Masculinity (According to Craigslist)

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Today on Towleroad there was an article about a portrait project done by photographer Chad States. The Morning News interviewed States and he explained the project as such:

I found all my subjects through Craigslist. I began by asking the question “Are you masculine?” in the heading. In the body of the posting I talked briefly about the project. Much to the effect of: “I am doing a photography project on masculinity. If you identify as being masculine, please get back to me.” I intentionally leave it gender-neutral so males, females and trans people feel free to respond. Most of the respondents are men, but a few are female and a few are trans. I posted to a bunch of different categories to cast as wide a net as possible.

You can view the full gallery on State’s webpage.

Masculinity is a topic that I find very interesting in a similar way to my discussion about villains. Despite what progress women have made over the past century, we are still a largely patriarchal culture, where men and masculinity are held up as ideals.  Men should try to be more masculine. That is the message that still pervades our culture.

In this project, each of the subjects offered their own description of what masculinity means to them, and I thought it might be interesting to compile those quotes and offer a bit of social justice commentary on them. (If you want to interpret the photos and quotes for yourself, don’t read my post until after you’ve explore the gallery on your own!) Personally, I think masculinity is a foolish, archaic concept and its promotion can be quite harmful to our society. These quotes show how the concept of masculinity either motivates individuals to think in harmful/disrespectful ways or challenges their own sense of identity to be more masculine just to have confidence in themselves.

First, here is my favorite of the portraits:

Masculinity Photos - TimothyTimothy says:

Men aren’t being men anymore; they aren’t taking care of women.

Now, obviously, I disagree that men should “take care” of women. As a gay man, I obviously have no motivation to “take care” of women in any different sort of way than I would care for anyone else, nor do I think that straight men have any obligation to protect or control their female mates. But it is Timothy’s presentation of himself that I connect with the most. Of all these men who claim to be masculine, he seems to present himself with the least amount of concern for manliness. His presentation of himself is one of the most simple of the bunch. He is simply comfortable just being himself, and I personally find that to be a much more admirable quality than masculinity.

Now, let’s look at the rest of the quotes. (You can match all the quotes to the photos on States’s website.)

Bill:

I am strong emotionally, have always stood up for myself, and fear nothing. I happen to be physically strong but that isn’t where I derive my masculinity.

I think Bill tells us a lot about masculinity. I wonder what he means by “strong emotionally.” My hunch is that he means he is not soft, that he does not easily show (or “succumb”) to his emotions. By standing up for himself and not fearing, he shows bravery, but also an important sense of independence. He does not relate as much to his physical strength, and yet he knows it is relevant enough to be worth mentioning.

Jay:

I feel that I am not only masculine in gender but also in speech, the way I act and the way I posture myself. It has been like this from birth. I like to pass as a guy, I just don’t want to have his stuff.

Jay’s sense of masculinity is definitely not the typical “male” kind, as hir quote indicates ze is not biologically male. But, ze considers hir gender, hir sense of who ze is to be defined by masculinity, which speaks to how deep masculinity really is. There is also a masculine way to speak, walk, and talk, and I think Jay’s use of “posture” speaks to how the way a person stand or holds hirself really communicates something about who that person is.

Chris:

I am finally happy with my body, my maleness and masculinity. Boy, it took a long time. I even revel in the little bit of extra weight I’ve gained…it seems like I’ve overcome a hurdle that dogged me for so long; I’ve overcome that thinness that made me feel less than male.

I think Chris’s comments are really important because they show how important body image can be to men. Because men have a patriarchal advantage, they might not always feel the same pressure to have a “manly figure,” but there are messages being sent about how men should look nonetheless. According to Chris, masculinity demands stature, and I think there is an inherent sense of power in there. He didn’t feel he was manly because he wasn’t big enough (or perhaps, subconsciously, formidable enough).

Dennis:

I feel masculine when I am home, I can take care of myself. I often feel emasculated when I leave my apartment though, with everyone asking me if I need help. I don’t need any help.

