ENGL 103 B07 Men and Masculinities


In recent decades, the study of men and masculinities has gained increasing attention within the fields of gender studies, sociology, and cultural studies. The course ENGL 103 B07, Men and Masculinities, provides a valuable platform for students to delve into the complex and evolving concepts of masculinity, examining how they have been constructed, performed, and challenged over time. This 3,000-word essay aims to provide a comprehensive exploration of the topics covered in this course, offering insights into the historical and contemporary aspects of men and masculinity, the influence of social and cultural factors, and the intersections of masculinity with other identities.

I. Historical Perspectives on Masculinity

To understand the evolving nature of masculinity, it is crucial to begin with historical perspectives. Throughout history, conceptions of masculinity have been fluid and shaped by various factors, such as religion, social norms, and power structures. In pre-modern societies, masculinity often revolved around physical strength, courage, and warrior prowess. Ancient myths, such as those of Greek heroes like Achilles and Hercules, exemplify these ideals of masculinity.

As societies evolved, religious and cultural narratives played a significant role in defining masculinity. For instance, Christianity reinforced the notion of the ideal man as gentle, loving, and protector of the family. The chivalric code during the Middle Ages idealized notions of honor, courage, and the protection of women. These historical narratives laid the foundation for modern conceptions of masculinity, yet they were also subject to change and adaptation.

II. Construction of Masculinity in the Modern Era

The modern era witnessed significant shifts in the construction of masculinity. The Industrial Revolution, which began in the 18th century, introduced new economic and social roles for men. Factory work and wage labor became central to the definition of masculinity, emphasizing the provider and breadwinner role. This shift had a profound impact on family dynamics, as men were expected to earn a living, while women were primarily responsible for domestic duties.

Moreover, the Victorian era saw the emergence of the “cult of domesticity,” which emphasized qualities like emotional restraint, self-discipline, and the suppression of vulnerability as essential to being a man. This era’s literature, epitomized by figures like Charles Dickens, often reinforced these ideals.

The 20th century marked another crucial turning point in the construction of masculinity. World Wars I and II led to the creation of the “soldier-hero” archetype. Men who served in the military were celebrated for their courage and sacrifice. However, the traumatic experiences of war also led to discussions about the psychological and emotional toll of such rigid expectations of masculinity.

III. Contemporary Challenges to Traditional Masculinity

In the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st century, traditional notions of masculinity have faced significant challenges. The feminist movement has played a central role in critiquing and deconstructing toxic aspects of masculinity, such as dominance, aggression, and objectification of women. This has sparked a broader conversation about redefining masculinity to be more inclusive and egalitarian.

One key aspect of this contemporary challenge is the rise of “metrosexuality” and “new masculinity.” These movements encourage men to embrace traditionally feminine characteristics like emotional vulnerability, empathy, and an interest in self-care and grooming. Popular culture icons like David Beckham and RuPaul have become symbols of this shift, challenging traditional gender boundaries and expectations.

IV. Masculinity in the Media

The media plays a pivotal role in shaping and perpetuating societal norms and ideals, including those related to masculinity. In ENGL 103 B07, students delve into the portrayal of men in various media forms, from advertising and television to film and video games. It is crucial to recognize that these depictions are not mere reflections of reality but contribute to the construction of what is deemed “masculine.”

Advertising often reinforces traditional masculinity by presenting men as strong, dominant, and in control. This can perpetuate harmful stereotypes and pressure men to conform to rigid ideals. Meanwhile, the representation of men in film and television has evolved to include more diverse and nuanced portrayals, depicting men as complex individuals with a range of emotions and behaviors.

Video games, however, are a unique area of study in the context of masculinity. The “gamer” stereotype has historically been linked to male identity, emphasizing competitiveness and aggression. Yet, the gaming industry is slowly diversifying, and characters are becoming more multidimensional. This shift mirrors broader trends in challenging traditional masculinity in popular culture.

V. Intersectionality: Masculinity and Identity

Masculinity is not an isolated concept but intersects with other aspects of identity, such as race, class, and sexual orientation. The course ENGL 103 B07 explores how these intersections shape the experience of masculinity.

For example, African American men often grapple with unique challenges tied to the intersection of race and masculinity. The trope of the “dangerous black man” has had a significant impact on how African American men are perceived and the societal expectations placed upon them.

Similarly, working-class men may face distinct pressures related to their economic status. The idea of the “breadwinner” becomes particularly burdensome when economic stability is uncertain, affecting not only men’s self-esteem but also their mental health.

The intersection of masculinity with sexual orientation is also a critical aspect. Gay men, for instance, may navigate a more complex relationship with traditional masculinity, as they challenge societal norms related to heterosexuality and masculinity. The concept of “straight-acting” is one example of how these intersections play out, highlighting the tension between conforming to traditional ideals and embracing one’s authentic self.

VI. Masculinity and Mental Health

One of the significant impacts of traditional masculinity is on men’s mental health. The expectation to be stoic, emotionally reserved, and invulnerable can lead to psychological distress and inhibit men from seeking help when needed. ENGL 103 B07 explores this intersection between masculinity and mental health.

Men are more likely to suffer in silence and are less likely to seek therapy or support for mental health issues. As a result, men have higher rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Challenging traditional masculinity by promoting emotional expression and help-seeking behavior is crucial in addressing this crisis.

VII. Masculinity and #MeToo

The #MeToo movement, which gained prominence in recent years, has sparked conversations about masculinity in the context of sexual harassment and assault. ENGL 103 B07 delves into how men’s behavior and accountability are critical aspects of this societal shift.

The #MeToo movement highlights the importance of redefining masculinity to be rooted in respect, consent, and accountability. It challenges the normalization of toxic behaviors and encourages men to reflect on their actions and attitudes towards women. This cultural shift represents a significant moment in redefining masculinity in contemporary society.


ENGL 103 B07 Men and Masculinities is a course that offers students the opportunity to explore the complex and evolving nature of masculinity. From historical perspectives to contemporary challenges, the course delves into the construction of masculinity, the influence of media, the intersections with other aspects of identity, the impact on mental health, and its relevance in movements like #MeToo.

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