As we move towards the end of November, there is a growing appreciation for the way some people are growing moustaches, while others are desperately trying to keep up, all in the spirit of raising awareness about prostate cancer. However, if we ap- proach the issue through different lenses, new perspectives on a relatively simple concept will emerge. What does it mean for a man to grow facial hair and how does it reflect on wider issues such as masculinity?
People assert their identities everyday at all levels and at all times. Consciously or unconsciously, the way we dress, we talk, and we walk speaks about who we are. What do we consider to be a masculine identity in the first place? Stereotypes in our society dictate that “real” men are those who show certain physical and character features resembling a strong, independent, leader-like figure. From an early age, men tend to be socialized into being protective and aggressive at the same time. Facial hair is one of the characteristics that have traditionally been associated as a trademark of masculinity.
Who could forget that desperate pre-teen nurturing of the single facial hair? Some people believe that facial hair is seen as the distinction between childhood and adulthood. It is sometimes regarded as a symbol of maturity and wisdom. Others would argue that there could be religious reasons behind choosing to grow facial hair. Some would agree that there are more trendy reasons, such as fashion or style. On the other hand, men could grow a beard for more utilitarian reasons, such as to keep their face warm during the winter.
In fact, the dominant role of masculinity on society has not only been seen in North American society but in many parts of the world. For example, machismo is an ever present phenomenon that is found around Latin America. Machistas are those people who consider women inferior to men and act accordingly. Juan Chavez, a Physics student from Ecuador, thinks that even though the level of machismo has dimin- ished, it has traditionally been considered to be ever-present in his society. He ex- presses that the increase of enrolment of women in higher education has contrib-
uted to the fight for a more equal society. For him, machismo stems from the fact that women are usually treated as in need of protection and therefore the strong and protective man-figure steps out to protect her. Nonetheless, he agrees that this is an issue of public image in the sense that the way men perceive other men is an im- portant factor in determining status. Ac- cording to this perspective, being seen as a protective figure enhances a man’s mas- culinity. It is also important to note that even though the term is used in English, it comes from Spanish. The word macho is technically used to describe male animals. However, it is extrapolated to describe men that portray “strong masculine fea- tures”. There are many connotations that this word entails, but most importantly it is used to describe men which are attractive in a physical, almost animal instinct way. We cannot forget that there are people that believe humans have an inner animal as a byproduct of evolution, and that it mani- fests itself on certain occasions.
Masculinity often has also much to do with a man’s relationship with women.
However, in today’s world where relation- ships are much more than just between a man and a woman, how does masculinity change accordingly? Often masculinity is analyzed in terms of how men use it in or- der to seem attractive to women. However, as homosexuality and heterosexuality are equally as common today, there must be a shift toward analyzing masculinity as it re- lates to attractions between all genders. It is fair to argue that sometimes there are un- conscious factors that dictate what it is per- ceived as to be attractive not only for men but also for women, and also that women and men may equally find certain char- acteristics attractive. Even though there have been many improvements in terms of more inclusivity and respect for sexual ori- entation diversity, there are still echoes of heterosexual masculinity stereotypes. And so, as Movember is upon us and we are surrounded with that ever-present sym- bol of masculinity—the almighty mous- tache—there is much to examine in terms of the role these symbols play in a modern and accepting society, and how they may change over time.