The Meaning of Masculinity

At a recent meeting of a men’s group I regularly attend, the question of masculinity came up. What does it mean to be masculine?

I didn’t participate in the discussion. Instead, I listened. What became clear to me was the difficulty of nailing down the meaning of a term with such emotional connotations. “Masculinity” is a loaded word.

We can know scientifically the physical differences between men and women. They are scientifically observable and/or measurable—e.g., size, muscular strength, the genitals.

More difficult to define, validate, and cope with are the cultural traits we assign to men. Not very long ago, we accepted without thinking much about it that men were more rational and intelligent than women. We believed that men were less subject to emotional reaction and more apt to seek a physical rather than an intellectual solution to a problem. We saw men as rougher, less gentle, readier to engage in fighting.

I can’t deny that I am a product of my culture and that some of my beliefs about my own masculinity won’t stand up to careful scientific scrutiny. What I’m left with is my moral compass. I know, for example, that as a husband and a father, I must care for, support, and defend my spouse and my children. At a rational level, I can’t see that those duties are any different from what a woman must do.

I end up not being able to see many important differences between masculinity and femininity. At bottom, we are people. We must take care of one another. That is our vocation.

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