In Jennifer Pollitt’s first human sexuality course in graduate school, she listened to a guest lecture on men and masculinity studies. That short lecture inspired Pollitt to incorporate this issue in the courses she teaches at Temple.
The university’s sociology program offers the course Men and Masculinity, which explores the societal impact of the traditional male role on both men and women.
Still, Pollitt, a College of Liberal Arts instructor, said there is a lack of dialogue in academia concerning the negative effects of rigid masculinity in society.
Researchers have defined toxic masculinity as a set of behaviors and beliefs like suppressing emotions or masking distress, maintaining an appearance of hardness and using violence to show power, the New York Times reported.
“We have feminized all the emotions that all of us have as human beings, such as empathy, compassion, love and kindness and in disseminating those emotions, we’ve made them anti-man. And so if men are going to be real men, they can’t be like women,” Pollitt said.
Grant Gwiazdowski, a sophomore math and computer science major, said growing up with a “stoic man attitude” made it difficult for him to express vulnerability.
“There were definitely points where people have said, ‘Man up,’ especially concerning my social anxiety,” he said. “It wasn’t that I was necessarily being too feminine, they said I wasn’t being masculine enough.”
Sixty percent of men said that society puts “unhealthy” pressure on men, and younger men are more likely to believe that, according to a 2018 survey by FiveThirtyEight, along with WNYC and SurveyMonkey.
Pollitt said scholars should include both the perspective of the oppressed and the oppressor when studying identity. In studying LGBTQ people, there should be a conversation around heterosexuality, and when discussing race, white privilege should be included. This should also be considered when studying masculinity and gender, Pollitt said.
“We let white supremacy, heterosexuality and masculinity all go unchallenged or uninterrogated because those are the standards by which we set our cultural and social norms,” Pollitt said.
Gwiazodowski went to an all-boys high school where there was an emphasis on athletics and said he felt discouraged by his peers for participating in “nonmasculine hobbies.”
“I was more so going inside and playing games, doing stuff on my computer,” he added. “There were a lot of people like that, but they were usually the ones who were most bullied.”
Eddie Kiesel, a senior risk management major, said he struggles with the definition of masculinity as a gay man.
“The largest thing is that it’s a difficult space to navigate when you don’t know that vocabulary, and you feel different than other guys and you kinda don’t socialize the same way,” Kiesel said.
Discrimination toward gay men from some heterosexual men is partially driven by the perceived fear of femininity associated with homosexuality, according to a 2016 study by the Psychology of Men & Masculinities journal.
“Even now when I’m around other guys I’m still a little scared that they’ll think I’m hitting on them or making an advance,” Kiesel said. “I’m scared of getting myself into a situation where I’ll be profiled.”
Pollitt believes students across all disciplines and majors can benefit from taking a class on men and masculinity.
“Wherever they end up working professionally afterward they will take those skills and apply them in their workspaces, making it safer for people to show up at work, and trust that they won’t be discriminated against, harassed or victims of physical and or sexual violence,” she added.