What Defines Masculinity? Biology, Social Constructs, and Feminine Polarity

Your gender can have a big role in how you see yourself and how others categorize you in social settings. If you identify as masculine, you might find people expecting you to be more determined, straightforward, and analytical. There might also be other traits that are forced onto you through masculinity that just don’t fit. 

When exploring your own identity, it’s normal to start questioning where the concept of Gender even came from, the definition of masculinity, and its role in your own life.

This blog post will explore deeper aspects of what masculinity is and how it can be utilized for self-development.

What Is Masculinity?

Masculinity is a set of traits and behaviors that people see as polar opposite to Femininity. Masculinity is distinct from the definition of the biological male sex, as both males and females can exhibit masculine traits.

In other words, our society has created a binary list of traits that are feminine and masculine. 

The problem our society runs into is thinking that Masculinity has only one traditional and fixed shape. The reality is that it’s an ever-changing relationship between genders and has changed over time and between different cultures. 

To gain deeper insight into what masculinity is, we need to explore three aspects: 

  • The social construct of gender
  • Biological differences
  • Masculine energy in relationships

Masculinity as a Social Construct

Is Masculinity a social construct?

Masculinity is a social construct that comes from cultural norms, expected behaviors, and traits that society assigns to people based on their perceived gender. 

Where did Masculinity come from?

The idea of Gender didn’t come out of thin air. 

Gender has been built like a house over generations, the foundation being laid down hundreds of years ago with the development of language. Our ancestors developed words to explain differences in people and built deeper abstractions on what those differences mean. 

Eventually, these abstract ideas became a shared construct of the way people should act.  Society began to expect women to be more emotional and a man to be more action-driven.  

The underlying assumptions are what makes a Social Construct. We believe genders act certain ways because we all tell each other they act a certain way. It’s important to realize that it’s just construction, and it can be deconstructed, change, and evolve over time. 

R.W. Connell has said: “[Masculinity is] something that has a relationship to your body, to your biology, but not a fixed relationship… There are different patterns of masculinity, so different groups of men will conduct themselves in different ways, and those patterns also can change over time.”

Short excerpt from R.W. Connell discussing masculinity.

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The World Health Organization states, “As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.” The American ideal of masculinity in the late 1950s is completely different than the 1990s.  

Defining your own Masculinity

It’s important to remember that Masculinity is a Social Construct. When someone gives you a list of traits that are masculine, they are either building off of the traditional assumptions or moving those traits into a different direction.

Once you know that Masculinity is a social construct, you can begin to ask yourself which part of that cultural identity you want to take on, and which part doesn’t serve us. 

Biology: Masculine vs Male

It’s important to differentiate between being masculine and being a man. Women can demonstrate aspects of masculinity, and men can also take on feminine qualities. 

Your biological sex, being a man or woman, is separate from your gender identity. 

Biology can, however, play a role in your experience of your gender identity. 

Male bodies generally have a higher amount of testosterone, which can affect them mentally and physically. The following is the amount of testosterone found in men and women. 

AgeMale (in ng/dl)Femal (in ng/dl)
17–18 years300–1,20020–75
19 years and older240–9508–60
Level of testosterone found in Males and Females

Higher testosterone levels have been found to increase sex drive, competitive behavior, upper body strength, and aggression—all things that are considered masculine traits. Your body’s natural mixture of hormones might make you feel more connected to Masculine or Feminine traits, but that isn’t the only factor of what it means to embody masculinity. 

We also tend to see biology in terms of a simple binary (male/female), yet it is much more complex than that. An example would be Swyer syndrome and XYY syndrome. People with Sex Characteristics that don’t fit typical binary ideas of male or female bodies definition are called Intersex. 

Masculinity in Relationship to Femininity

Masculinity is also a role you can play or energy you can take on.

There are many religions and spiritual traditions that use gender as a way of exploring polarity in relationships. They utilize the social construct of gender as a playground to explore different aspects of the human experience and consciousness. 

Masculine and Feminine Polarity

I like to think of masculine/feminine polarity in the context of partner dance. 

In partner fusion, there is usually a Lead and a Follow. 

  • The Lead, holding the masculine, creates a strong frame with their body. The Lead communicates with their partner with decisive moments, helping direct the partnership. 
  • The Follow, holding the feminine, is receptive and listening to the Lead. 

This style of dance lets the couple drop into the experience and know what to expect from their partner. The Lead doesn’t control where the Follow goes, but decisively creates spaces and opportunities for the Follow to express themselves. 

As a metaphor, this illustrates why it can be helpful to use gender as a way of relating. The dancer decided to take on a certain identity for a time, to better play. Knowing what each other’s expected roles are helps both people relax into an experience. 

There is also a more advanced form of dancing called “switch” in which each partner takes the lead and follows roles at different times. 

Masculinity as an internal relationship

Masculinity is also an amazing tool of self-reflection when it is used as a tool to relate to different aspects of your identity. 

Carl Jung believed that the Self was the perfect union of the Masculine and Feminine energies. He believed that we become more whole when we bring these parts into balance with one another. This led to his theory of the Anima and Animus. It was the idea that within each male is a female essence, and in each female, there is a masculine essence. 

Masculinity as an identity can help you explore your psychological sense of self, based on how much you align (or don’t align) with what you understand to be the options for gender.

When you grow up, you are presented with different templates of behavior. One of these templates is the social construct of gender. Unpacking the social norms will teach you a lot about who you are and how you like to act in this world.

In Conclusion:

Expanding your own definition of masculinity and finding a dynamic balance with the Feminine can give you a deeper understanding of your own identity.  

Gender can be a useful tool for self-development as long as we remember it’s a social construct. It’s something we can evolve and change. 

  • Masculinity is a social construct.
  • You don’t have to be a man to express Masculinity.
  • Masculinity is in relation with your body, but not fixed to it.
  • Masculine and Feminine Polarity is a useful tool for relationships.
  • Masculinity is also an internal relationship to your identity.

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