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Image & Identity
Machismo: the word that defines masculinity… or does it? Hear what young men have to say about the image of young men today. See how film, art and culture shape the masculine identity and whether the young men of today accept or reject this more traditional notion of masculinity.

Watch Gustavo Spolidoro’s film “Others” about life in Brazil and his take on life imitating bad TV shows. Read Gautam Malkani’s reflections on young British South Asian masculinity through the lens of their ethnic, racial and religious identities. Follow along with Curtis Stephens essay on the effect of the movie Scarface on the lives of African American men

What does manhood really mean today? Join the conversation.
United States
What does it mean to be a man? I think that to some extent we live in a world of scripts; a world where women are expected to be nurturers, while men are expected to be custodians of power.

Do you agree with this idea; do you think these scripts hold true today? How does this script manifest within your own experiences? What is the effect of the assertion of male power? What other scripts are men expected to conform to today? These are just some of the questions I hope to dig into during our exploration of image and identity conversation. Don't just contemplate...join the conversation.
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Clinton Findlay
Posted on Friday, April 06, 2007 10:14 PM
ahhhh, gender differences.... annoying!
I recently saw the IMOW (online International Museum of Women) February conversation/collection… "Young Men".

There is a section on Image and Identity with a section on Machismo, the word that defines manhood.

I'm trying to write an entry, here is it so far:

Machismo ... I really hope that word can be assigned to history's dustbin for unused curiosities, along with so many other words...:

So many problems are caused by 'definitions', we define ourselves and start to draw conclusions as to who we are, who we belong to, who we are opposed to.... what does manhood mean today?

It is just another definition, another differentiation, another word to set us apart.

It is a throwback to our primitive past, where belonging was necessary for survival.

A concept taken to a ridiculous extreme in modern culture as evidenced by the act self-expression through consumer items - used as a costume to denote 'belonging'.

I'm a man, you are a woman, I'm a Muslim, you are an athiest, I'm an Australian, you are from elsewhere, I'm straight, you are gay.....

….Actually, I'm just a human, as are you…

I'm so pleased when I meet someone that agrees to follow that script (just humans)... we are just humans, with all the accompanying frailties and strengths, differences and commonalities, and I tend to think that everything else is peripheral.

Rarely am I pleased though, rarely am I given the opportunity.

Men and Women…. we are all just humans.

Who was it that said "that which defines us sets up apart"….. I cannot remember who I am quoting, apologies.

That which defines us sets us apart….. When we can all agree to define ourselves as 'just humans', the differences will fall away to be revealed as unique characteristics which make us all more interesting.

What does manhood mean? Who cares? I could never figure out the 'group norms', nor could I understand why I should conform to someone else's concept of who I should be.

Monkeys differentiate themselves on gender grounds.... and I've never thought that monkeys are a particularly good role model for humans.

I'm just patiently waiting for more people to break free from roleplaying and definitions..... gender definitions, so damn useless, so damn damaging, and such a simple way to cause 100% of the worlds population to divide into 2 opposing camps.

Whats it like to be a man?

Who cares?

