Irreconcilable Concepts

“Healthy masculinity” incorporates two distinct but nonetheless intertwined concepts: “health,” which suggests a biological perspective, and “masculinity,” which is a social construct.

This interplay between the biological and the societal represents one of the great dialectics of our time, and raises a fundamental question: what does it mean to be a “healthy” man when the very idea of what it means to be a man is so contingent on the maintenance of an economic and social order in which men are arranged hierarchically in relation to one another and as a group are in a position of dominance over women?

If we can speak of healthy masculinity, can we speak about “healthy whiteness” or “healthy heterosexuality?”

There’s another catch. The very act of deconstructing the term “healthy masculinity” in a brief essay—rather than exploring some of the physical, emotional or relational aspects of being a man—repeats the familiar pattern of a man staying in the more “masculine” intellectual realm and neglecting the more “feminine” realms of emotions and relationship.

We do need to explore the meanings that underlie our use of terms like “healthy masculinity” if we want to help build better and more life sustaining institutions. But we’re also embodied animals who experience pleasure, pain and love, and are around for a preciously brief time. We might be able to envision democratic futures in which there is such a thing as “healthy masculinity,” but in the meantime we still have to hug our children, laugh and cry, and share our lives with others.

Author of the new book Leading Men: Presidential Campaigns and the Politics of Manhood, Jackson Katz is a founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention.