Thoughts on Masculinity


by Steve Reed, REACH Board Member


The author, Steve Reed, REACH Board Member

When Laura asked me to write a guest post about what masculinity means to me, I was caught off guard. Other than being a son, brother, husband, and father, what do I know about masculinity? To be honest, I’ve never really thought about it before. So, I did what
anyone in 2018 would do, I Googled it. Turns out, masculinity means different things to different people. In a very traditional sense, being masculine means being strong, rugged, powerful, or robust. In short, “manly.” Think John Wayne in True Grit, Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator, or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in, well, anything. In another sense, masculinity means suave, debonair, or refined. Think Daniel Craig as James Bond, Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, or George Clooney as, well, himself. For many men, being masculine also means never showing your emotions. It may be acceptable to have an occasional emotion, but under no circumstances are you ever to express it, lest you be considered weak (except on Sunday afternoons during football season, when it’s okay to jump up and down and cheer your team to victory while covered in body paint).  


But as we are now acknowledging, being masculine has frequently (and for too long) also meant disrespecting women. For some men, it has meant an abuse of power, a warped sense of entitlement, and (until recently) a lack of consequence for not just bad, but unlawful, behavior. Fortunately, the curtain has now been pulled back on high profile philanderers, harassers, and rapists who for years went unchallenged because of their power, fame, and fortune. But sexual harassment and violence toward women is not limited to movie moguls, media talking heads, and presidents. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency responsible for investigating workplace discrimination and harassment, has received more than 12,000 sexual harassment complaints each year since 2010. Add to this the thousands of separate harassment complaints filed with state anti-discrimination agencies each year, and it quickly becomes apparent that even in this supposed age of enlightenment, a lot of men still don’t get it. But it’s actually quite simple. Under no circumstances is it okay for a man to display his masculinity by abusing his partner or sexually assaulting his coworkers. That’s not being masculine; that’s being a criminal.

So, what can real men––those of us comfortable in our own skin and with our masculinity––do to help put an end to this inappropriate behavior? We can start by treating women with the same level of respect as we expect to be treated. This means keeping our hands and sexually-charged comments to ourselves. It means listening to female colleagues and validating their concerns and fears. And it means standing up for what’s right and calling out inappropriate conduct when we see it or hear it. Rather than focus our masculinity on harassment and violence toward women, real men channel our energy toward positive relationships, in and out of the workplace. By doing these simple things, and even allowing our emotions to surface every once in a while (not just during football season), we can affect significant change.