The Alternative Man

When I recently read a book for my thesis I came across this question: what does it mean to you to be a man? Now I’m barely interested in all the sociological en psychological debates on topics like gender and sex, but as soon as I read this question I was curious. And I thought the respondent’s answer was worth sharing.

It’s probably a question that everyone has asked themselves at least once, or at least a question that is close to this one. To return to the idea of playing a certain role in social situations, gender is also part of that role. Within societies there are dominant ideas about how men and women should behave in general, or how expectations exist with regard to their behaviour.

However, these dominant ideas can change. An example of this is the changed position of women within societies. Many changes took place in this area, especially in the twentieth century. Not only in the area of legal powers, but also in the area of cultural ideas. If a certain group wants to take a different position in society, then society must also see this group differently than before. This involves the individual mental aspect. If it only remains with legal changes, then there will be relatively little changes in behaviour towards that group.

In the case of the quote I came across, it may not be directly about the way, in this case, men are perceived, but it has to do with it in a way. The respondent’s answer mentions the dominant view of male behaviour, but also offers an alternative form of behaviour. However, this alternative form of behaviour is only likely to succeed on a large scale if the view of men and the view of relationships between men and women change. Until that happens, the alternative form of behaviour remains an individual opinion, resulting in behaviour that may differ from many other men in society. Then the trick is not to let yourself be influenced by that.

“Ross Haenfler: ‘What does it mean to you to be a man?’

Kyle: ‘Just to be a role model. For people to strive to be like you. I know what the whole society view of what being a man is, but it’s not mine. I don’t care to be like the head of a household, or dominant in a relationship. I just want to be the really nice, positive person that people can get along with. I think that should be the goal for a man or a woman.’”


  • The quote comes from the book Straight Edge – Hardcore Punk, Clean-living Youth, and Social Change by Ross Haenfler (2006, p. 114-115). In the relevant chapter of the book (chapter 5), masculinity within the straight edge community is discussed. Despite the fact the straight edgers consider women’s rights important, the majority of the community is male, and there is a lot ‘male behaviour such as rough dancing. This paradox is analyzed in chapter  5.)

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