Masculinity, Homophobia, and The Myth of the “Real Man”

Image of Chuck Norris holding guns in both hands on American flag backdrop that reads: "I am a millionaire, have a hard rock body, an epic beard, a hairy chest, have won thousands of fights to the death, impregnated dozens of women and can hold my liquor... does that make me the realist man of all time?"
The Myth of the Real Man 

The internet has exploded with information about Elliot Rodger since his shooting spree left 7 people dead (including himself) in Isla Vista.  For the most part, I’ve been keeping up with it, since UCSB is a place I hold close to my heart.  A lot of friends from high school went there and I managed to make some friends there while at UCSC.  Isla Vista holds some strange, if not fond, memories.

I’ve been following the different angles different news sites have been taking with this story waiting for this story to appear.  For those of you who didn’t click the link, the article from Pink News titled, “Fox News Psychotherapist: California Shootings Were Caused by ‘Homosexual Impulses'” tells us that Fox News has decided to reduce Rodger’s actions to those of a gay man, therefore a “lesser” man.  At one point in the video, this “psychotherapist” even says that “maybe he couldn’t even feel like a real man.”

I’m hardly surprised.  I’m also sick to my stomach.

Let me just say that I know that it’s not worth it to waste words on Fox News.  That said, I have seen this opinion floating around the internet in various forms, and wonder just how many people outside of the conversations about misogyny accept this as sound logic.  Those who follow Fox represent a significant portion of the voting population.  As much as I would like to dismiss it, I can’t.  It’s part of a larger problem with the ways we frame masculinity whenever events like this take place.

The Myth of the “Real” Man

By turning Elliot Rodger into a gay man, they further uphold the “real man” standard by implying that gay men are not real men.  It plays into the American fear of gay men while keeping them outside of the boundary of “real.”

There is no such thing as the “Real Man.” The “Real Man” is a myth.  

Gay men are real men.  Trans-men are real men.  Cis-men are real men.  Let’s drop the qualifier “real” altogether and just say that trans, gay, and cis men are just, simply, men.  While the male experience is not universal, the expectation to live as a “real man” is, and that pressure is rarely born out of realistic expectations.  We have made the “real man” into a myth that we pressure young folks into being, and punish them for not achieving.  Higher rates of depression and suicide are often experienced among gay and trans populations, where they are more than likely to be harassed for not meeting the standard definition of “real”.  Even if Elliot Rodger had been gay, it wouldn’t make him any less affected by the pressure of trying to be a “real man” and it wouldn’t make his crime any more despicable.

Violence is committed by “real” men each day.  To say that “real men don’t…” turns those literally real acts of violence into abstract ideas by ignoring the fact that literal real men do.  The #YesAllWomen hashtag is a testament to the actions of real men.  Here it is in plain sight: men aren’t violent until they become violent.

Of course, some dude will chime in with “Not all men” as his rally cry–that’s not the point.  Regardless of whether all or some men are committing acts of violence, enough men do so.  It’s possible that not all women have that fear.  The reality is that enough do.  Enough men make enough women question their safety.  Enough is enough.

Fellas, if we’re going to be involved in the discussions about misogyny, we have to get out of the mindset that there is some “real man” standard floating above the actions of everyday, embodied men.  It’s time to turn inward and talk about what it means to be a man without assigning successes and failures to some ridiculous, hierarchical standard.  It’s time to let the myth die by looking at masculinity under a microscope to see both its beauty and its ugliness.  Examine it so that we may address those hurts caused by not “measuring up,” and to cultivate a version of masculinity that allows us to be our fullest selves.

My love and prayers are with UCSB and the families that lost their dear ones.