What is masculinity, anyway?

Over the centuries, expectations involving gender have substantially evolved. However, gender roles and expectations are still very much present in Western culture today. Cultures are just beginning to understand that gender alone should not define a person’s identity, yet underlying beliefs about “masculinity” and “femininity” live on. My research is more about definitions of masculinity, rather than femininity, but one cannot exist without the other. Can you think of anything that our society typically deems a “male” or “female” behavior or attitude? And did you ever wonder why there are so many put-downs that have to do with the female gender?:

-You throw like a girl
-He’s PMSing
-He’s such a sissy
…there are dozens more, but I’m sure I don’t need to go into them.

It’s because of the long-standing belief that women are inferior to men. Although this idea, thankfully, is steadily being eradicated, it is still sneakily present today. In contemporary culture, femininity still often has to do with seeking the attention of a man, while masculinity has to do with being tough, keeping emotions inside, and not being effeminate. What would you think if a guy…

my-masculinity-is-being-questioned-started to cry at prom?
-didn’t want to fight someone who challenged him to a fight?
-didn’t feel the need to get back at someone who tarnished his reputation?

Back in Shakespeare’s time, ideas about what men and women should or should not do were strong and strict. Hamlet faces a very serious situation–the death of his father–that forces him to wrestle with the Elizabethan view of acceptable male behavior. In fact, Hamlet faces all three of the above-mentioned situations. No, I don’t mean that he went to prom (although, that would be an awesome twist!). What I mean is that three beliefs about masculinity are addressed in the play that are similar to the above, modern-day scenarios. Hamlet is caught between having to “act like a man” and not at all wanting to. These three beliefs have to do with:

-Reputation and


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