From the Jan-Feb issue of The Atlantic: What It Means to Be a Man..
Why boys crack up at rape jokes, think having a girlfriend is “gay,” and still can’t cry—and why we need to give them new and better models of masculinity — Peggy Orenstein
Feminism may have provided girls with a powerful alternative to conventional femininity, and a language with which to express the myriad problems-that-have-no-name, but there have been no credible equivalents for boys. Quite the contrary: The definition of masculinity seems to be in some respects contracting. When asked what traits society values most in boys, only 2 percent of male respondents in the PerryUndem survey said honesty and morality, and only 8 percent said leadership skills—traits that are, of course, admirable in anyone but have traditionally been considered masculine. When I asked my subjects, as I always did, what they liked about being a boy, most of them drew a blank. “Huh,” mused Josh, a college sophomore at Washington State. (All the teenagers I spoke with are identified by pseudonyms.) “That’s interesting. I never really thought about that. You hear a lot more about what is wrong with guys.”
[The word] Fag has become less a comment on a boy’s sexuality, says the University of Oregon sociology professor C. J. Pascoe, than a referendum on his manhood. It can be used to mock anything, she told me, even something as random as a guy “dropping the meat out of his sandwich.” (Perhaps oddest to me, Pascoe found that one of the more common reasons boys get tagged with fag is for acting romantically with a girl. That’s seen as heterosexual in the “wrong” way, which explains why one high-school junior told me that having a girlfriend was “gay.”) That fluidity, the elusiveness of the word’s definition, only intensifies its power, much like slut for girls.