The meaning of masculinity

Boys at BVNW discuss the changing nature of what masculinity means to them.

Reagan Kauth and Liz LaHood

People’s opinions it means to be “manly” are widely debated in today’s society. This subject goes hand in hand with the topic of toxic masculinity, and how stereotypes and labels influence people’s perceptions of what men should represent.

Junior Braden Bartalos voiced his opinion on this topic, saying toxic masculinity leads men to act in unnecessary and sometimes threatening ways in order to prove themselves to others, when that is not at all how men should be portraying themselves.

“What I think it means to be a man is to have control over your emotions and take responsibility when it needs to be taken,” Bartalos said. “It means to not interfere with other people’s problems when they don’t need you to, and to be a welcoming figure to people so they can always come to you and not feel bombarded by your presence.”

Senior Zach Stark said while emotions are part of being a man, so are the traditional masculine qualities.

“To be manly, I think it’s to be able to persevere through the hard times. I think it’s hard wired into a man to be competitive,” Stark said. “I think men traditionally have strength and independence. That defines what it means to be a man.”

Stark said many would view these qualities as contributors to toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity, Stark said, is not something that exists because actions do not reflect a man’s masculinity.

“I don’t believe toxic masculinity exists,” Stark said. “I don’t think that somebody’s gender defines their actions. There are definitely bad people who may be men, but at the same time there are also bad people who may be women.”

Senior Rowan Ramey shows off his pink and purple glitter nails. “Do whatever you want, whatever makes you happy,” Ramey said. (Rachel Sarff)

Toxic masculinity is defined by senior Rowan Ramey as a cover for people’s insecurities and emotions, saying that it is a problem especially for those who don’t feel like they fit in.

“I think toxic masculinity is just a cover up for people’s insecurities or a way to suppress someone else because you don’t agree with the way that they act,” Ramey said.

The concept of toxic masculinity has been around for a while, sprouting from centuries of labels and gender norms that have recently come into question. Bartalos said it’s crucial to break and challenge these stereotypes which go against gender neutrality and inclusivity.

“For years and centuries, clothes have been something that people define themselves as and say there’s more ‘feminine clothes’ and more ‘masculine clothes’. I think it’s important to break those [stereotypes] because clothes have no gender,” Bartalos said.

To go against toxic masculinity and gender norms, Bartalos said he expresses himself through his fashion choices and reluctance to fit under a specific category or stereotype.

“There’s no rule that says a girl has to wear dresses and skirts and guys have to wear pants,” Bartalos said.

While agreeing with the idea that people can do whatever they want, Stark said boys dressing femininely does not redefine masculinity. Stark said he strongly believes in the idea that skirts and dresses are feminine clothing.

“I do think clothing plays a role in masculinity,” Stark said. “If you are wearing clothing that’s feminine, that’s not masculine. That is not rebranding masculinity. That is just you wearing feminine clothing. Traditionally, masculinity is a set of attributes, behaviors and roles.”

I think toxic masculinity is just a cover up for people’s insecurities.”

— Rowan Ramey

Sophomore Brett Oplotnik said breaking free of these unfair stereotypes has been difficult for him because people see him differently and try to break him down because of it.

“I am a little more feminine acting and since I don’t really hang out with guys, and I do more feminine- acting things like dance and theater,” Oplotnik said. “They’ll make fun of me and think I’m weird just because I choose to do those things. I just think that it’s really stupid that people treat me like that just because I don’t want to do something that they view as normal.”

Being himself made it hard to fit in, Oplotnik said. Fitting in can be a struggle for a lot of people, and he said that toxic masculinity only adds to those obstacles.

“I feel like it’s this thing where boys feel like they have to act a certain way in order to be accepted in the male community. They think that doing things that are even slightly feminine is a bad thing, and I don’t like that they look down upon it, because it’s not a bad thing if a boy wants to paint their nails or wear skirts,” Oplotnik said. “I feel like all these boys think there is a certain standard of what you have to be like.”

Despite facing these challenges, Oplotnik said he was able to defy these gender norms by expressing himself through his fashion choices.

“I dress however I want and I act however I want and don’t even care what anyone else is saying because obviously no matter what you do somebody else is going to have an opinion on you, whether that be a good opinion or a bad opinion,” Oplotnik said. “They can just tell me whatever they want. I honestly don’t care. It’s not going to affect what I want to do and it’s not going to make me stop doing it because I enjoy it.”

Junior Braden Bartalos shows off his true style with his past self Pgazing toward his current self, illustrating how his style has evolved. (Sophie Dellett)

Many people get caught up in the idea of doing what everyone else thinks they should do, Ramey said, when in reality others do not really notice any change.

“Just don’t care,” Ramey said. “You think everyone’s going to care about something that’s gonna change or once you show up it’s gonna be such a huge deal. It’s not that big. Nobody cares, actually. You can do whatever you want, whatever makes you happy and it’s not going to affect your daily life.”

Bartalos said he also likes things that are perceived as more feminine in terms of fashion. He said his main inspiration for his style came from some of his friends and other people and trends he saw in photos or online. He said he likes to incorporate his own ideas to make his fashion choices more individualistic.

“I wear a lot of different clothing to express myself, and I also like to wear eyeliner and paint my nails and I like to show emotion,” Bartalos said.”I think it’s really easy for me to do that because my whole life I’ve grown up around girls, and so it’s easy for me to be myself and not just stick into a box.”

Although some people, like Bartalos, are more open to expressing their feminine side, whether it be through their fashion, attitudes or some other factor, he said other guys act in ways that only add to the stereotype because of their efforts to be considered “manly” by others.

“They take their own route into more toxic masculinity, which makes them seem as more of a threat. They try to be all big and buff and strong and all these things that they don’t need to be just to prove that they’re masculine, when masculinity just means being loving and caring and showing emotion,” Bartalos said.

I dress however I want and I act however I want and don’t even care what anyone else is saying, because obviously no matter what you do somebody else is going to have an opinion on you, whether that be a good opinion or a bad opinion.”

— Brett Oplotnik

Stark said boys wanting to be seen as strong is not a choice but a natural instinct. While boys do want people to see them as strong they also want to be seen as leaders, he said.

“I think boys are often hard wired into you wanna be tough, you wanna be competitive,” Stark said. “I think a lot of the society now is saying ‘oh that’s toxic, you shouldn’t engage in any of those instincts that you have,’ because it is a natural instinct for boys to not want to cry and to be tough and to be great.”

While he believes toxic masculinity is a problem in society, Ramey said BVNW is doing a good job of being accepting of people trying to be themselves, but to break these norms people still need to work together to create a more inclusive environment for everyone.

“I feel like our school has definitely become more accepting and open, but there’s always going to be differences and different points of views that aren’t going to work together well or that aren’t going to support one another,” Ramey said.

Bartalos said it is important to be yourself and not limiting yourself despite the many stereotypes present in society.

“I think people should be more open with themselves and more loving. They need to know what they truly want and how they want to be perceived, and not to just fit in one specific category. You can still branch out, you can still be yourself, but show who you really are and don’t try to keep yourself in a box,” Bartalos said.

Although there’s still a ways to go in ending toxic masculinity, Oplotnik said that it shouldn’t stop people from having confidence and expressing themselves honestly.

“Just keep going until you find something that you like and don’t care what anyone else says,” Oplotnik said. “You do you, and you show yourself however you want to.”