What is Radical Masculinity?
I was asked this question the other day – and I thought I’d answer it here, as it is a term I like and use a bit, but it’s not necessarily clear what it means. A lot of it has to do with another question, I think a more useful question; “Why radical masculinity?”
But first things first, lets flesh out the concept of radical masculinity, some examples thereof.
Radical masculinity as a concept and identity is kinda new, and far from homogenous. So I guess any answer I give to the above question has to be a little broad. My take on what constitutes a masculinity that is radical would be one that pushes at the edges of masculinities accepted norms and definitions. Moreover I’d say that this transgression of accepted norms, (which are very socio-culturally specific and are transgressed quite a bit) are, in an expression of radical masculinity, intentional. Radical masculinity is a masculinity that is transformative – the performance of masculine identity that aims in some way, to change how masculinity/ies are conceptualised. Radical masculinities are often concerned with challenging and criticising gender binaries, and problematising traditional understandings of what is male. Spunk magazine, who I wrote about here are a good example of radical masculinities. Another example, and a favorite of mine at the moment is this column, entitled (funnily enough) Radical Masculinity, by Sinclair Sexsmith (and in particular I’d highly recommend this amazing piece).
So that’s a little bit about what I think radical masculinity is, or rather can be. Like I said, any definitional stuff can’t be too rigid or constraining. The second half of this little exploration is the why part. I firmly believe that a lot needs to change in terms of how society and culture understands gender, and how gender operates. Various movements have done lots of great work in this regard, notably (again speaking very broadly) feminism and the GLBTI communities. I think that criticism and exploration of how masculinity is expressed and operates, from within the construct of masculinity itself is important and vital to working towards meaningful change. The more people performing a visible masculinity that doesn’t tally with the norm, means that the norm has to change and expand over time, and that more people, and in particular more men, will become a little bit more accepting of difference and diversity of masculine and gender expression.
Also I don’t think that a performance of a masculinity that is radical or challenges is required to be a 24/7 thing, a single act or statement, or temporary expression has the potential to be radical, if it is within a broader context of respect. A husband taking the name of his partner, refusing to dress a baby boy in blue, learning to dance, wearing a pink shirt, unashamedly having no aptitude for repairs or DIY, men getting teary, hugging (without thumping each other) – these are a few little examples of acts that have a radical potential, acts that can advocate for understandings of masculinity vastly different from the norm. Masculinities of openness, emotional expression and maturity, the ability to show vulnerability, and not be shamed.
For these reasons I hope all my masculine readers think a little about their masculinity, and the choices they make with it, and maybe sometimes do something with it that is a little out of their masculine comfort zone, the occasional expression of a more radical masculinity.