The phrase “New Masculinity” was popularized just last year, in October 2019, when GQ published the “The New Masculinity Issue.” But well before 2019, the idea of new masculinity has been around, and it’s taken various names, including “modern masculinity” and “positive masculinity.”
No matter what you call this new form of masculinity, its meaning remains the same: It’s a rejection of traditional “masculine” ideals. It’s also expanding what masculinity means because right now, our understanding of masculinity is very narrow.
Traditionally, to be a “man,” you’re supposed to be alpha, independent, dominant, and never show emotions. The phrase “boys don’t cry” encapsulates traditional masculinity.
New Masculinity isn’t necessarily a rejection of all classic forms of masculinity, just the unhealthy elements that negatively impact both women and men. This is often referred to as “toxic masculinity.”
Let’s break down a few ways in which traditional masculinity can be unhealthy or toxic.
First and foremost, the older form of masculinity discourages communication. It’s considered “unmanly” to express emotions or to admit that you’re upset, jealous, hurt, or need more affection from your family, friends, or partners. This creates a massive disconnect in relationships. Often, instead of expressing our emotions, men get angry because anger is deemed a masculine trait. But yelling at your partner hardly ever solves anything. It only makes matters worse. So this new form of masculinity encourages men to share their insecurities and be more vulnerable. It also encourages men to be in therapy, which has been considered “unmanly,” since you express your emotions in therapy.
A classic example of toxic masculinity is when a guy claims he’s standing up for his girlfriend, but his girlfriend didn’t want or ask him to. Let’s break down this scenario further. Say someone is at a bar flirting with your girlfriend, and you go up and punch that man. This may be considered “manly” because men fight, and it (seems) like you’re protecting your girlfriend, but this simply isn’t the case. This makes it seem like you own your girlfriend, and you’re forbidding her to talk to other men. She’s a grown-ass adult who can handle herself, so you cannot and should not control who she talks to.
Now, if this guy flirting with your girlfriend starts harassing her or touching her without her consent, and she asks for your help, then you can go ahead and punch him. So this is what I mean when I say it’s not a blatant rejection of traditional masculine ideals. You can still be “tough” and stand up for your girlfriend, but in a manner that takes her wants into consideration and is neither controlling nor possessive.
So much of traditional masculinity is tied into sexual prowess, too. You’re “manly” if you have sex with a lot of women. This often leads to using women for sex and then disposing of them as if they’re sexual objects. Obviously, this is not OK. Still, new masculinity isn’t saying that you can’t be a big ol’ manwhore. It’s just saying that you need to be honest about your intentions with women. If you just want to have sex once, that’s fine; you just need to make that clear before hooking up. That way, you’re giving her the opportunity to make a decision with all the pertinent information.
But being “manly” in the sack also adds a lot of pressure for men to perform. It’s the reason why we’re seeing high rates of performance anxiety, specifically erectile dysfunction, in young, otherwise healthy men. A 2017 article published in Sexual Medicine Reviews reports that upwards of 30% of men under 40 struggle with erectile dysfunction. These men’s ED isn’t rooted in physiology, but rather psychological stress. They put so much pressure on being great at sex that they end up getting too nervous and can’t obtain or maintain an erection.
More traditional masculine ideals also harm gay and bisexual men, especially those who are naturally more effeminate and flamboyant. First off, you can only be masculine if you’re dating and having sex with women and only women. So immediately, this is a rejection of all gay and bisexual men. Second, masculine men are thought to look, walk, and talk a certain way, but many gay/bi men don’t have these mannerisms. Third, artistry, creativity, and fashion aren’t considered masculine in the traditional model leaving out many gay/bi men who excel in these professions.
For all these reasons and so much more, there’s been a push for this new masculinity that’s more inclusive of all types of men. The new masculinity encourages men to be more thoughtful, vulnerable, and communicative.
I know it’s tough to break older notions of masculinity because it’s so heavily ingrained in us, and our friends may even ridicule us for becoming “soft.” Nevertheless, a man’s true character comes from being willing to grow. A real man isn’t afraid to go against the grain for what he knows is right. That’s why you should consider embracing the emerging new masculinity.