I’ve gotta admit . . . I am a man who used to love me some public nudity. Some of my friends used to joke that you didn’t graduate from Earlham College if you didn’t see Jamie Utt naked. It started just after high school when my friends Zach, Jeff, and I just couldn’t hang out without a little bit of nudity. In college, some buddies and I had a tradition every semester during finals where we would stop studying, get naked, and streak the library. Weren’t we just HILARIOUS!? We would go to parties . . . NAKED! AAAhahahahahahaha.
I didn’t just find my antics hilarious, though. I honestly thought them a progressive redefinition of masculinity, one that challenged aggressive homophobia and that celebrated bodies. After all, all those homophobic dudes would cringe and “Uhhhhhh” when my dudebros and I would run around with our things flapping in the wind. And weren’t we just loving the masculine form that we had been taught from a young age to feel ashamed of and to hide? Plus, most people found it hilarious (or so it seemed)… so why not keep doing it?
A few different times, women approached me to talk about how it bothered them that I (and my friends) were always getting naked in public. Sadly (especially considering that I would have called myself a “feminist”), I never listened, simply attributing their concern to “prudishness” and their strange desire to control my free expression.
It took me a long time (and lots of times of being told) to realize what was actually going on: a simple recreation of oppressive, privileged, hegemonic, normative masculinity.
Now, I know some of my readership is saying, “What on earth do you mean by ‘normative masculinity’ and a ‘redefinition of masculinity?’” So let’s back up.
The crux of the issue is that normative masculinity is (most often) destructive and restrictive. Normative masculinity tends to reflect traditional values of Western patriarchy: physical strength, stoicism, dominance, self-reliance, control, heterosexual virility, violence, and power over. Perhaps most importantly, normative masculinity tends to devalue traditionally feminine traits like emotive expression, collaboration, non-violence, community, and power with and through (particularly when men display these traits). As such, normative masculinity restricts both men and women into roles that do not allow either to be fully realized as human beings. As such, it’s also often called hegemonic masculinity for the ways that it forces normative masculinity on everyone, even those who actively try to resist it.