On Manning Up: What Makes A Man

What makes a man? Who is defined as a man? Often those who are assumed to be men are masculine. What does masculinity entail? Brave, bold, courageous, aggressive, dominating. Masculinity is powerful. It’s at the helm. Femininity is rooted in the opposite. Soft, dainty, delicate, passive, submissive. Femininity is seen as inferior. It is seen as weak, especially in comparison to masculinity. So who is told to Man Up? Those who are seen as inferior. Those who are weak. Those who are delicate.

Thus terms like Manning Up are rooted in removing the feminine. They are rooted in these sexist ideas that femininity and thus, being a woman (as the two are connected in our society) are seen as inferior. We cannot be men if we do not ‘man up’ or, in the real meaning, become more masculine. These terms are directed at men or those perceived as men (regardless of actual gender) who are often seen as feminine and thus, seen as lesser to those who are not. It is a way of eradicating gender variance, and thus, eradicating femininity among men because it is seen as weak. The ideas of Manning Up are rooted in gender policing, femmephobia, sexism, transmisogyny, and anything remotely anti-woman. Manning Up means removing anything remotely woman-like. I often see trans men, in particular, trying to reclaim this phrase and other similar phrases as a turn of phrase, a reclamation of their identities, but at what cost?

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The Feminine Threat

When people critique femininity, they proclaim that femininity is weak, unnatural, and artificial. Many of the traits that people associate with femininity are seen as inferior, such as emotional, sensitive, grace, innocence, feminine styles of dress (such as colorful attire), especially when compared to their masculine counterparts. However, I find this kind of absurd when compared to how fragile masculinity actually is. It is threatened and questioned, potentially even destroyed, by being near femininity. Even associations with femininity cause chaos in the stability of masculinity.

Masculinity, especially the masculinity of cisgender straight men, is constantly under threat from femininity. Masculinity is something so fragile, that they fear to breathe the same air as someone who is feminine, especially someone they perceive as male (whether this is correct or not). For something seen as so weak and so inferior, masculinity is certainly on shaky ground. This ground becomes increasingly shakier the more masculine a person becomes. It becomes increasingly fragile the closer someone gets to hypermasculinity or idealized masculinity. It becomes threatened by something as small as painted nails.

In an attempt to stop biting my nails, I wore fake nails with sparkling purple nail polish on them. People stared at my hands. They refused to touch me. They acted as if touching me would somehow have them catch The Gay. People would take bags from me at work, avoiding at all cost touching me. The overwhelming majority were men. They were threatened by my blatant display of femininity, seen as more over the line than my long hair. It’s absurd that we see femininity as weak when masculinity is defeated and threatened so easily. How can femininity be seen as weak when masculinity is threatened by a dude with painted fingernails? A small dude, nonetheless, with painted fingernails who is 100lbs soaking wet. Yet we see masculinity as strength?

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Where Do We Belong?: Gender and Privilege

Privilege is always a sticky discussion. It is something almost everyone experiences in varying degrees in some aspect of their lives whether it is gender, sexuality, race, social status, etc. Privilege and the lack of privilege is something that is extremely important in the discussions about intersectionality and oppression in feminism. However, as someone who presents and IDs as male, I’m left in a weird gray area.

As a trans man, where do I stand in feminism? I’ve experienced misogyny and sexism in the past, especially since I worked in a video game store for most of my working adult life. For 20 years of my life, I presented as female even if my gender identity did not match this, this is how I was perceived by the world. Working in a male dominated area, I experienced sexism and misogyny. I have a history with these things, a very personal history. Transitioning does not erase my history, as my history is part of me. I do not deny being trans* and fully embrace it as part of my identity. I should not be excluded from feminist spaces (not women’s spaces, as a man, I do not belong there). I also must sidestep and let women speak before me. I must acknowledge, accept, and understand how my new privileges affect me in my life. I am seen as a man (most of the time). However, this does not erase my history with sexism and misogyny.

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