The Paradox of Fragile Masculinity in Today’s Society


Today’s society has to deal with global warming, terrorist attacks, hunger and poverty, among many other, but it still seems to be plagued by ‘concern’ showed to genders and their respective characteristics, more than by the issues just mentioned.

By this I mean that if you show people a video/article about global warming and ask them what they think about it and what changes could be made to improve the situation and a video/article about a man doing something that is not considered manly they wouldn’t know what to say about global warming and there is no guarantee that all of them would know what it entails but most of them would have plenty to say about the man not acting ‘properly’.

From here to hearing an astonishing number of times stereotypes like “You’re throwing like a girl!”; “That’s not a man’s job!”; “Girls can’t like or play sports!” or “That’s not a manly color!” during our lives is short way to go. Ever since our birth we are being “catalogued” and placed in a category, all based on the gender we are assigned by the medics at our birth.

From then on starts our education and every decision our parents make for us is shaping us little by little into the adults we’ll become one day. The thing is that some things related to our gender we are not being taught, those things are being infringed upon us so we unconsciously grow up to be a different version of ourselves than our true one.

It all starts when we’re still in the womb, when the parents find out the gender of the child and they start planning the names, room, clothes and toys. If it happens to be a boy, the room will be blue and the child will have only cars and soldiers as toys and if it happens to be a girl, there will be a pink room with lots of dolls and fluffy toys.

The moment after the child is born and the gender is assigned, the “it’s a boy/it’s a girl” phrase can be heard and those three words are the starting point of the gender stereotyping the child is going to face during his/her life.

Whether we talk about the bedtime stories children are read before going to sleep, games, TV series or cartoons, where the woman is supposed to be small, fragile and weak and the man always strong, brave and fearless, our society paints an ideal image that everyone grows up wanting to imitate.

Our society always taught our women to rely on men, to be dependent, quiet, thoughtless and invisible, to never act like they are strong and capable; to never try to accomplish their dreams if that meant to get in the way of men. This is a portrayal of how women weren’t supposed to be perfect or close to perfection while men were.

As the time passed though, society has started encouraging women to be brave, to be courageous and outspoken, to follow their dreams and not rely on the help of a man to accomplish their dreams but the pressure put on men, to always be strong, reliable, stoic and fearless has remained the same.

The biggest problem society has with this is the fact that men and women started borrowing, for some years now, characteristics from the other and while women borrowing male dressing style, ethics and attitudes, when men tries doing the same, society shames them.

What didn’t change over the years is the effect media has on people, especially when it comes to showcasing beauty. What is considered to be the beauty standard is not an ideal created by people from all over the world that chatted about this and pitched ideas about how an ideal person should look like (which as much as we don’t need a standard to tell us we are beautiful, would have been somehow acceptable) but an image the media feeds us on a daily bases, people all over the world hurting their minds and bodies in order to achieve the ideal.

That’s how beauty products and cosmetic surgery have become so famous and searched for by both men and women.

According to a study conducted by BuzzFeed, the number of beauty male products increased by more than 74% worldwide between 2012-2014 and the same study, based on information gathered from professional publications, entertainment and social media, determined what are considered to be the beauty standards for men around the world.

  • The Americans prefer the muscular, bearded, manly men – the “Lumberjack”, the Mexicans prefer the “macho” type, while Mexican men have been identified as being the vainest worldwide, behind Venezuela, in a study from 2000.
  • Brazilians consider the ideal man to be mixed-race, tanned and with Germanic features and in Brazil cosmetic surgery for men has become something very normal.
  • Nigerians as well consider masculinity as being the most important criteria of the perfect man, and according to a study from 2007, Nigerians in their 20s viewed masculinity as “culturally superior” to femininity.
  • The ideal Turkish man is often found in the dramas, the man shifting from the rough masculine type, to the romantic, sensible one, while the most fashionable grooming services for men in the country are body hair removal.
  • The country considered “The pinnacle of men’s fashion”, Italy considers the ideal man to be one wearing tailored clothes and not afraid to wear colors considered feminine.
  • The British, as the Americans, prefer their men to be buff and facial hair combined with grooming, including ‘manscaping’, have become increasingly popular among British men.
  • The ideal men in India are not afraid or ashamed of maintain their beauty using beauty products on a daily basis, the largest demographic of men’s skincare consumers being Asia Pacific region, which makes up 65% of worldwide sales, skin lightening creams becoming more and more popular among men and being endorsed by Bollywood starts.
  • In South Korea, entertainment is dominated by the pop culture, the male beauty standard being that of K-pop idols, which combine muscular, lean bodies with soft features and make-up, plastic surgery practices such as double eyelids, bigger eyes and high bridged nose becoming the norm, in order to obtain the ideal features.
  • In the Philippines, the “macho ideal” has given way to the booming male beauty market as men embraced “metrosexuality”.
  • The Australians’ biggest worry body-wise is the fact that they want to be bigger, more muscular or leaner, the Hemsworth brothers being considered the ideal for male beauty down under.

After seeing these beauty ideals it is impossible not to notice the fact that most of them involve practices that are considered feminine but without whose ‘help’ the ideals can’t be achieved. This points out the hypocrisy of our society, seeing as how men are told by society how they are supposed to look while at the same time shaming them for trying to achieve those standards.

And the biggest misconception people have about men using what are considered to be female products and practices to improve their looks, is that those men look and act ‘feminine’, which couldn’t be further away from the truth.

So what are men supposed to do in today’s society so they can feel good in their own skin and still be accepted?


By Patricia Blaj and Diana Cozan


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