Masculine Identities: The History and Meanings of Manliness

Masculine Identities: The History and Meanings of Manliness

Masculine Identities: The History and Meanings of Manliness

Masculine Identities: The History and Meanings of Manliness


This book provides an intriguing look at the long history of the changing definitions of what it means to "be a man," identifying both the continuity and disparity in these ideals and explaining the contemporary crisis of masculinity.


“Not all men are men.” This paradox that we seldom think about but always act upon—not all men in the sense of persons born biologically male become “men” or “real men” living up to the socially constructed ideal set for males that we call manliness. As a value system set by individual societies, manliness takes different shapes in different cultures and changes over time. Men absorb these values in a script for ideal behavior as men that we call masculinity. From such scripts, men fashion for themselves a sense of themselves as men, a masculine identity.

We don’t often think about manliness. Mostly we consider the behavior of men as simply natural. We often say, “That’s the way men are.” Occupied with behaving as real men, men seldom step outside the socially given ideals to consider alternatives, to see themselves as living within a discourse of masculinity that is historically specific and yet emerges from the history of manliness. Manliness is an unmarked category, an area that is seemingly so self-evident in its meaning that we seldom think about it. And when we do, we often meet confusion and contradiction. So it might be useful to set out some definitions, some issues, and some problems as we move to a history of masculine identities.

The Sex/Gender Distinction

We begin with a very basic distinction of great use, although the distinction runs against common usage. This is the sex/gender distinction. Here the term sex refers to the biological basis of self. A person is born within the male sex or the female sex, although, as we shall discuss, for some persons and in some cultures, even this sharp biological distinction can be problematic. Gender, on the other hand, describes the expectations or definitions established by society for behavior by persons of a specific sex.

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