by Doctor Science
I've mentioned my theory of subtractive masculinity from time to time, but I want to put it down coherently in one place.
"Subtractive masculinity" means that out of the universe of possible human actions or qualities, the only ones that a boy can rely on to signal his masculine status are ones that are not publicly exhibited by women or girls. Here's a Wiser's Canadian whiskey ad that shows subtractive masculinity in action, in the form of the "cootie effect":
A woman gives her meek husband her very girly, pink purse to hold. After she's gone he drops it, and picks it up inside a plain plastic bag which he holds instead. Then he sees a group of serious-looking men applaud him for "refusing to compromise", and the oldest and most fatherly-looking of them salutes him with a glass of Wiser's, for he has joined the "Wiserhood".
Now, this ad is meant to be funny, so the situation is exaggerated. But it's also an *ad*, it's intended to influence the audience's behavior. And the way it's doing that is by associating Wiser's whiskey with a) protecting yourself from symbols of femininity, and b) the approval of other men, especially a father. It's a very clear, brief example of something I've noticed since I was a little girl: that boys (and young men, and college basketball coaches, and Youtube commenters, etc etc) act as though femininity is something males can "catch" by association, and that this is degrading.
Subtractive masculinity wasn't really a problem 150 years ago or more, when women were constrained from doing a lot of things. When women aren't allowed to vote, own property, join professions, get higher education, take out loans, hold public office, or work various jobs, there were many ways for men to be indisputably masculine.
But as the constraints on women have relaxed, it's become ever clearer that subtractive masculinity is fragile and unstable. It's fragile, because as women are seen doing more things, the set of safely-masculine activities or qualities keeps shrinking. And it's unstable, because whether something is "masculine" or not is not actually based on male actions, it's based on what women *don't* do. Any time your identity is based on what other people do, you've got a problem. So boys see themselves having a choice between doing things that are in some way repellent (so that girls naturally wouldn't want to do them), or trying to control or restrict girls from doing "boy things", to keep those things safe from accusations of "girliness".
This is definitely a case where #notallmen is significant. Most of the men commenting here at Obsidian Wings are adults, who've worked out your own ideas of how men should behave -- enough so that I bet most of you would just laugh in the face of a guy who called you "pussified" for doing something like holding a purse or changing a baby's diaper or crying when you're really sad. You're (for the most part) too mature to feel threatened by things like that -- and that's probably why Obsidian Wings is one of the few places on the internet where Lewis' Law is *not* in force.
So now when I ask you whether you agree that our culture's construction of masculinity is subtractive, I'm really *not* asking about you personally, but about your experiences when you were growing up, or what you see in boys or immature men now.
I'm also asking about other cultures, because I don't think subtractive masculinity is a universal. When I started noticing manga and anime (back in the 90s), I was struck by how much wider the range of masculine behavior, body types, colors, etc., seemed to be in Japanese material than in American comics and animation. It's as though the line between masculine and feminine in US culture is foggy, so the only way to be safely masculine is to exaggerate certain "core" traits:
Most of the male Young Avengers characters have exaggerated upper-body musculature. The Naruto characters have body types that are much more normal -- even though both groups are super-powered fighters, and both series are for the young male audience.
My guess is that Japanese culture constructs masculinity (and femininity) to have a harder, clearer line between them, so it's possible for a Japanese boy to go closer to his side of the line and still be safely masculine. I'd like to hear more informed opinions, though.