in America, France and England, but is taboo in Arab countries. Further, multiple masculinities are found even in one culture or organization. In this sense, masculinity needs to be seen from the point of view of each society independently. Here, we must realise that masculinity is not organic, its reactive: it’s not something that develops, it’s a rejection of everything that is feminine.
Almost all men can identify with being expected to stay tough, having control of situations, never crying, working through physical pain, providing for their family, and never backing down from a fight. Though such roles provide men with an operational module in which to exist, the study of their psyche reveals how restrictive and damaging these gender roles can be for some of them.

From a young age, boys are taught to associate their masculinity with athletic ability, size, strength or some kind of skill set, and grow up hearing phrases like ‘don’t be a sissy’, ‘give them hell’, ‘be a big wheel’, and ‘be a sturdy oak’. As they get older, these ideas develop– especially in the case of sports– into a need to show dominance, be aggressive and exert authority just to feel manly. Another thing that every boy is taught is to associate masculinity with economic success. But if one builds a sense of masculinity based on power and possessions, there will always be someone who has more of it. This will lead to an extremely empty life of striving for things at the expense of what’s really important in life. In many societies, masculinity is also associated with being sexually active with lots of partners, and the greater the number of wives or sexual partners a person has, the higher is their status in society. 

Mainstream media representation also plays a role in reinforcing ideas about what it means to be a ‘real’ man in our society. In most media portrayals, male characters are rewarded for having self-control, control over others, aggression, violence, financial independence, and physical desirability. Masculinity and the need to adhere to masculine norms can be harmful in a number of ways, one of which is alcohol abuse. Men who try to conform to strict male codes often experience heightened psychological strain and a burden that can exacerbate their alcohol abuse. Drinking alcohol then, serves as a method of both proving their masculinity and as an emotional escape from the strain of adhering to male norms. Some theories express that men with alcohol dependencies actually have the most fragile masculine identities,which they attempt to boost by heavy binge drinking. 

In conclusion, the idea of masculinity and the consequences that come with it are omnipresent in our everyday lives. It impacts not only males who do not want to conform to these ideas, but also other people who do not fit the stereotypical idea of a ‘manly man’. Hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity reflect cultural tension and fear of the fact that gender is socially constructed and complex. They are our attempt to organize and simplify the world, an oversimplification that ends up putting tremendous pressure on young men and women to fit into these boxes. We should try and build a culture where we respect the toughness and strength of men who challenge the myth that being a real man requires putting up a false front, disrespecting others, and engaging in violent and self-destructive behavior.

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