Yesterday, Dr. Joe Boehman, the Dean of Richmond College, held a presentation called “The Narrative of Masculinity” about issues affecting men. He focused on how the narrative of how a man has to act in order to be considered masculine is reinforced by society and how it values men.
A large part of Boehman’s presentation was audience interaction. He asked members of the audience about how they felt “a good man” or “a real man” was supposed to act. Many of the answers were along the lines of “provider” or “hard working” for “a good man.” The phrase “real man,” however, incited answers like “powerful.”
Boehman explained the connection between sex, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. He explained how masculinity and gender are social constructs, and that perceptions of men and masculinity help in feeding this social construct, which prevents men from expressing themselves how they wish.
Diving straight into the meat of the issue, Boehman discussed “the man box,” and how men “police the box” in order to stamp out violations of the box, such as showing examples from commercials, particularly a beer commercial for Miller Lite, in which a man is portrayed as being feminine and carrying a purse for not wanting to drink Miller Lite. People who police the box are often seen telling other men to “man up.” This is not just on the shoulders of men, it is also on the shoulders of women.
He continues by citing the research of his colleague, Dr. Frank Harris III from San Diego State University. Harris expands on the concept of the man box and where it came from by boiling it down to three factors: pre-college gender socialization (as in, everyone who tells men to “man up” before they go to college), campus involvement (the clubs that men get involved in) and interaction with male peers through their studies.
He also discussed brands, what “brands” men project about themselves, and if those brands represent something positive. He noted that, at the end of their lives, men do not talk about how many times they have had sex or what cars they drove. Instead, they talk about their relationships and how they have benefitted others.
Dr. Boehman states that there are many ways that we “police the man box.” He related how Twitter has now changed the favorite icon from a star to a heart: “(P)eople are freaking out about that, and people are making statements about it (the same way they do with) a man buying a pink iPhone. Am I less manly for having a pink phone? No, you’re not.”
He also talked about the decreasing number of men that attend college, and how this plays into the concept of policing the man box: “What we’re seeing now is less men are going to college, less men when they get to college are staying to the second year…Men graduate at a lower rate; men are more involved in campus conduct systems. When you’re talking about sexual misconduct…behaviors that are about what the man box is, man over represent…Men who are more interested in academics then socializing are seen as less manly.”