Why does it suddenly feel like there’s a rising movement to 're-define' masculinity?

July 04, 2019

Why does it suddenly feel like there’s a rising movement to 're-define' masculinity?

Just as we all remember when #feminism was trending, it seems a new wave of masculinity is coming. Brand campaigns in the last few years, celebrity interest, and the news are all covering the topic. And it’s not just in the media. If you’re a young parent, if you’re dating in today’s world, or if you’re simply a human who thinks about his/her own gender,* you likely have something to say about masculinity, or what it means to be a man today.

It’s important to note that some believe gender constructs are primarily social (i.e. a boy wouldn’t naturally reach for blue when born, and neither would a girl reach for pink), while others believe they are driven by biological differences (i.e. women are ‘naturally’ more nurturing, and men are ‘naturally’ more competitive). Some combination of the two might be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that differences between men and women do exist, and gender constructs affect and shape many things – identity, relationships, culture, society, to name a few.

So, what’s changed? Why does it feel like there’s suddenly a ‘masculinity movement’?

  • Awareness of issues

The 2017 MeToo campaign clearly highlighted a pandora’s box of issues many men previously didn’t know about, and that in and of itself spurred a new ‘movement.’ Well-meaning men who maybe didn’t know the extent of the epidemic wanting to do their part.

I would also argue that the unprecedented awareness and acknowledgment of health issues in men is causing society to seek a change. With stats like 93% of prisoners, 86% of homeless people, and 75% of under 45 suicides in the UK being men, it’s hard not to see at least a small connection to the way men have been socialised to be (not seeking help, fear of being perceived as weak). In fact, in a study on mental health and masculinity, researchers argue that “men’s social support networks are limited because seeking support or discussing emotions goes against male role expectations emphasizing strength and emotional restraint.”

  • Effects of Feminism

The ‘feminist movement’ hasn’t just changed the world for women, but also for men. If a man is used to being a provider, that might change when his partner earns more than him and he no longer ‘needs’ to work. Or if he needs to negotiate paternity leave because his partner needs to be back at work shortly after giving birth. These are not traditional roles men are used to navigating, and one could argue they have arisen as a result of the changing workforce.

As feminism has challenged the expectations of how men ‘should be,’ many men are questioning expectations of themselves as well.

  • Challenging Notions of Success
One thing is certain, just as ‘feminism’ is about equal opportunity and the freedom to choose, men don't want to be forced to fit into any boxes. Gen Z and millennials are questioning the ways things are, challenging not only institutions, but the way we work, see success, and define our role within society.

There's a shift in not just how success is being defined, but whether it needs to have one definition at all. Instead of success metrics that many men feel are forced upon them (i.e. status, money, power), they crave the freedom to choose what that definition looks like.

It's clear that we are only at the tip of the iceberg on this deep issue. We haven't even touched upon patriarchy, geographic differences in relation to gender, stereotypes, and so much more. But the truth is, we're watching it play out in real time, and there's so much to be learned. 

*We know there are many people who don’t identify with the pronouns him or her, and that people express both feminine and masculine traits. For the purposes of this piece, we are assuming a more binary naming convention.

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