The Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and Men for Change collaborated to host the final THIS Matters panel discussion Thursday in the Alexander Reading Room.
THIS Matters is a series of conversations connecting leaders with diverse perspectives to offer context to society’s most challenging questions. A panel of four faculty members discussed the origins, causes and effects of hypermasculinity and hyperfemininity.
Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez, associate professor of journalism, public relations and new media, spoke about the effects of mass media on how society views gender.
First, Moody-Ramirez defined femininity as the simple quality of being female. She said hyperfemininity is a more complicated sociological term that describes the tendency for women to rely on men, be passive and ultimately define themselves by how they relate to men.
She added that hypermasculinity depicts a culture where men are overly sexual, more aggressive and less likely to communicate. Moody-Ramirez used the example of films such as “Terminator”, “Scarface” and “Fast and the Furious” that promote these views of both gender roles.
Moody-Ramirez said there has been an increase in western culture to defy these cultural norms of gender.
“Men and women are refusing to be defined by the trends of what it means to be a man or a woman,” Moody-Ramirez said.
Counter narratives include the Dove campaign which promotes the idea that women can be beautiful at any race, ageor size, Moody Ramirez said.
“An important takeaway is that social media plays a prominent role in sharing ideas about these two topics,” Moody-Ramirez said.
Dr. Ed Rogers, psychologist and practicum coordinator in the Baylor Counseling Center, gave a clinical perspective on hypermasculinity.
Rogers said one characteristic of hypermasculinity is the ambition to be an alpha male, or a man who dominates everyone around him.
“Somehow you must be an alpha if you’re going to be a successful man,” Rogers said.
Rogers asked the audience to consider the costs of that kind of mindset.
Rogers said alpha men attempt to be dominant by putting everybody else around them down. He said this level of constant dominance and aggression normally results in a society where men destroy themselves by constantly tearing each other down.
“This mindset is fundamentally a defense mechanism against fear in our lives of being inferior to people who will come after you,” Rogers said.
Rogers said another characteristic of hypermasculinity is controlling and suppressing emotion.
“Whatever is associated with femininity should be avoided, and emotions are viewed as a feminine thing,” Rogers said.
Rogers went on to describe the cost of suppressing emotions.
“If you don’t know what’s hurting you, eventually you’re going to do something that harms you because you don’t know what’s causing that pain,” Rogers said.
Rogers said emotions give people a sense for the things that are wrong and how to handle those things. He said people who are intentionally numb to their emotions will end up harboring pain that they have no idea what to do with.
“When people are desperately trying to be alphas, and they’re not aware of what’s going on internally, you have a culture of people living behind a mask where they’re not allowed to ask for help and have to pretend to be Superman just to be considered a man,” Rogers said.
Dr. Lenore Wright, associate professor of interdisciplinary studies and philosophy, talked about the self and gender.
Wright said that when philosophers think of the self, they think of what they are and who they are. She said gender causes people to think about this. She went on to list categories that people use to define who they are including race, class, gender and religion.
“There are times of profound suffering, profound challenge where we transcend the categories and connect with other humans,” Wright said.
Wright asked the audience to consider when it is appropriate to strive for transcendence and when is it not. Wright shared stories about times where people transcended their differences due to suffering.
She shared about how her mother worked with a man who was dying of AIDS alone because he was shunned by his family. He was angry that he was dying and took it out on all of the hospital staff except her mother.
She said one day the patient rested his head against her mother’s abdomen and shared a moment where human touch caused them to value the commonality of their humanity despite their difference in gender and HIV status.
“In those moments of profound suffering, we can and should transcend the categories of identity that define who we are,” Wright said.
Wright concluded by suggesting that the categories people use to identify themselves must be kept in a positive context.
“When it damages who we are or makes us less than our full selves, we must resist or transcend. We can’t alienate others because of the categories we embrace,” Wright said.