What is healthy masculinity? There’s no such thing! After all, masculinities are social constructs, descriptions of the power relations between women and men and among men. Especially in their hegemonic versions, they are a set of stereotyped assumptions about what it means to be a man. They are systems of ideas—ideologies. But the thing is, masculinity doesn’t exist, at least not as we think it exists, as a fixed or timeless reality or as a synonym (healthy or harmful) for being a male.
Years ago I described masculinity as a collective hallucination, as if we’d all taken the same drug and were imagining this thing actually existed in front of our eyes.
Couldn’t, though, we speak of healthy versions of these assumptions and ideas?
True, there are healthier and less healthy brands of masculinity.
However, by prescribing and proscribing certain behaviors, having definitions of gender (even healthy ones) limits us as human beings to a code that supposedly comes with our biological sex.
Ultimately, I think what is important is to encourage healthy men, healthy in the physical and emotional sense. That has a wide range of meanings (which I hope other, more clever, contributors are enumerating!) but perhaps which boil down to men who were raised to be nurturers, that is nurture others, nurture the planet, and nurture themselves.
I look forward to the day when the gender terms “masculinity” and “femininity” in either the singular or plural, healthy or harmful, are seen as quaint old terms. I’ll always be a fan of rocker Patti Smith, who said, “Any gender is a drag.”
Michael Kaufman is author or editor of several books on gender, democracy, and development studies, including most recently (with Michael Kimmel) The Guy’s Guide to Feminism.