What is it like, for you, to be a human?
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Curtis Stephen
United States
Posted on Wednesday, February 28, 2007 6:53 AM
And so much of what has been discussed in this forum, which ties into Michael's original question about "scripts" is playing itself out everyday. There's a fascinating article on Men and Depression, which was last week's cover story in Newsweek Magazine. That article can be seen here:
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Posted on Saturday, February 24, 2007 9:11 PM
Michael raised a pertinent question about how free are we to flex the social rules. I think language is a very important tool - as long as phrases like "fight like a man" and "cry like a woman" are common place in our society, we will always be bound by the rules. "Metrosexual" is a very perverse and vulgar coinage because a man is perceived to be either gay or metrosexual when he is in touch with his femininity. In that sense, women are perhaps luckier because we did not adopt a demeaning word like that to describe liberated women. It is important to disassociate sex and gender in our conversations.
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heather neumann
United States
Posted on Friday, February 23, 2007 11:25 AM
also...roman elison's "the iconic man" photos are both thought provoking and beautiful.
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heather neumann
United States
Posted on Friday, February 23, 2007 10:34 AM
I feel that Travis A. Everett's poem "Delicate Veil" brings up some great points about men's identity. He point out something that is often forgotten which is that men are disadvantaged by stereotypes the same way women are. My favorite line in the poem is when he says that the definition of masculinity "isn't in a language 'real men' speak". This line is very telling of the struggles "real men" endure to deny the stereotypical definition of aggressive and violent masculinity.
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ى ى ى الصياد
Posted on Friday, February 23, 2007 8:13 AM
السلام عليكم
ليست الرجوله بالكلام ولا بفرض الراى ابدا عمرها ما كانت هكذا ان الزواج هو بناء
بيت ولابد لهذا البيت ان يبنى ويقوم على اساس سليم ان يكون الزوجان متفاهمان لاننا لسنا فى حرب من الاقوى ومن الضعيف ولكل منا وظيفته ولابد ان يؤديها على اكمل وجه
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Posted on Friday, February 23, 2007 7:54 AM
In South Asia, we live in an extremely rigid context where male chauvinism and patriarchy are so strong that women are said to live by suffering and men enjoy all the freedom whether in the public sphere or the private domain. The institution of marriage in the context of Kashmir is the greatest source of torture for women.In Kashmir In-laws not only expect women to be earning hand but to do all the domestic chores. With the result women turn out to be not human beings but human machines. Women keep facing domestic violence and keep mum for the sake of honour of the family. Says Gazala Abrar,"I earn Rs. 15000 per month. But it is my mother-in-law who virtually decides how should I spend that money". Men tend to have too many relations outside marriage but they expect their wives to be chaste and loyal. The root cause of this strong patriarchy can be attributed to low literacy rate among women in South Asia. Due to ignorance women are not aware of their rights. This year the worst thing to happen to women are three recorded cases of honour killings in Kashmir. This is a recent phenomenon which was never heard of before in Kashmir.Women are not even aware of their identity. Before marriage they have to exist as somebody's daughter or sister and after marriage they have to exist as somebody's wife and in case anyone is a widow then that person has to exist as somebody's mother. she always has to function under the cover of men. So when women are not even aware of their identity how do you expect them to assert themselves.From famous poetess Habba Khatoon to Arnimaal to Sufi poetess Lala Arifa women have been bearing the brunt of male chauvinism since centuries. Not much has changed yet for them. But how long will this trend continue? What remains to be seen is that how long it takes for Women of kashmir who have been suffering for centuries under male dominance to overthrow this strong yoke of patriarchy and exist as individuals who deserve to be treated as human beings.
It also remains to be seen that how long it takes men to realise that women also deserve respect and honour , they are also to be taken seriously. They also have human emotions and above all they also have a mind of their own.It is noteworthy that there has hardly been any strong feminist movement in Kashmir.
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United States
Posted on Monday, February 19, 2007 11:30 AM
Lloyd, it brings me back to the question of how free we are to overcome these expectations. To what extent are we truly free? Rick seems to acknowledge that social rules are only part of the equation; biology also plays a part. How free are we to flex the social roles and to extend the boundaries? This question seems to loom over our discussion.
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United States
Posted on Sunday, February 18, 2007 5:22 PM
what I meant was that the expectations are always there, and I agree with you we should have a choice as to whether or not to accept these expectations. This is truly a very interesting topic.
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Rick Robinson
Posted on Sunday, February 18, 2007 2:20 PM
I agree with Kathryn R. that a re-examination of the issues of masculinity is overdue. For a lot of young men in their adolescent and teenage years, life would be a lot less painful if they knew that such a discussion were even possible.

Paresh Kumar starts his beautifully written essay with the words, “Back in the day it was good to be a boy.” Sorry Paresh, I don’t believe that that was true for every boy. In the small town where I grew up in eastern Washington state 45 years ago, if a young man was not good at sports and interested in cars or hunting, he was simply not manly, and that was all there was to that. And it wasn’t only men who said the words “boys don’t cry” and “be a man.” It was also mothers and aunts and teachers and girlfriends.

As a defense and in order not be seen as sissies or gay, many young men learned, and still learn, to subjugate their emotions, interests and natural artistic proclivities in order to be “one of the boys.” This often results in young men who can’t express their emotions unless they manifest them in aggression and violence.

It’s not surprising that some young men, especially sensitive ones like Paresh, feel threatened, even emasculated, beside modern women who play the macho role better than they do.

That said, I think that the terms “roles” and “scripts” are only useful as analogies about gender roles as far as they go. We need to recognize that the inherent danger with analogies is that, however close, they are not the thing that we are talking about.

