A New Vision of Masculinity

A New Vision of Masculinity

Cooper Thompson

Cooper Thompson’s article opens with a re-telling of his experience giving a guest presentation at a high-school about gender roles and masculinity. The male students filled multiple chalkboards with behaviors that caused them to be ridiculed, and unanimously agreed that being called a “fag” was the most insulting put-down one could receive.

To avoid being labeled a “fag,” male students had to be perceived as strong, and if a male student was called a “fag,” they had to prove their masculinity through a show of strength.

The Role of Violence in Traditional Masculinity

Thompson uses this initial anecdote to transition into a discussion of “learned violence.”

He states that traditional masculinity emphasizes:

  • Competitiveness
  • Toughness
  • Aggressiveness
  • Power

“In this context, threats to one’s status, however small, cannot be avoided or taken lightly. If a boy is called a fag, it means that he is perceived as weak or timid…there is enormous pressure for him to fight back. Not being tough at these moments only proves the allegation.”

Thompson asserts that violence is a social tool used to maintain the two most important cultural forces shaping boys’ lives:

  • Homophobia – the rejection of gay men, as well as the rejection of feminine qualities in men
  • Misogyny – the rejection of women, and the rejection of feminine qualities in general

Damaging Effects of Traditional Masculinity

Thompson identifies several ways in which boys, men, women, and society at large, suffer from the current conceptualization of masculinity:

  • The expectation of “toughness” can cause emotional distress in boys, as well as stress and physical trauma.
  • Boys and men have trouble fostering genuine, emotionally fulfilling, interpersonal relationships with other men.
  • Men have difficulty viewing and treating women as their equals in both personal and professional situations.
  • Men live out their expectation of being “dominant” in numerous ways that are hurtful to others

“Whether the setting is a sexual relationship, the family, the streets, or on the battlefield, men are continuously engaged in efforts to dominate…in short, traditional masculinity is life threatening.”

What Needs to Change?

Thompson identifies three central teachings to create a new vision of masculinity:

  • Boys must be taught that it is acceptable to be vulnerable, to express their emotions, and to ask for support.
  • Boys need to learn how to resolve conflicts in a nonviolent manner, which requires communication and cooperation.
  • Boys must accept traditionally “feminine” qualities (i.e. nurturance and empathy) as critical to their development as men.
    • This will minimize homophobia and misogyny.

Where Will This Change Occur?

New examples regarding what it means to be a man must to be established for boys in every aspect of their lives:

  • Early Years – parents, siblings, media (television, internet, etc.)
  • Older Ages – school policies and practices, extracurricular activities, role models in athletic activities

Positive Examples of Change:

  • Fathering – Men are taking a more active role in child-care.
  • Women’s Liberation Movement – Men are serving as allies to advocate for gender equality in relationships.
  • The “New Masculinity” – Recent media attention on organized groups of men who are fighting against sexual assault, domestic violence, and pornography.
  • National Organization for Changing Men – A group with a platform that supports feminism, the LGBTQ+ community, and a new concept of masculinity.

“The survival of our society may rest on the degree to which we are able to teach men to value life.”

Additional Research (you may need to log in to the VCU Databases):

Claussen, C. (2017). The WiseGuyz Program: Sexual Health Education as a Pathway to Supporting Changes in Endorsement of Traditional Masculinity Ideologies. Journal Of Men’s Studies, 25(2), 150-167. doi:10.1177/1060826516661319

  • A recent study examining adolescent boys’ attitudes toward “traditional masculinity” after participating in an intervention program that focused on sexual health and relationships.

Current Events: 

Republican House Candidate Wins Special Election After Body-Slamming Reporter

Republican Greg Gianforte body-slammed a reporter the day before winning a special election for a U.S. House seat, and was described in the media as “manly” and “studly.”

Trump’s “Toxic Masculinity”

WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE. A discussion of the ways Trump exhibits the worst qualities associated with traditional masculinity, following those outlined in Thompson’s article.

Men’s Reactions to ESPN’s Body Issue Covers – Male vs. Female

ESPN’s Body Issue was released earlier this week, with one cover featuring a nude male NFL running back, and another featuring a nude female tennis player. Male reactions to this demonstrate their rejection of a man doing something stereotypically “feminine.”

Personal Reflection:

  • How do you think the Trump presidency will impact young boys’ ideas of what it means to be a leader?
  • What plans do you think school policies, administrations, and teachers can put into action to support young boys’ healthy development away from toxic masculinity?


Thompson, C. (1987). A New Vision of Masculinity. P. Rothenberg & S. Munshi (Eds.), Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study (pp. 623-628). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.


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