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What is Masculinity?

Masculinity is defined as qualities and attributes regarded as characteristic of men. When we talk about masculinity, we're talking about a person's gender. Gender is a social construct, and is one of many ways we as humans make meaning and create social structures. A person's gender is based on how society sees them as a gendered being. Gender is based in part on biological characteristics (genitalia, facial hair, etc.), but it is largely based on society's idea of how a person of a particular gender should be. Gender is realized on a spectrum, one that intersects with a person's sex (physiological and biological), a person's sexual orientation (who they are attracted to), and their gender identity (how they see themselves as a gendered being, which may or may not align with their gender). These intersections are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are distinct, and each of us are a unique mix of these identities.

So, if gender is a social construct, it is important to know how the masculine construct is created. In the United States and in many Western cultures, the dominant masculine construct has been created for men by men. It is part of the day-to-day interactions that must be navigated by young boys as they grow into adulthood, and by men throughout their lives. It is everywhere – in films and TV shows, in advertising, music, video games, social media, sports commentary – and it is impossible to ignore.

This construct has been mis-labeled in recent years as "toxic masculinity." It is important to remember that although some behaviors associated with masculinity are harmful or toxic, masculinity itself is not. The construct is harmful, however, as it is a limiting definition of what a man is supposed to be.