Dennis echoes what we have heard already about independence and self-sufficiency, but through the unique lens of a person with a disability. I definitely get the impression that Dennis does not personally feel that his impairment has any effect on his own sense of masculinity, but it does affect how masculine others’ perceptions of him might be. I think this shows that no matter how masculine a person might think hirself, it really is something determined by other people. Dennis feels masculine when other people don’t keep him from feeling that way.

Dex:

First off, I’d say I’m masculine because of how I feel inside, who I am and how I carry myself. In a lot of ways my masculinity is tied to my male gender role and how I want to project that and be perceived by others.

Dex’s comments really serve to compile a lot of what we’ve heard from the others about masculinity. It’s an internal feeling, it defines his identity, and it’s how he portrays himself to others. He also introduced the word “role,” suggesting that this identity affects not only how he protrays himself but even what behaviors he depends on for that portrayal.

Andrew:

The first thing I do when I walk into a room is figure out which male could kick my ass and which female I would like to fuck. Sometimes this is so subconscious it is alarming.

Andrew seems to convey the way masculinity can take control of how a person feels and thinks. It reflects a sense of competition with other men and a sense of domination over women. While Andrew’s take on masculinity might be more “extreme” compared to the others, I wonder if it’s only just a bit more honest.

Dwight:

Masculinity is an attitude. I feel that I’m masculine because I carry myself as such. It doesn’t have anything to do with what you drive or how many women or kids you have.

Like several of the others, Dwight refers to how he carries himself, but I think the rest of the quote tells us quite a bit about masculinity. Though he chooses not to use cars or women to demonstrate his masculinity, he recognizes that many people do. I think this speaks to the use of props for posturing. In the world of masculinity, both cars and women can help convey a sense of domination and accomplishment, perhaps with the intent of intimidation or control.

Franco:

To be masculine is to dominate in one’s field of study.

Franco offers an interesting juxtaposition. He speaks quite bluntly to the concept of domination, but he seeks to dominate in academia, which is quite different than physical strength or domination of women.

Greg:

I feel most masculine when I am lying in bed naked.

I’m not sure what to make of Greg’s comment. It might be unique to the bunch, as he favors what is ultimately a pretty vulnerable position.

John:

To me it’s about being comfortable with myself. I like the way I look, am comfortable with my body and enjoy being a man.

I think John has a healthy perspective on his identity, but he still feels it important to define himself as a man. From the limited context of his quote, it is hard to tell whether his positive self-image is in coherence with or in spite of expectations for masculinity.

Johnpeters:

I am fiercely competitive. Not that women can’t be also, but there is something about being a man and having a competitive drive.

In a Carrie Prejean “no disrespect” kind of way, Johnpeters demonstrates the inherent superiority in masculinity. He suggests that no matter how a woman competes, she can never compete with a man. Given that men still dominate our society, this attitude reflects a widespread resistance to abdicating that privilege.

Josh:

I consider myself to be masculine because I spent time in the Marine Corps, I work out, I have a mohawk, I have tattoos, I’m a tattoo artist, i cuss a lot, and that’s all I can think of right now.

Again we see themes of domination, formidability, and independence. What Josh also reveals is a sense of earning and deserving masculinity and the respect that comes with it. This parallels notions of control we have also seen.

Liz:

When I wear men’s clothes I feel comfortable and confident in how I look on the outside which now matches the inside.

I’m not sure what Liz might exactly be indicating about hir gender identity, but ze echoes what others have said about presentation, internal identity, and a sense of cohesion between the two.

Luke:

I am masculine because I abandon women after taking their love. Because when you study Freud you don’t let him study you. Because I study philosophy not literature.

While I cannot be exactly sure, Luke’s comments seem to be self-contradicting. He seems to be setting himself apart from Freud (and, likely, the gender role expectations Freud laid out), and yet his selfish use (or perhaps even abuse) of women aligns him in just that way. His image (NSFW) conveys a sense of superiority that seems to mirror more his commitment to stereotypical masculinity than against.

Michael:

In my mind I am masculine. I feel I don’t have to prove it to anyone who might think otherwise (I don’t care what others think).

Following another common thread, Michael seems to be facing the challenge of who defines masculinity, one’s self or how people perceive hir. This poses the interesting question of how and why we do define ourselves. If Michael doesn’t care what others think of him, why does he find it important to still define himself in a certain way?

