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Masculinity Is Not a Dirty Word

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One of my first thoughts when I started liberal arts college was: Where are all the dudes? In high school, they whistled at me in the hall. They blasted Jay-Z from their cars. They wore tank tops to showcase their biceps.

On campus I felt like I had fallen down a rabbit hole and ended up in no man's land: guys wore tie-dye onesies, had shaggy hair and preferred to smoke pot rather than funnel beer. Most disappointing was that they didn't seem at all interested in my pink spandex jumpsuit and high ponytail. No, Toto, I wasn't in a Freddie Prinze Jr. movie anymore.

My university was where masculinity went to die.

In high school, this species of men was easy to ignore. Like experimental cells, they were confined to the petri dishes of drama clubs and debate teams, a clear mutation of manliness.

Now, they've become a widespread epidemic: hipsters.

Those white tank tops we sadly called "wife beaters" have been replaced with neon ones from Value Village that showcase a picture of the California Raisins instead of muscles. Fixed-gear bikes are the new drop tops, and craft beer is the new Coors Light.

Traditional masculinity, the blue-collar variety where men use their hands and act as competent providers, is no longer in vogue. John Wayne must be rolling in his grave at the thought of the manicured Ryan Gosling as Hollywood's heartthrob. Arcade Fire may borrow musically from Bruce Springsteen, but frontman Win Butler is no acid-washed jean-wearing, motorcycle-riding rebel.

In fact, with poster boys like Rob Ford and Chris Brown, "manliness" is no more than politically incorrect dirt that feminists trample on with their Birkenstocks.

It's no wonder masculinity is in crisis. The modern face of manhood came of age in different socio-economic times. Instead of being groomed as the family figurehead, many boys were raised by feminist parents who discouraged masculine behaviour. Power dynamics between the genders were starting to shift in a tangible way. As these men enter the job market, women make up the majority of the American workforce, they do better in school and in 40 per cent of U.S. couples, they make more money than their husbands.

Women's achievements should absolutely be celebrated, but I don't think we need to bury masculinity and spit on its grave in the process. Nor should we look down on women who wear lipstick or choose to stay at home and raise a family. Progress means more choice, not rigid new definitions for how genders should behave. But it's hard for young men to embrace their masculinity when the rule book has been thrown away.

Just look at our school system for a taste of modern society's values. North America regards the trades -- the bread and butter of traditional masculinity -- as the ugly duckling of education. If you're not into textbooks, lab coats or blazers you're considered less than worthy.

And in the real world it's not much different: manufacturing jobs have been in decline since the 1980s and the job market favours those with skills that sing from behind a desk.

This institutional snobbery towards manual labour is not only economically short-sighted (the industry could make a comeback) but also results in a demeaning attitude toward masculinity. One of my favourite moments from the recent Munk Debate titled "The End of Men" was when Camille Paglia pointed out the disregard feminists show for working-class men:

"(They) seem blind to the infrastructure that makes their own work lives possible. It is overwhelmingly men who do the dirty, dangerous work of building roads, pouring concrete, laying bricks, tarring roofs, hanging electrical wires, excavating natural gas and sewage lines, cutting and clearing trees, and bulldozing the landscape for housing developments. It is men who heft and weld the giant steel beams that frame our office buildings ... Surely modern women are strong enough now to give credit where credit is due."

As a feminist, there is pressure to associate everything masculine with patriarchy, the evil system that oppresses our sisters all over the world. But I think the movement needs to mature and recognize nuance. There's masculinity and there's misogyny. One is a completely natural expression of biological difference, the other degrades and promotes violence against women.

I, for one, am quite attracted to the former. Masculinity is what separates a conversation with a date from one with my girlfriend. I enjoy a man who can act instead of analyze. I appreciate brazen confidence and a competitive streak. In my experience, those qualities don't have to come at the expense of respect for women or fulfilling conversation. Two words, people: Coach Taylor. If you're not familiar with the Friday Night Lights star, his passion for yelling at players on the field is only rivalled by his passion for drinking Chardonnay and talking about feelings with his wife.

It's overwhelmingly positive that gender constructs have exploded. No man should feel pressure to wear football jerseys just as no woman should have to wear high heels. We should be ourselves, whether that self is gay, transgender, effeminate, butch, masculine or feminine.

I love that in many parts of North America guys throw on a pair of tight pants, don a canvas bag over one shoulder and head to the local canning workshop. Will I date them? Probably not. But there are many women who will.

Though I've ditched the pink jumpsuit and high ponytail, I still appreciate dudeness. Especially when the masculine desire to "provide" results in a cooked meal after a long day at work. As a feminist, I'm totally cool with a man who can fix my sink, especially when I can sit in the other room and write.

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