Redefining masculinity — Let men embrace their feminine side

It is about time to transition from a gender-separated society to one in which men and women are equal

Zehra Batool

For generations, straight men have borne an unbecoming burden of displaying hyper-masculinity for the mere sake of meeting societal standards of what "real men" should be like. Men are robbed of the freedom to embrace gender fluidity and to love themselves, much less others, without bitter dismissal and scrutiny the moment they are assigned sex at birth.

While sex is a label that a doctor assigns at birth based on the chromosomes and genitals one is born with, gender is far more complex. Masculine and feminine roles are socially constructed rather than biological. To make it simpler, it is a set of expectations set by society about how men and women must act. There are indeed movements and scholarly works which oppose these "toxic" concepts of manhood. People, however, continue to reinforce them, unaware of the fact that they are perpetuating the very toxicity which they bear the brunt of. Masculinity is not intrinsically toxic; it is simply the way people have accepted its role in society.

What makes a real man? “Toxic masculinity” originated thousands of years ago when homo sapiens used physical prowess, dominance, and hostility to wage war and hunt. Such behaviour persisted for centuries and continued into modern times when they are no longer required. Given its outdated nature and incompatibility with the present, maintaining this form of masculinity becomes unhealthy.

Nonetheless, the mindset persists.

From being told to “man up” when showing any emotion or vulnerability, to the notion that “real men don’t cry,” the push to be masculine goes beyond disapproval of acting peppy or donning pink and purple. It dangerously reinforces the idea that straight men are strictly not allowed to be emotional, nurturing, or empathetic — essential traits that make such people not only good men but good humans. In essence, they are expected to be something other than human. illustration — Junaid Ahmed Khan illustration — Junaid Ahmed Khan

From a very early age, boys are taught that these are the traits of women, and if they intend to become successful and desirable men and partners, they must be mentally and physically tough and emotionally insensitive, thusly contributing to an endless cycle of “toxic masculinity”.

One way to start redefining masculinity is to stop letting "traditional" social norms dictate how we live our lives. Men should embrace their "feminine" traits in the same way that they are encouraged to embrace their "masculine" traits. It is only in this way that will men reach their fullest, most human potential. It is through their masculinity as well as femininity that each individual is ultimately moulded into a more complete human being.

Healthy and balanced masculine energy is what makes a man a caring and reliable provider, a good parent, lover, and friend. If the masculine energy fails to be in balance — and with the feminine energy neglected — men are believed to have difficulty connecting with their hearts and allowing people closest to them to be a part of their lives.

Moreover, men might gain a new perspective connecting to their feminine side. Connecting with one’s feminine side as a man does not weaken one’s masculinity or manliness. It gives one a completely new perspective on life, wakes up the parts that lay dormant, and helps one connect more deeply to one’s emotions.

But if only it were so simple.

The anguish that women have faced at the hands of our male-dominated society is undeniable, but it would be ignorant to disregard the fact that men have also had their fair share of suffering. They have had to hide their emotions and painfully bury their feminine essence, causing immense suffering not just to themselves but also to others.

No, expressing your feminine energy does not require you to dress cutely or wear high heels. It does not matter what gender you are; the point is that a man should not have to fear losing his manhood by embracing his feminine side. It is time to recognise how important it is for males to embrace and accept their feminine sides. It is time we redefine masculinity to truly heal our society.

Perhaps it will make more sense when you observe boys being taught to toughen up when you hear someone tell them "don’t cry like a girl," or when you see them erupting in violence since they have no healthy means to express their emotions. You will understand when you watch girls being pushed to adopt traditionally masculine characteristics while boys are provided with no room to adopt traditionally feminine traits. The picture becomes clearer when male and female suicide rates are compared.

It is, therefore, necessary to stop holding yourself back when it comes to embracing your feminine side and vulnerability. Unapologetic self-expression is as important as pushing forward and having faith in oneself. Men prefer to hide parts of themselves out of fear of how others may react, but people respond quite positively to vulnerability. After all, being a feminine man is a powerful thing because you are not scared to be your true self.

While many women like a little femininity in their partners, there are still those who feel that straight men who exhibit even the slightest hint of femininity are not "man enough" for them, and often presume they are “gay.” Even from women who criticise hyper-masculinity, these men experience levels of discomfort and mockery upon displaying feminine body language and showing feminised interests.

What they fail to recognise is that when femininity is embraced, something precious can unfold for all genders. Men and women can create strong and lasting relationships, both romantically and otherwise, by providing emotional support to one another.

If femininity entails compassion, warmth, vulnerability, and empathy, or striving for those qualities, then what is stopping our society from accepting something which is ultimately advantageous to any relationship? Men who can express themselves fully without conforming to gender norms are the “real men” whether or not society lauds them or brands them as such. They understand that ideas like being a "real man" are merely mechanisms used by the patriarchy to perpetuate itself and are, thus, destructive to males. Studies have revealed that confining men into strictly defined boxes in terms of acceptable manly characteristics can endanger their psychological well-being. These ingrained attitudes and habits are linked to conditions including depression, excessive anger, violence, and substance abuse.

Representational image of a man burying his face in his hands.  — Freepik
Representational image of a man burying his face in his hands.  — Freepik

Getting advice from other males, whether it be from a parent, brother, or friend, is one of the best approaches to coping with “toxic masculinity”. As the American Psychological Association asserts: “Boys learn to be men from the men in their lives, from their own experiences navigating our social norms, and from the large social and cultural context.” Men can work together to break the masculine paradigm by learning to reject hostility and domination. 

So, if you think something is too "feminine" for you owing to what society says, look for ways to crush that view and enjoy what you wish to enjoy. Be it wearing lipstick and nail polish, engaging in extreme empathy, or generally being more compassionate and understanding of others, men should be allowed to do so without feeling as though they are compromising their "manhood."

As a society, we need to end the problematic mindset that shames men for expressing their feminine nature and put an end to age-old sexism. Rather than just viewing it as an idealistic goal in society, we must strive toward making the idea that men can be both masculine and feminine a reality.

It is about time to transition from a gender-separated society to one in which men and women are equal. A change in narrative is anything but easy. To relearn and redefine masculinity, you can start small with some reflection and share it with your friends and family. Let’s turn the tide together!

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints, and editorial policies of

— Header image:  Junaid Ahmed Khan