Clearly, as Michael indicated, much of what is manly is taught or “scripted,” but social rules are not the only contributing factors. Testosterone and estrogen balances must certainly have a strong impact as well as other hereditary and biological influences. As with music, sports or any other human behavior, some people are just more gifted at and inclined toward being masculine than are others. And that’s life! We can’t all be Michael Jordan or David Beckham. The important thing is to feel comfortable with yourself because it’s such a travesty to live your life any other way than that.
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United States
Posted on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 6:45 PM
Ahh, what a delight it is for a moderator to step away for a day and come back to a lively discussion. Many new and interesting themes have been brought to the fore, beginning with Kathryn's suggestion that more needs to be done to "rethink ideas around masculinity." Admittedly, this is a mammoth task, yet this is also partly the point of our discussion! Changing expectations, new roles, boundary permeability... How can we determine what is right or wrong about the way we are or what we do? Kevin rightly states that this is all very confusing. And this confusion seems to loom over our discussion. Jennie writes of flexibility in determining identity. But how much flexibility do we really have? With such easy access to flexible gender roles why is it that our discussion seems hung up on what Lloyd refers to as the "so many expectations that will forever be put on [men]?" It strikes me that some of this inertia is imbedded in the tension between our imputed freedoms and the expectations placed on us. Are we truly free to accept these freedoms? Do we need to accept these expectations?

Oh, btw, Happy Valentines Day... How many gender/sex "scripts" will we follow tomorrow?
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Jennie Stark
United Kingdom
Posted on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 5:25 PM
I really want to respond to Paresh Kumar's piece, "Men are the New Women." Paresh, I can't say I completely disagree with you, but at the same time, I don't think it's as extreme as you are making it out to be.

I know plenty of young women who are both genuinely feminine and genuinely powerful. Their femininity adds to their power, their strength genuinely makes them more feminine.

Likewise, I know plenty of young men who are both genuinely masculine and also somehow okay with vulnerability, fluent in the language of emotions. And the same holds true for them-- their fluency in these languages stereotypically reserved for women actually makes them more masculine-- like you know their strength is more real, not just trumped up stereotypical tough guy stuff.

And finally, I know plenty of couples of these types of men and women above-- and damn it, they're beautiful. They're *real* partnerships, the type where one plus one equals more than two. And I can't tell you how badly I want this for myself. I choose to wait to find the right guy so that this is the kind of relationship I can have.

Honestly, I think about the flexibility we have now, as both women and men, to define for ourselves how we want to be women and men...

I think of the kind of great beautiful young women and men I know who have embraced this...

And it makes me so happy to be part of this generation. Genuinely happy and proud.

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Posted on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 10:13 AM
With regard to Kevin's missing "the ease and simplicity of a
more rote concept of gender differentiation", I dont think a rote concept is possible anymore with the continuous intermingling of scripts from different cultures and the post WWII existential crisis faced by western world. Even without external influences, societies have evolved their gender roles - so the confusion now is, but natural. But sex will affect gender no matter how much we blur the boundaries, as long as women being the source of creation remains unalterable.
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Posted on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 9:50 AM
This post detracts slightly from the conversation but bear with me as I just joined.

It is interesting to read Gautam Malkani's take on the assertive masculinity of "Londonstanis"(I like the coinage. Is it original or used commonly in London?). But then again, a cornered community feels a strong urge to express itself aggressively. Or maybe there is something unique about the British-South Asian equation. In a similar vein, a few thinkers, notably Ashis Nandy, have argued about the effect of British colonialization on Indian psyche that lead to a hyper-masculinated response and gradual devaluation of androgyny. It took a great mind like Rabindranath Tagore's to embrace its feminity(or androgyny) and find a creative outlet for it. His novels, particularly Char Upadhyay, highlight this particular dilemma of that era and how even thinking men fell prey to this trap. Or, it took someone like Gandhi, who could even make his androgyny acceptable to masses again.
Ashis Nandy even argues about how "fighting to be a man", "in opposition to overbearing mothers" was critical in shaping not just aggressive revolutionaries but even some overtly feminist men of colonial South Asia. Perhaps its a rarer phenomenon, but a family situation such as the one Gautam describes, can lead to a androgynous response too and I can relate to Ashis' thesis from my (contemporary) personal experience.

Gautam is right in pointing out the "misogyny in the traditional South Asian culture" but I do not agree with it being "inherent". Perhaps if South Asia were colonized by a lesser hyper-masculine culture like the Spanish/Portugese, (who in fact were the first Europeans to come there), the misogynous traits would not have become so predominant. I do not consider myself equipped to make such an argument but the two regions(in S. Asia) where women enjoy a better degree of freedom are Goa and NE India, both of which incidentally were least affected by British colonization.
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United States
Posted on Monday, February 12, 2007 5:19 PM
Well first off as I said earlier in response to Kathryn Robinson's post:
being men there are so many expectations put on us rather than women, that has always been the case and always will be, it's not what we made up or created it has always been there. I don't have children of my own but if I had I wish I had girls since there were we 3 boys and I never got to have a sister and see what girls go through. Kathryn you are right not much has been done enough to rethink ideas around masculinity.
Kevin, your post is quite interesting but did you really say near the end of your post that 'it is not that I necessarily believe that men and women have different roles in life'. You said it and well let's face it we do have different roles in life. I worked for law firms for years and still there aren't many female lawyers where I worked, I worked for 3 different law firms in SF, CA, and clients who meet female lawyers as possible lawyers to represent them, tell me off the record they just don't feel comfortable having a female lawyer working for them.
Again, we did not say these things and create 'how it is,' it is how it is, and being young men there are so many expectations that will forever be put on you. Look at the news channels, look at their so called 'experts,' any wonder/coincidence most are of a certain sex and nationality and race? Young men and men in general will forever always be seen under the microscope as compared to women, and me personally I have never liked being noticed or watched but, it is as it is being a man.

