The Misguide of Incorporating Masculinity in Education


Some lawmakers in China want to mitigate feminization and re-educate the boys with values of “yanggang spirit”, or virile masculinity. To respond to that appeal, China’s Department of Education recently formally replied a proposal with the name Proposal to Prevent the Feminization of Male Adolescents.

In the reply, the Department approved the notion that male adolescents in the country requires re-education on traditional, masculine values, and recommended an increase in teaching physical education classes. As this reply signifies the possibility that educating virile masculinity might become a more integral part of the future education in China, many people who have personal experience and understanding of the deeper meaning behind the concept have begun to sound the alarm, expressing their disapproval of the systematic cultivation of such masculinity in the most drastic way.

In China, the public opinion environment in recent years has been full of discussions and attempts to characterize sex, which is biological and gender, which is a social construct associated with sex often by stereotypes. In these discussions, there is a great deal of belief that the lack of traditional fathers in education, family and society, or the “masculine” image of men has caused the tendency of the so-called “Chinese male adolescent feminization,” and the culture is enabling such feminization to be more widespread. Those who make these arguments are usually not eager to consider whether this so-called tendency is accurate and should be understood negatively in light of academic inquiry into education and gender issues, and are portrayed in zero-sum and extreme terms as “a crisis affecting China’s next generation.”

However, the intentions of those who put forward these theories and urgently describe their views as tendencies and problems, by trying to restore such “virile masculinity” in education and retrain Chinese male youth, are bound to be counterproductive, no matter what the starting point, to what these people expect. The biggest mistake these people make is to fail to understand the true meaning of the term “masculinity” and to recognize the real problems it has caused in the past and in the present.

In the English language, the word “masculinity” is a very important trait in maleness, or features associated with men. There is a long history of discussion about masculinity. In the early days of gender studies in academia, there was a belief that an individual’s biological sex would include all of the socially assigned characteristics of that sex, with men summarized as “skilled, aggressive, proactive, and competitive” and women summarized as “naturally sentimental, affectionate, passive, and lack of competitiveness.” In everyday life experience, a simple observation reveals that these vague concepts are never suitable to be applied to complex individual and collective behavior. Each individual makes decisions that are dominated by multiple identity traits, including physical characteristics, age, education, economic status, race, and upbringing, and often have nothing to do with biological sex itself.

In the 1980s, with the booming of feminist ideas in academia, a number of feminist researchers pointed out that although men were the beneficiaries or vested interests of the gendered culture, the dichotomy of gender led to a relationship that could not be dissociated from each other. Therefore, a more thorough critique of the patriarchal system, which feminists see as the culprit of gender inequality, also requires a consideration of the roles they play and the problems they face in such an environment where gender concepts are socialized from the perspective of men.

In order to reconceptualize the complexity of masculinity in terms of conceptual understanding, Australian gender studies expert R.W. Connell redefines masculinity on the basis of masculinity studies. Connell argues that masculinity is by no means an iron wall invented in unison and against feminism within men, but rather a complex field full of inequalities and conflicts: with Hegemonic Masculinity is the dominant social ideology that continues to prevent and stigmatize other types and characteristics of masculinity within the patriarchal system. Such stigmatization often manifests itself through forms that are not obvious or not considered serious, such as the mockery of feminism or the derogatory mockery of men who dye their hair or wear makeup.

There are also times when this Hegemonic Masculinity produces serious social problems, such as gender and sexual orientation discrimination in job recruitment and gender ceilings in employment, or gender and physical violence specifically targeting women and “unmasculine” men, to the point of deliberate murder.

Because gender structures are indelibly linked to political and social structures, the involuntary nature of the gender system has resulted in Hegemonic Masculinity being a central component of most social formations. The fact that dominant masculinity is still common and influential at the policy-making level is evident in the heated debates that this proposal and response letter have generated.

If “yanggang spirit” is thus equated with achieving success in a society through systematic government education, then the constraining framework constructed by the stereotype of non-conformity will only lead to the selective silencing of more voices. Wang Mei, a sociologist at East China Normal University, has pointed out sharply that “masculinity education” has misconceptions that he cannot detect or correct. The idea that “men should be masculine” is an unfounded and illogical pseudo-proposition, which unilaterally abducts success and masculinity together, thus formulating a set of rules on how to be “masculine” and achieve social success through such “masculinity” to achieve social success. In such a system, women, the LGBTQ and anyone who is not perceived to fit this imposed standard is systematically denied the opportunity to create equality. On the other hand, according to Wang, the forced promotion of “masculinity education” means artificially confusing and comparing sex and gender, thus “ignoring the individual’s definition of masculinity and the process by which social relationships influence and construct it. Neglecting this individualistic approach to formation, and the persistence of patriarchal institutions, not only fails to recognize any problems with gender equality in today’s society, but also threatens to counteract the legal and social foundations that promote gender equality and diminish the dichotomy.

Without recognizing this premise, increasing physical education by itself will not have a positive impact or change the existing situation. Historically speaking, masculinity has often relied on the display of primitive violence — from the initial conflict between individuals to wars between groups, tribes, city-states and even nations, it has relied on rigorous athletic training to produce the fiercest warriors. When there is no war, this way to show force became the ancient Greek Olympic Games. The forerunner of professional sports, these competitions are now the ancestors of sports competition and even physical education. Even in modern times, strength and even violence are an integral part of sports.

Due to the hormonal and testosterone characteristics of most biological males, they are generally more adept and enthusiastic in sports that require and can demonstrate absolute strength. The result of such a development is that physical activity and physical education are tied to each other along with male gender identity. On the one hand, many athletic women are denied equal treatment and competition because of this bias; on the other hand, sports-related industries and trades have become outright “boys’ clubs,” where sex- and sexual orientation-discriminatory and even offensive behaviors and language can be constantly rationalized by those in similar positions and are difficult to It is difficult to eradicate. At the same time, male adolescents who are unable to participate or excel for various reasons do not develop more “masculinity,” but only more rebelliousness and mental health issues.

The only viable form of “masculinity” development through education is to resort to a primitive desire for strength and even violence, which ignores and erases at the source all other personalities and characteristics of the still-growing, differently-contextualized and perceived adolescent male as an individual. After all, there is no objective way to measure whether a male is “masculine” or “feminine,” but only through existing gender stereotypes and the personal tendencies of the judge. A deliberate emphasis on a behavior or statement that is defined as “unmasculine” can result in a restriction of development or a social rejection. Such an example can be seen everywhere: Hu Siyi, a sophomore kindergarten teacher at a technical school in Beijing, was expelled by teachers at the school for publicly coming out in a speech and wanting people to eliminate discrimination against homosexuals. After he complained about the school’s behavior, the school used the absurd reason of “encouraging homosexuality” to make its discrimination completely public.

I cannot speculate on the original motivation of the authors of that proposal, but I do know that the existing education system should not only resist the cultivation of this meaningless and highly undesirable “masculinity”, but also needs to strengthen the basic understanding of gender equality and gender studies in the existing educational environment in order to truly The concern about the development of masculinity in China’s youth needs to be addressed from this perspective. The development of independence, responsibility, and resilience, which are not directly related to gender and sexual orientation, is the only way to provide a healthy environment for youth to be nurtured.

#AAJA member, student freelancer, sometimes writes unpopular opinions.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store