Okay, so first thing’s first. Let’s take a look at the antonyms and synonyms Thesaurus.com lists for the word “masculine”. Well, what do you know? The thesaurus itself helps to perpetuate the masculine stereotype as well!
For example, one of the first words that is listed is “muscular”. This plays to the social construction of masculinity very well, as men are expected to be strong, both physically and mentally. Indeed, an antonym listed below is “weak”. A man has to consistently be diligent in being “muscular” and “strong” in every aspect of his life. The message, of course, is that men must continually work on improving their strength. Any man that comes across as “frail” or “weak” is immediately chastised by other males. I can relate to this strongly, as I have often been seen as too “skinny” and not strong enough my whole life. Indeed, there was a time in my collegiate career where I was overly obsessed with working out so that I would maintain the image of being “ripped”. I spent way too many hours in the gym and destroyed my liver by drinking all of the muscle and protein supplements because I was trying to fit into Guyland, all to my detriment. Man culture holds that we are working out to impress women so that we may conquer them in our sexual exploits, but it is more often that we are just trying to gain the approval of other men so that we will not be seen as weak.
Other words listed here are “ape”, “beefcake”, “stud”, and “stallion”. Wait, what? Aren’t these all characteristics and names of animals? Oh, that’s right. Playing into the “muscular” part of guy culture, we are expected to be as strong as the animals listed here. This also strangely plays to the stereotypes men are often ridiculed for – being a brute, animal-like creature, who lacks intellectual capacity and is only good for physical strength and sexual conquest. It is strange how the masculine culture perpetuates this image. Another strange word listed is “caveman”, but again, this plays to men as the stereotypical “strong” person with brute strength and low intellectual ability.
Some of the antonyms listed include “weak”, “afraid”, “cowardly”, “fearful”, and “feminine”. Indeed, men must never show signs of weakness. In doing so would label them as “feminine”. Men cannot show any emotion of weakness or that they are afraid, yet anyone with common sense knows that men, just like any other human, has emotions and gets afraid from time to time. Yet we are taught to suppress these emotions. Repercussions often tend to be disastrous, as we are taught to “man up” and “deal with it”. Sometimes, all of these emotions build up on the inside, and since man culture holds that men are not supposed to get help, men end up becoming self-destructive and a danger to themselves.
So how can this apply to higher education professionals when working with students at college? For one, we must show that it is acceptable and celebrated for men to be who they are on the inside and not who society wants them to be. In a sense, we are in charge of breaking down male stereotypes and reeducating our men. One way to go about this is to create dialogue discussions in safe environments. A safe environment would include a secluded place with only males present. The facilitators would be male student leaders and male student affairs professionals knowledgeable on the subject. We would then discuss societal constructs of what it means to be a man. Student leaders and staff could give testimonials on what being a man means to them, and how they redefined themselves once they realized what the male culture was imposing on them. This vulnerability would hopefully encourage open dialogue and break down emotional walls. Men would hopefully share instances in which they deviated from the male norm, and then other men would be able to relate. We could discuss how there is no single form of masculinity and that all forms are acceptable in society. Again, this is just an example. But we, as student affairs professionals, must be able to have “real” discussions with men on campuses nationwide. We have to be trained to identify men at risk for harm or failure, as man culture holds that they are not supposed to receive any help or ever be vulnerable. After identifying and talking with these students, we must find organizations and communities that they could get involved in that would accept them for who they are. Connecting male students with other males similar to them helps to show that there are others out there like them and they may not feel as isolated on campus.