This essay critically examines the connection between the history of violence and masculinity. According to Leo Braudy, author of the book From Chivalry to Terrorism, although society has civilized, the connection between violence and masculinity has not diminished just because society has progressed. Nevertheless, Braudy argues that the traditional notions of masculinity are mutating and adapting with social demands. The assumptions about what embodies masculinity, male behavior, and male identity have been created through the past forty thousand years of human history, however the definitions of what it means to be “masculine,” “manly,” and “man” have shifted in response to modern cultural demands. Since primitive times, men have been characterized as dominant and often express rituals of competition, possession, and position. Inevitably, violence has always been associated with masculinity; for this such reason, war has enforced an extreme version of male behavior. The ideal model for what it means to be a man focuses on physical appearance and dominant characteristics. While females are characterized as being submissive, meek, and often considered the child bearers. Ultimately leaving women marginalized to the standards of femininity. Violence has served as a prime catalyst to define oneself as a man, and continues to serve a purpose in modern society. Examining societal norms, masculinity in sports, and the marginalization of women exhibits a connection between masculinity and violence in modern Western culture.
In the novel Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk, the narrator describes himself participating in a testicular cancer support group called Remaining Men Together. The narrator describes another participant named Big Bob, to be an old bodybuilder who was consuming and excessive amount of testosterone, which eventually led to his disease of testicular cancer. “”Extend your left arm, flex the bicep and hold.” This is better than real life.” (Palahniuk 22). Bob recalls being part of bodybuilder contest and having the judge tell him to flex and hold his position. He is implying that although he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, he loved being a body builder and the environment of the contests more than anything else in his life. The quote shows that bodybuilding creates and illusive reality where men get judged on their physical accomplishments on bulking up their body, thus resulting in the belief of beefing up their “masculinity” as well. Bobs passion for bodybuilding has direct correlation with Leo Braudy’s argument that improving body image was one of the available responses to obtain muscularity. Braudy mentions that male gym memberships were going up after the first world wars (Braudy xi). Men were looking to fit their gender role thus enhancing men to physically try and change their appearance to fit into the ideal masculine qualities. As a result, these stereotypical masculine traits are often idolized by individuals and causes men try and fit into the traits of masculinity.
Athletes with masculine physical appearance and representations of hegemonic masculinity are glorified, while females are often criticized for breaking social norms in modern society. According to Andrea Paloian, author of The Female/Athlete Paradox: Managing Traditional Views of Masculinity and Femininity, she states, “In the Western world, there is a privileged, or “hegemonic” conceptualization when considering masculinity and femininity.” Females are stereotyped as not large, not aggressive or violent, and not competitive, which by definition meet the traits for femininity. In contrast males are expected to have large muscles, be aggressive, violent and victorious. However, female athletes who do not represent the hegemonic feminine ideal of being meek and imposing are more likely to confront more difficulties in their careers as they attempt to manage a feminine image with masculine qualities that were associated with their sport. Western culture often does not appreciate female participation in male dominant sports that are categorized as masculine qualities such as strength, aggression, and competitiveness. Essentially, modern notions of masculinity results in the belittling of women and men who don’t fit the masculine qualities of orthodox masculinity. However, women that threaten the social norms such as women who participate in “masculine sports” are essentially challenging the boundaries of femininity. Such participation is labeled as “gender inappropriate” and will likely experience negative consequences such as harsh criticism solely because they are challenging the social norm. Tennis stars Venus and Serna Williams, mixed martial art fighters Gina Carano, and Ronda Rousey are a few female athletes that have broken social boundaries for engaging in masculine labeled sports. These athletes have restructured traditional gender norms and helped society progress and help other females disconfirm with traditional Western beliefs. Despite the fact that some female athletes are successful at breaking social boundaries, Paloian mentions that women who continue to face criticism throughout their career often change sport to something more feminine if they do not have the adequate support or coping mechanism to help them overcome societal norms.
In addition, according to Collen English, author of Toward Sport Reform: Hegemonic Masculinity and Reconceptualizing Competition, “People who take on this orthodox masculinity adopt sexist and homophobic attitudes/beliefs” (English 138). Therefore, those who are non-athletic, gay, or feminine acting are marginalized. In Western countries, media often limits the opportunity of female or gay athletes by marginalizing them based on stereotypes of physical weakens. As a result, hegemonic masculinity is essentially a state of privilege and power while women and gay men get placed in a subordinate position. English mentions that media often portrays women as sexual objects, which is why feminine sports are usually characterized as aesthetically pleasing. Sports such as gymnastics, ballet, and cheer which included zero amount of violence or aggression. On the contrary, men or portrayed ad being tough, competitive and have the mind set of “winning at all cost.” This solidifies the behavior of masculine ideal, which is why when a female participates in a masculine sport that is out of the feminine traits, are looked down on and criticized by society and media.
Andrea Paloian mentions that understanding the female/athlete paradox can lead to the acceptance of females who break the social norm. The female/athletic paradox is a conflict that describes the conflicts women face when expected to succeed in their sport while maintaining hegemonic femininity (Paloian). The female integration in male dominated sports helps society redefine masculinity and femininity and the beliefs regarding gender roles. A new approach of understanding both masculinity and femininity can help women retain their femininity even if they are “masculine” or participating in male dominant sports. The concept of androgyny suggests the possibility for a medium between the masculine and feminine labels, allowing individual to be both gentle and strong, competitive and passive in modern society. Since sports such as boxing is characterized as aggressive and violent, female boxers prove that they could play any sport, no matter how masculine it is. Implying that the connection between masculinity and violence is shifting as time progresses. However, although women have shown positive strides, women still face challenged when pursing their athletic desires. Gender norms that have already been established placed women at a disadvantage and challenges them to go against the norms and be both feminine and masculine.
In conclusion, the connection between masculinity and violence still applied today in modern society, stereotypical masculine traits have been over emphasized in sports, societal norms, and in the concept of marginalizing women. Social boundaries are broken as time progresses and a new approach of understanding masculinity and femininity is upon modern society, however, although we are progressing as a society, media and Western culture still differentiate between gender roles. The hope for the future is that the definition of masculinity is altered as boundaries get broken and femininity and masculinity could coincide within individuals.