Mike:

I want to show that, despite stereotypes, gay men can be masculine too.

I find a certain irony in Mike’s comments. While Mike definitely seems to present himself in a nonstereotypically gay way, he does so by presenting himself in a stereotypically manly way. It seems that Mike’s rub isn’t with stereotypes, but with negative perceptions. By the imposed “rules” of a patriarchal culture, gay is “bad” because it defies masculinity because it does not dominate women. While Mike likely benefits from his presentation he also helps interrupt gay stereotypes, I feel like he does it in a self-defeating way. He still feels bound to masculinity despite the fact that his very nature “violates” the ideal.

Parker:

I have been called a SNAG (sensitive new age guy), a renaissance man, a man in touch with his feminine side, etc….I think that I am masculine in the sense of self reliance.

Parker’s comments speak to the idea of reconciling one’s masculinity. On the one hand, he doesn’t shy away the fact that in many ways he strays from the expectations of masculinity. Simultaneously, he still finds it important to identify with the term in the ways that he does still match—in this case, his independent nature. Like Mike, Parker’s comments demonstrate the hold that masculinity has over how men come to identify. What kind of person would Parker be if he didn’t feel compelled to still identify as masculine? Despite his deviations, that norm still affects how he defines himself.

Patrick:

Why am I masculine? Hmmmm. Because I have never for a moment questioned my gender identity. Though I love women (perhaps too much) I have never wished to be one.

The approach Patrick takes is simple: I’m masculine because I’m a guy. I think there are plenty of people who would suggest (perhaps based on their own identities) that gender and gender presentation are not nearly that cut and dry, but to him they are. When considering the other quotes in this collection, masculinity seems much more complicated. In one sense, masculinity is an inherent trait of being male, and yet in other ways it can be portrayed, earned, or deserved. Masculinity is really all of these things, because it is societal pressure to meet expectations because of what is actually an inherent (biologically male) trait. The male need not exhibit all of these traits, but we have create a social compulsion to achieve or portray them.

Thomas:

I consider myself to be masculine because I have been working out all of my life and I am a man. I am male so all males should consider themselves to be masculine.

Thomas sums up a lot of what has already been said and adds one important detail. Masculinity is about physical appearance and presence and it is an inherent expectation of being male. Those are ideas we’ve heard before. But Thomas also speaks of the idea of being competitive, but in a way that reflects a group dynamic. With his comments, Thomas seems to indicate that men who do not consider themselves masculine are not to be considered men at all. This mindset speaks to the control and domination men still work to convey over women. Men are strong, if you aren’t strong, you aren’t a man. You aren’t one of us. You’re weak.

So this is what have we learned from these individuals about what masculinity (according to Craigslist) really is…

Masculinity is earned, deserved, inherent, proven, perceived, and portrayed.

Masculinity is demonstrated through appearance, dress, speech, actions, posture, vehicles, accomplishments, women, and presentation.

Masculinity represents an attitude, a sense of gender, a sexual orientation, a feeling inside, a body image, a role in society, and a sense of identity cohesion among all of the above.

To be masculine is to be physically strong, emotionally strong, independent, intimidating, formidable, fearless, self-sufficient, competitive in ways women can’t be, and secure.

To be masculine is to take care of women, to be sexually dominant over women, to be emotionally dominant over women, to be dominant in one’s career, to be dominant in one’s field of study, and most importantly, to consider oneself masculine.

Obviously, I have a bias against the concept of masculinity, and I did not try to hide it in this post. I expect people have different interpretations of this photography collection, and I welcome those different perspectives. One thing that these individuals have in common is a sense of pride for their masculinity, but judging from what I have seen, I’m not sure it’s something they should be proud of.

I encourage everyone out there to really think about how you define who you are. Don’t be who you are because of expectations for your sex, gender, race, sexual orientation, ability, worldview, age, socioeconomic class, or even chosen career. Be who you are because it’s who you feel the most comfortable being. That’s the kind of identity trait that truly deserves the most respect in our society.

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