And of all the questions, I think that’s the hardest one to answer. A definition of what it actually is. I think it’s changed so much from what we saw on Leave it to Beaver and Ward Cleaver; this definition of purely provider and family man to, today, I think it has so many different meanings. I heard htis quote recently which was a father passing on advice to his young son.
—Cullen Bohannon, Hell on Wheels
The core and essence of what masculinity should be humbleness and respect. Instead we have transformed masculinity into machismo as a society.
I do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and parts of masculinity in that are being strong, putting yourself out there, and taking risks. But I also work in the tech industry; there’s a masculine nature to working in the tech industry that has nothing to do with strength or taking huge physical risks. And so I think, to define it, it’s different by every slice of society and I think that’s why it’s hard to define overall.
It’s still about being a good person, it’s still about being strong— whether that’s emotionally or physically— it’s still about all these elements which have been since the beginning of time.
Oh, absolutely. And I think it goes beyond race and ethnicity; I think it speaks to social circles, work, even just the make up and definition of what a family is these days.
I think there’s one slice of masculinity that does, body image. I debated in college, and there was a topic on advertising in 1991 (yes I’m old) and a lot of people that made the best cases were building cases around the visions of what we have built of women in advertising and how we portrayed the female persona and how an individual had to look at themselves. Somehow we’ve never really talked about this from a man’s perspective. And it’s true as well, I mean you turn on TV and you have UFC fighters who look ripped and have abs; anything you turn on, you know, crossfit, bicyclists— it doesn’t matter, everyting you see is these people who are perfectly fit, something I’ll never achieve and it’s something I hold myself to as a standard because I train a lot of these things. And I think, in some ways, this constant definition and barrage of what you’re supposed to look like, I think it holds me back sometimes. Because I try to BE that.
Society’s definition of a masculine person? Broad shoulders, narrow waist, six-pack abs, but you know what? My own definition, it’s not a look. It’s a confidence, it’s a purpose. Set aside the physical looks, if you walk up to someone that’s defined as masculine it’s somebody that’s confident in themselves, they look you in the eye, they smile, they’ve got a sense of humor. I think, for me, that the definition of masculinity goes way beyond physical looks and goes into how people are when they’re around you.
Every day I measure myself by society’s definition. I, at my peak, weighed over 400 pounds. And even though I weigh no where near that today, every time I look in the mirror, the belly I see is that person’s. That’s hard. That’s what I measure myself against. I think I’ve got other parts of my body that are really defined and I’m proud of, but I can’t look past things like my gut some days.
My smile. That’s probably not what you’re looking for… so, after smile would be calves because that’s what i get complimented on the most! Or shoulders.
My blue eyes, ha.
Some days I’m really comfortable with it… I’ll answer this— I feel like I’ve got the strength to try anything now. And for me that’s something that— that defines comfortable for me. The fact that I’m willing to go to Rome and compete in a couple of tournaments; the fact I’m willing to go out and do all these different tournaments, all these different matches all around the country— all around the world. Physically, I’m really comfortable with myself and that’s something I’ve never had in my whole life. So that’s something I’m super proud of.
From an aesthetic perspective? I don’t know that I have that. I don’t know that I’ve found that and I don’t know that I ever will.
My belly. I will put on a shirt and look in the mirror and see a button that’s stretched a little more, or— it’s funny, men want to have big chests, but I’ll put on a shirt and it’ll stretch right there and there will be that one little button you can hear screaming, “let me loose!” and I’ll put on a different shirt. But that’s my perception of myself. That’s not what I hear from friends, that’s not what I hear from people, that’s not what anybody else ever says. But I pay attention to it.
I think there’s always pressure to both look and act a certain way. When I lost all my weight, I think why I was successful is that I didn’t go about it to loose weight. I just one day quit drinking soda and lost weight and started sleeping better and lost weight and started doing physical activities and lost more weight. I didn’t go into it with a dream board and a picture of who I wanted to be on it. I think there’s definitely a way people want you to look, I measure myself against myself more than I think I measure myself against society. That doesn’t mean I didn’t let society define what that measure is.
As far as act, I think there’s always pressure to be a certain way, whether that’s to have certain religious or political beliefs, whether that’s to behave in a certain way— there’s constant pressure to do that. I live life like there’s no tomorrow, and I try and do that in everything I do whether that’s work and make my mark and make a difference with the people I work with, whether that’s Jiu Jitsu and try everything I can and fail a whole bunch— I think that’s another thing, society is always about success and we fail. As humans, failure is part of human nature. I embrace it because you can’t succeed until you fail; you can’t have one without the other.
Patriarchy is a term that’s built around the idea that there’s a patriarch in the family, there’s somebody that’s in charge of contributing, who’s dominant in decisions and dominant in everything and I think the definition has changed a lot. People probably look at my family and think we’re a pretty patriarchal family; my wife doesn’t work, she spends time with the kids. But it’s also a trade off. She takes of a lot of things that I don’t have to so I can do things like train a bunch and work my butt off and so when I hear those terms I think they’re something of the past that just haven’t been redefined, but that’s also what makes them charged terms. They’re tied to this male-based decisions, whether it’s in work or life, all my favorite bosses have been women.
Privilege? It’s funny to ask in the context of masculinity. I guess I always think of privilege from a definition of money and where people came from. I don’t think anything’s given. I think patriarchy and masculinity is just given because you’re born a male, I think privilege today is about what are things that you got to have that you didn’t have to work for whether that’s you got to go to the right school because your family did, or you grew up with money and so got access to better education or other things that other people don’t and, maybe I say that definition because I came from a pretty poor farm family and everything I’ve had to do I’ve had to work for.