Male-identifying students share their perspectives on masculinity

In Michael Ian Black’s New York Times essay, The Boys Are Not All Right, he expressed his opinions on the topic of masculinity far more eloquently than I possibly could.

“To be a girl today is to be the beneficiary of decades of conversation about the complexities of womanhood, its many forms and expressions. Boys, though, have been left behind. No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate toward a full expression of their gender,” wrote Black.

The Silhouette sat down with male-identifying students to hear their takes on masculinity and how their experiences have shaped their self and gender identities.

Avery Jackman

C/O Natasha Uhrig

In his fourth year of the health and society program, Avery Jackman is loud and proud of his identity. Through his work with CFMU’s Rainbow Radio and more, he encourages students to lay claim to their identity.

Jackman views masculinity as complex and multi-faceted. An outer reflection of your inner self, masculinity is something deeply personal and individual. Concurrently, finding one’s own definition of masculinity involves an interplay of historical, societal and biological factors.

He described his elementary school experience as a time in his life where he couldn’t necessarily pinpoint what masculinity was but began to understand how to ascribe to it — how to walk, how to talk, how to sit. 

“My earliest memory [of discovering the concept of masculinity] was unfortunately as a young kid, being bullied for being different. I distinctly remember it because I actually found an old picture from kindergarten . . . of me with my friend in the kitchen wearing a pair of heels and a dress. I didn't think anything of it until the picture was posted in the hallway and older kids had seen it,” said Jackman.

Dance and self-expression helped Jackman find his identity through the years. Growing up, he described a constant inner conflict between his own style of dance and that which he was taught to ascribe to — a hyper-masculine archetype of the “male lead.” Jackman currently teaches heels dance classes.

“I [decided] to find a style of dance that aligns with my identity and how I want to express myself. It's art and art is not up to one person's perception. It's what you want to do and what I wanted to make was a dance that showed men being fluid, quote-unquote feminine and challenging gender and dance,” said Jackman.

It was in university that Jackman really began to experiment with identity expression, noting the importance of friends who allowed him to be authentically himself in his personal journey.

“I remember the first time I wore heels to school, before I left the house I called my friends to say, "I'm wearing heels to school. I need you to be on speed dial just in case something happens. Either hate crimes or I fall and get embarrassed. I need you to be there for me because this is a big step." I [was] feeling overwhelmed . . . It's important to have a good group of friends and have a support system,” said Jackman.

Jackman hopes that students understand that gender is a non-binary, individual concept with no set model. How you choose to express your masculinity or femininity does not need to align with anything you've seen before.

“Create your own path through the [world] . . . People's journey of self-exploration is personal and something that, even though it, unfortunately, is politicized, is also not up for debate. Once you learn to unpack the things that you've learned and been taught, you start to invite the person you want to be without the social constructions of others telling you who you should be. Show [that person to] the world, even if there is backlash. I guarantee you, somebody will appreciate you for it, someone will love you for it and somebody will be inspired by it,” said Jackman.

Max Pinkerton

C/O Max Pinkerton

Max Pinkerton is a fifth-year commerce student who plays for the McMaster rugby team. This past year, he was in charge of the McMaster Movember campaign, advocating for men’s mental health.

Pinkerton grew up playing hockey and rugby, both of which are extremely physical sports. He described the norms that arose as a product of the competitive sports environment. Although the ideas of “manning up” or “being a man” came up, he also found a sense of brotherhood in the shared journey of claiming one’s own identity in sports.

“There’s definitely a sense of unity when you all struggle together. You don't have to struggle in silence, it's something that you can talk about. The strength is in showing your weakness and moving forward,” said Pinkerton.

In his pursuit of destigmatizing open discussion about masculinity and men’s mental health, Pinkerton proposed not shying away from difficult conversations and taking the initiative to talk to friends and loved ones about gender.

“[Men] make up 75% per cent of suicides [in Canada]. That is a crazy number to think about, but I think the fact that we're now having discussions about it, — talking about why this number is so high and what we can do to [motivate people] not to tough it out, but actually talk to others about it — goes against that old school concept of being a man. I do think it's changing, and it's changing for the better,” said Pinkerton.

Rogelio Cruz González

C/O Rogelio Cruz González

As the president and founder of the McMaster Men’s Health Society, Rogelio Cruz González is a second-year life sciences student with a passion for advocacy and men’s health. In his personal journey with gender, González explained that he began to grasp the concept of masculinity when he moved to Canada from Mexico in his early teens.

“In North America, it’s a bit more open-minded when it comes to how men are expected to act. In more [traditional] cultural backgrounds, like Mexico, it's still very enforced that men have to be the providers. They have to be the strong person that carries the family on their shoulders. They're the ones that show determination and courage and strength . . . and that's partially due to the fact that they still stick to their traditional roots of the nuclear family,” said González. 

As González has had the opportunity to explore what it means to be a man in various cultures, he has expressed disappointment in certain cultures’ restrictive views.

Having seen the repercussions of trying to make one’s self-identity fit into these restrictive moulds, González stressed the importance of open discussion with others on the topics of masculinity and mental health.

“Often times as men, we fail to take care of ourselves and that ultimately not only impacts us but it impacts the people around us. If you're not good to yourself, those problems eventually start to [outwardly] express themselves . . . If [people] really try to care for and invest in themselves, to make sure their own needs are met and their own desires are reached, we will create this positive change,” said González.

