Man Up, Guys (Double Standards with Masculinity)

One of the radio shows that keeps me company on the way to work in the morning has a segment where they set up hoaxes for listeners who are concerned about the faithfulness of their significant others. The hoaxes usually entail calling the person’s significant other on the phone and posing as someone who works in a flower shop, under the ruse that the shop buys magazine subscription lists and the significant other has won this month’s random draw for sending a bouquet of a dozen roses (and sometimes a romantic massage for two) to someone special.

For the hoaxes aired on the show, the significant other is almost always doing something inappropriate, as suspected by the person who called the radio show. As a creature who appreciates and constantly searches for behavior patterns, I noticed a distinctive trend.

Regardless of the sex of the caller and of the cheater, in any heterosexual relationship challenged on the show where one party is caught cheating on the other, the woman and show hosts will almost always tell the man to “man up,” “act like a man,” “be a man,” etc.

What’s nuts is that applies to when he’s the cheater AND when he’s the victim.

Our society seems to best appreciate cis-manhood displays of being the biggest and most accomplished male figure, able to attract and (dominantly) have sex with endless slews of conventionally attractive, fertile young women. In this case, the men who act on this description and cheat on their significant others are doing exactly that — acting “like men,” like we expect and demand of them. So, why would these men’s significant others tell them to “man up,” too?

Okay, so we also expect Mr. Man to be upfront about his intentions. If these men outright told their significant others, “Something is lacking in our relationship, and I’m going to try to have sex with other women,” would their partners react differently? Would the women be more mad at themselves for losing the attraction of their partners or mad at their partners for seeking extra-relational affairs, I wonder?

Examining the other instance, when the woman is caught cheating on her significant other, she tells him to “man up,” as though it’s his fault she chose to cheat because he wasn’t adequately masculine for her. Again, why?

It’s no surprise that more cis-women prefer to play a submissive role in their sexual relationships than those who prefer to play a dominant role. We of the Western world have been groomed since birth to aspire toward the Disney princess archetype, and that social programming runs deep. We spend hour after hour, dollar after dollar, learning to be as pretty as possible, in hopes of attracting our prized Prince Charming. We want strong, smart, handsome men to lead us, to protect us, and to aggressively seduce us and chase after our hand in marriage because they’re overcome with an uncontrollable passion for us. After all, his sexual desire is a direct reflection of your “femaleness.” (Gag.)

So, we do our best to exceed what’s expected of us, and in return, we expect our damn prince. We’re pretty, polite, and eager to please our manly man. We deserve that happily ever after we’ve been promised all these years.

As you might expect, I grew out of that fantasy a long time ago. Unrealistic expectations like these destroy relationships.

The submissive men with whom I chat on OkCupid have unilaterally expressed similar concerns about their gender presentation. It’s hard out there for sub guys, they say. Women want dominant men in life and in bed, they say, even the women who represent themselves as dominant but turn out to be submissive, deep down. The few dominant women are far outnumbered by the submissive men seeking their company, they say.

While this dynamic is great for me, it alienates these men even further. Of these guys who’ve bared their souls to me, most have turned their frustration inward, questioning what’s wrong with them to crave a relationship dynamic condemned by society. They fear they won’t ever be able to settle down with partners who want to actively participate in their sexual fantasies. They feel, at best, they’ll find women who meet their vanilla needs and will tolerate their kinks, and that’ll have to be good enough. To me, that’s heartbreaking.

In my radio show example, men lose no matter what they do. They’re not “men” when they cheat, and they’re not “men” when their partners cheat on them. But, that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen.

Our society tries to keep men perpetually insecure about their manhood, and most of us fall for it. (Stop it, society. That’s my job.)

Imagine how many fewer magazines, cars, guns, gym memberships, and dick pills would be sold if men weren’t afraid of others thinking they aren’t “man” enough.

Why do so many of us give this idea of “manhood” power within our relationships? I encourage those of you who disagree with this ideal to challenge it more vocally and publicly. Let’s expand the ideal of “manhood” — and of “womanhood” — until we are left with only “personhood.”


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