The ‘Masculine Boundary’: Where is it, and Why?



The ‘Masculine Boundary’: Where is it, and Why?

In the life of a growing child, ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ become fleshed out over time, creating a model where actions, preferences, beliefs, and even emotional states are categorized in a binary fashion

It starts easy enough: boys like blue, girls like pink. Boys play with trucks and action figures, girls play with dolls and makeup. Truth be told, for most of us, gender seems easy enough to start. It is when you get a little older that it becomes a little strange.

Now, I’m not here to talk about differences between gender norms like dress, color preference, or mannerisms. Rather, I want to talk about how the very substance of one’s character is perceived—and affected—by gender conceptions. Yes, I want to talk about stereotypes.

Now you are no doubt saying to yourself, frustrated, “of course stereotypes are bad; they also don’t represent real people.” And, of course, you are correct: stereotypes are almost always demeaning, immature, and not based on reality. That is a relief, and certainly does away with racial and ethnic stereotypes. Unfortunately, the stereotype of masculinity is a little different—it is actually the main blueprint boys have to go on growing up.

Past the limited confines of toy choice and color preference, every child immediately recognizes and internalizes that gender is a real thing with boundaries for inclusion and exclusion. Girls and boys alike recognize this, and feel its pressure. In the life of a growing child, “masculine” and “feminine” become fleshed out over time, creating a model where actions, preferences, beliefs, and even emotional states are categorized in a binary fashion.

As far as preferences and actions go, these are noticed and commented on immediately: ever heard the terms “tomboy” or “sissy”? Like I mentioned before, though, it goes way past this.

Our boy, now 7, has developed additional models of masculinity beyond male family members and television: he now has 7-year-old friends. At this budding stage of life, the social pressures of masculinity begin to assert themselves.

Every man has heard one phrase many times, expressed many different ways: “Be a Man.” We’ve heard it from our dad, our friends, even from the quiet of our own mind. The language may vary—your friends may have preferred something that began with “don’t be a”—but the meaning is always the same. And I’ll wager, despite the various circumstances of each of those moments, they all fell into three categories:

1. Your actions / preferences were judged as feminine

2. You were expressing negative emotion, and were pressured to deny it

3. You were pressured into taking risky / violent action

Looking specifically at the first category, we can see a pivotal theme that runs through the rest as well: masculinity is fundamentally defined as “that which is not feminine.” Women are seen as passive and cautious, so men ought to be bold and reckless. Women are seen as compassionate and loving, so men ought to be stoic and aloof. The masculinity boundary is formed wholly by femininity, and this poses two challenges:

First, many “feminine” aspects of character—such as being compassionate, loving, and emotionally expressive—are the same characteristics we ought to revere in any good person. Plus, they contribute to a happier and healthier life.

Second, the Women’s Rights Movement has long been struggling to change the stereotypes of femininity and the societal structures they reinforce. While much work remains to be done, there have been great strides made in what the “femininity boundary” allows for. For those men who define masculinity as that which femininity is not, this may pose a problem –the boundary is shifting.

Truth be told, the vast majority of ways in which men differentiate themselves from women are totally fine; in fact, women overwhelmingly enjoy many ascribed aspects of masculinity. As men, we need to simply be prepared for some overlap between masculinity and femininity. Otherwise, we may preserve our masculinity, only to lose our humanity.


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• In March of 2014, Center for Victims launched the MEN Challenge & Pledge. This initiative was designed to engage more men in CV’s violence prevention programs and speak out about violence against women and girls. Domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault are often referred to as “women’s issues.”  These crimes are not just women’s issues, they are a public health issues and everyone’s business.


Center for Victims believes men need to be a part of the solution and that they do want to be actively involved in violence prevention, but don’t know where to start or what to do. The MEN Challenge & Pledge gives men a place to start. Our goal is to educate and give men and the community the tools and resources necessary to use their voices and their actions to be social change agents.


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1st Annual MEN Challenge Event

Friday March 6, 2015 | Rivers Casino Drum Bar

Center for Victims is hosting the 1st annual MEN Challenge Event in honor and recognition of the 256 men (and counting!) who have signed on to the MEN challenge, committed to this initiative and its value, and who embody CV’s violence prevention efforts in this region. Men who have shown a greater interest and who have worked on specific prevention and/or awareness projects will be highlighted and nominated for the MEN Challenge award. The winner of this award will be announced at the 10th Anniversary of Center for Victims’ Peace It Together Awards Celebration on March 12, 2015 at Pittsburgh’s Grand hall at The Priory.

This exclusive event gives attendees the opportunity to network and engage with other men who are committed to violence prevention and share stories and thoughts on issues surrounding violence in their communities. It will also serve as a way to recruit and introduce new members to the MEN Challenge so that the group can grow and continue to change social norms and make a greater impact in our region.

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