Tristan Lindo

C/O McMaster Athletics

In his third year of communications studies and a player for the McMaster men’s basketball team, Tristan Lindo described masculinity as a term denoting a sense of respect and power.

As is the case with many individuals, the portrayals of masculinity and body image that Lindo saw in the media as a child largely shaped his definition of masculinity.

“When [you’re] younger, you look at the media and you're seeing these big muscular guys and then you look at yourself. I have a more slender build, so I [would] think, “am I not a man?” Now that I've matured and gotten older, I realized there's way more to it than that,” said Lindo.

Lindo wants labelling to be less normalized, in the goal of breaking down stereotypes of what it means to be a man.

“It's kind of happening right now, but I wish society could come to a place where there's no real image of masculinity. Kind of like what they've done in the beauty sector — how they've now recently said that all sizes, all shapes and all colours are all beautiful. It should be the same thing for men. All men are masculine,” said Lindo.

For students, Lindo imparted the importance of staying true to one’s own identity.

“People are going to have their own perspectives, views and opinions. Stay true to yourself, and don't let anyone's opinion shake you then. Don't let anyone tell you what you are and what you are not,” said Lindo.

Photo by Kyle West

CW: Islamophobia, violence

 

On March 19, hundreds of students, faculty and staff filled the McMaster University Student Centre courtyard to mourn the victims of the Christchurch massacre.

The terrorist attack was committed on March 15 by a white supremacist who opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing a total of 50 people and injuring 50 others.

The attack was considered the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s recent history.

The vigil was organized by the McMaster Muslim Students Association in collaboration with the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and the McMaster Womanists. The three groups brought 15 speakers from various parts of the community to speak.

The vigil began with a recitation from the Quran.

In a particularly poignant moment following the recitation, the organizers honoured and read out the names of the 50 who died due to the attack.

A theme echoed throughout the vigil was that the attack reflected a larger movement of white supremacy, Islamophobia and bigotry across the globe.

“White supremacy exists, toxic masculinity exists, misogyny exists. Xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia exist. These things exist in New Zealand, in the United States. They also exist right here in Canada, in Ontario, in Hamilton,” said Khadijeh Rakie, a staff member of the McMaster Equity and Inclusion Office.

Rakie encouraged Muslim people to grieve freely.

“I don’t think our strength or grief must be looked at in one way, or need to be performative or palatable or always available for public consumption,” said Rakie.

Speakers pointed out the connection between Christchurch and the 2017 Quebec mosque attack, completed by a white supremacist, which killed six people in prayer.

“Far-right populist leaders around the world and false media narratives have stoked the fires behind the dehumanization and demonization of Muslims worldwide, causing events like the one in Christchurch,” said one student speaker.

Many speakers also expressed appreciation for other faith groups who have supported and stood in solidarity with them since the attack.

Other speakers encouraged Muslim and non-Muslims alike to actively stand against discrimination in all its forms.

“As different societies face all forms of prejudice, persecution and rhetoric against immigrants, refugees, visitors and worshippers of all kinds of faith, backgrounds, and communities, we must all stand together against all forms of violence, ignorance and hatred,” said another student speaker.

Mahmood Haddara, the president of McMaster MSA, called for compassion and unity.

“We need at times like these to build those connections with each other, to turn towards each other, to remind ourselves of that love and that connection, to look at the person next to you regardless  of their skin colour or their belief and remind yourself that they are your brother or sister in humanity,” said Haddara.

Following the speeches, the organizers held an open prayer in the MUSC atrium.

Gachi Issa, one of the organizers of the vigil, said she is grateful for the support from the McMaster community and hopes the vigil will also spark discussion about discrimination and Islamophobia in Hamilton and on the McMaster campus.

“The message is first and foremost to mourn these [50] and counting victims in New Zealand, but it’s also to localize it,” said Issa. “The same thing that has killed them affects us here.”

 

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Carlos Andres Gomez travelled nearly 800 km to Hamilton Monday night to speak about a confrontation outside a New York nightclub that changed his life.

“We have to start with our own story,” said Gomez, a spoken word poet known to tackle societal definitions of masculinity.

At TwelvEighty, Gomez addressed students and community members about some of the territory he covers in his latest book, Man Up: Breaking the Code of Manhood.

Gomez spoke about pressure he felt to be a jock in middle school and high school in New York City.  He said his concept of what it means to “be a man” reached a turning point one night outside a club when a man he’d accidentally bumped into wanted to fight him.

“I couldn’t figure out why two men were willing to die over nothing,” he said.

Gomez also described his emotional response—what he’d tried to disguise as an “allergic reaction”—to poetry the first time he heard it. A former social worker and inner city public school teacher, Gomez now performs spoken word poetry around the world.

“At 16 I was building myself up to be this perfect man,” said Gomez during his speech. “I realized, maybe everything I’ve been doing to be a man has been totally incongruous to what I am.”

Gomez describes his work as being about “reimagining what it means to carry a banner of identity.”

“The one-sided version of manhood I was given feeds into violence between men, violence against women and homophobic violence.” he said.

The goal of Gomez’s performances is to prompt people to break away from gender stereotypes.

“There’s a tremendous power and responsibility that comes with being on the stage. I want to make sure I’m talking about things with high stakes.”

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