ImageI realize the title of this post might be misleading. This is not a critical observation of the penis in the erect state … although, you could argue that it might be. At least I somewhat have your attention now, maybe – so let us carry on. The term “hard” I’m referring to in this case, is a descriptive trait for a person. As described by the Urban Dictionary (an indispensable resource at times)

Hard: Tough, mostly because of poverty and surviving (or not) public schools. Something to be said of poor, urban American youth and essentially no one else. Marked by resourcefulness, pragmaticism, and coldness. As a result of being shit on one too many times. A desirable trait. Can also be the result of an awful family life/childhood

I think, at least for the purpose of this post, that this term can be extended to our general population of men – although it is entirely true that, as pointed out by Urban Dictionary, it is more so to be said of “poor, urban youth.” As much as Feminism is focused on the advancement of Women’s Rights, many times it comes to a crossroads with the status and culture of men. I was watching TV recently and there was a Diet7Up commercial playing. It seemed to be an extended version, as I had seen a similar cut before but didn’t think much of it. In this version, the self-assured narrator booms at its audience about how much flavor is packed into a diet drink – I was with them until he says, “this much girly into one man” as the actor shrieks and writhes away from a large insect. This much girly into one man. Now, at the onset, this isn’t particularly offensive – it’s the greater implication of these words that triggers a deeper, less sympathetic reaction. “Girly” is clearly not a trait seen favorable to a man, or boy for that matter. Think about it: what was the worst thing the boys could call a kid on the playground or at school? “Stop being such a girl! You’re a pussy!” Many times the taunting progressed to being called a “faggot” or “gay,” which is basically implying said boys are too gentle, sensitive, emotional … not hard enough.

As a woman, this is obviously a little insulting. Female characteristics are commonly attributed to males as a way of belittling and teasing said targets. And this isn’t just in our personal lives. Recall another commercial for a Summer’s Eve women’s cleansing product.

Personally, I’m not entirely sure what’s happening here. You could make the argument that the point being made is the hilarity of this guy’s ego being so fragile that he needs to embark on a “manly cleanse” after coming in contact with a feminine product – the horror! Even so, that still doesn’t take away from the fact that it is the societal norm to associate traditionally feminine characteristics with negative traits for the opposite sex. But beyond this, beyond being insulting, sexist, and potentially misogynistic, it has the capacity to be incredibly damaging for boys and men. What’s most troublesome, is just how engrained this male ideal of “hard” and “manly” is in our society. Bring the topic up to any average citizen and the response will most likely be along the lines of he needs to develop thick skin, every boy can do with some teasing to toughen him up, being soft just won’t cut it in this world, what will people think – you better man the fuck up, it’s just the way it is.

To give you an idea of what I’m getting at, check out the trailer for the documentary, The Mask You Live In: 

There seems to be a common misconception of the opposite of manly as meaning weak, fragile, and vulnerable. Calling for an evaluation and change in the concept of hyper-masculinity seems to invoke thoughts of boys and men walking around crying, completely stifled and incapable of facing whatever problem looms over them. This is not the case. The issue here is that emotions are real, no matter how hard you try to hide them or insist that you do not exhibit these “feelings.” I myself am particularly averse to showing vulnerability and know firsthand the repercussions of bottling up emotions and refusing, by will or subconsciously, to express oneself. However, at least I wasn’t raised profusely – by society or otherwise – with the stigma of sensitivity and vulnerability.

Many times, this expectation of being hard and tough leads to violence – this could manifest in a fight on school grounds or a shoot out on the street corner. Notice how hard is defined as a “desirable trait.” Clearly, in this mindset, tough trumps girly and soft. I’m not saying men should be constantly in touch with their emotions and we should all form one big Kumbaya circle, but we do need to realize this repression is the root of a lot of things that are wrong with our society. The man who beats on his wife or girlfriend in a fit of anger, is one who was taught to embrace aggression and hyper-masculinity, and to use force as a means of communication, as opposed to sympathy and discussion.

As with many issues, there is no one solution. Surely being open and understanding can’t be all that bad, and would surely help solve problems just as efficiently as a punch to the face, maybe. Hopefully one day, girly will just be a word and men can screech freely at the cat-sized rats and water bugs and spiders of the world without ridicule … because those fuckers are tough. *shudder*