What does it mean to be a man?
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.
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 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
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.
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.