Michael, I don't agree that men should be custodians of power but they are. All of my jobs in the 3 law firms where I worked, I was hired by a sr. partner who was a middle aged male, and most of the office managers were middle aged WOMEN and they had soft baby voices, I kid you not

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Kevin Jones
United States
Posted on Monday, February 12, 2007 5:00 PM
Admittedly I feel like the whole state of affairs in regards to gender identity
is tremendously confusing for young people today. Even biological differences
between genders are frequently blurred. I appreciate and even celebrate this as part of cultural growth and evolution, but I also miss the ease and simplicity of a
more rote concept of gender differentiation. There are aspects of heteronormative thought that I am more comfortable with -likely because of the many active scripts you mention Michael. It is not that I necessarily believe that men and women have different roles in life, but that some of the biological and/or chosen gender identity attributes are beneficial to society. I just wish I knew what they were.
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Posted on Monday, February 12, 2007 1:17 PM
I just read Paresh Kumar’s thoughts about gender in “Men are the New Women.” When I hear about men who, like Paresh, feel stifled and emasculated by the professional growth, freedom and new opportunities that are emerging for women worldwide, I feel confused, a little angry and sad. But it also reminds me that not enough has been done to rethink ideas around masculinity. Men are still expected to live up to an old standard that conflicts with our constantly evolving world.
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United States
Posted on Thursday, February 08, 2007 11:58 PM
Thanks, Curtis, for addressing each of these points. With regard to your final point, I would like to put a new question out there: does it even make sense to speak of gender in a world where a man or a woman's identity ought to be expressed simply as that of an individual? That each man and woman are individuals is certainly true, but are we not either male-individuals or female-individuals? And why does this matter? In answering this question I believe we will come closer to making sense of male image and identity.
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Curtis Stephen
United States
Posted on Wednesday, February 07, 2007 6:02 PM
Michael -- thank you for moderating this very important discussion. First, Lloyd: you made a powerful point on the crucial role that steady guidance can play in the lives of young men. A lot of folks slipped up in wanting to give their children "all the things I never had" in material things while neglecting the substance of nurturing and guidance that they received. It's needed now more than ever as young men are exposed to far more than either of us could dream of being exposed to through "popular culture" in your day or in mine. Very inspiring message you offer!......Michael, thank you for tackling this fascinating question. I think that the "scripts" as you have laid them out have long been ingrained into our global consciousness. From the moment we're born we enter a world that makes it clear that men and women are supposed to "act" and "be" a certain way. Men are supposed to provide, display confidence, be assertive. Yes, the image of the "Macho Man" is supposed to come to mind now :) I'd like to think that we're evolving in a way in which men can, say, stay at home to take care of the household as his wife is a major CEO -- and not receive the private snicker of others. But we're clearly not there yet. We're dealing with concepts of manhood as old as time itself. I think we need to revisit some of those scripts and expand them a bit. For example, if it's expected for a man to be a financial provider for his family under the age-old "script" of "family protector" then why is it ridiculed if he wants to provide a different level of nuturing for his family? I think the concept of what it means to be a man has long been limited. Is a woman who is bold and assertive or displays the characteristics of a protector being manly? No way. Ideally, men and women should just be. There are many things that have changed over the years, but the belief of what a man is supposed to be and do hasn't....Paresh, your points are valid like anyone else -- so there is no need to apologize. Indeed, there shouldn't be a universal concept of what men are supposed to be. And that's a liberal view that you have -- that anyone can do what you can do. I think, however, that society is constructed upon those "scripts" we know all too well. There has been some evolution, but it's a slow process. I guess what we should be working toward is an understanding that men and women should be allowed to express themselves not as men or women -- but as individuals.
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United States
Posted on Sunday, February 04, 2007 9:55 AM
I want to refocus the conversation onto my initial simple questions: what does it mean to be a man and what do you think about the notion of "scripts" that I mentioned?
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