Part 2 of this series discussed the issue of fat men and masculinity. It showed that being fat—while generally unhealthy—is no reason to turn in your man card, but that many such men are quite masculine indeed. When you consider the tea drinking fat AI-generated preacher…
…you’ll likely find that his masculinity isn’t dependent on whether his tea is sweetened with sugar or stevia. So what makes a man masculine or not? What makes a woman feminine? I hinted at this already:
It is important to note at the outset that being fat isn’t a simple black-and-white, masculine-not-masculine issue, as Spurgeon shows.
To gain insight into this, we have to look at a little math and statistics.
Recall this from part 2:
Masculinity and femininity are neither. Perhaps more accurately, they are both: bimodal distributions that overlap. Let me explain.
Sex is a binary. There is male, there is female, and there is nothing else. Sex is truly a black and white concept. Even nearly all so-called intersex cases are easily categorized as either male or female. There are just two discrete states: two.
Sex is not a spectrum. A spectrum is a type of distribution where you have two extremes and infinite variation between them. The left-to-center-to-right political spectrum is the perfect example. If sex were a spectrum, then there would be an infinite number of sexes. But there are not an infinite number of sexes, there are two. To produce a baby takes a single male and a single female. It takes one of each: there is no gradient of sexes.
Similarly, masculinity and femininity are not like the opposing poles on the left and right on the political spectrum. You don’t become proportionally more masculine by becoming less feminine, nor do you become proportionally less masculine by becoming more feminine. Rather, you can have more or less of a masculine trait, while simultaneously having more or less of a feminine trait. They are not strictly mutually exclusive.
Most sexual beings are sexually dimorphic: they have traits that differ according to sex. For example, in birds the male (e.g. peacock) tends to be brighter and more beautiful than the female (e.g. peahen). The displays are part of the male competition for a female mate. It is easy to see the binary (bright males, dull females), but there is also variation within those groups. Some males are brighter than other males, some females more or less dull than other females. This is known as a bimodal distribution.
Every bimodal distribution has two peaks: one for each of the binaries, which in this case is sex. The distributions may or may not overlap, but they often do. If they overlap heavily, it means that the male and female can be hard to distinguish, but they retain their identity as male or female nonetheless. This is straightforward: a peacock and peahen that looked the same would still differ in their anatomy and male/female genetics. No matter how much a male looks and acts like a female, he is still a male:
In a bimodal distribution, similarity does not negate the binary.
Masculinity and femininity are sex-binary traits that are bimodally distributed, and they often overlap. In intelligence, the difference between the modes of the male and female are not significant enough to notice (although the differences at the tails is quite noticeable): they overlap so closely that we normally just merge the bimodal distribution together to get a single distribution.
The bimodal distribution with overlap is easily seen in things like height and weight, but they are also seen in mental areas like academic performance:
How then do we define what masculinity is?
What is Masculinity?
The first thing to note is that:
Masculinity cannot be defined as a single black-and-white trait.
At the very least, it is a distribution of many different traits, each one on its own bimodal spectrum.
A fat person is somewhere on a spectrum of weight, but they are on other spectrum of bone density, muscle mass, height, genetic fitness, speed of metabolism, etc. Each of these individual traits is a bimodal distribution on the sex-binary. Assigning each of these traits a “masculine” or “feminine” spectrum is difficult.
For example, men are generally bigger than women (both height and weight), but women tend to get bigger by proportion due to their natural propensity to gain weight. This makes it difficult to say any of these traits are inherently masculine or feminine.
We all think we know what a masculine man is when we see him (and mostly we are right), but attempts to define it by quantities and qualities of specific attributes is paradoxical. All attempts to define masculinity in black-and-white terms is going to ring false and only separate masculinity from itself: promote some forms of masculinity over others. Designations of ‘alpha’, ‘beta’, etc. as measures of masculinity (or lack thereof) are inherently flawed.
The Masculine Ideal
There is a trap in treating a bimodal distribution as a distribution of morality or human worth.
God created people with varying level of attributes (like intelligence). When he decided to make man, he could have ensured that everyone had equal attributes, but he did not do so. Some people are more intelligent than others. Some men are more physically strong. Similarly, some people have a lower metabolism than others and tend to gain more body fat. God intentionally created people differently from each other, both across the sexes and within.
Now, pay close attention to this distribution:
Males and females share traits. It’s impossible to point to a point on this graph and say “here are the masculine men and here are the feminine men.” Consider this verse:
“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” — 1 Peter 3:7
We all realize that the average man is stronger than the average woman. Women are almost always weaker than men. This is most obvious in grip strength, which is why women almost always ask their husbands to open jar lids:
But even here there is an overlap. What if a 95th percentile woman were to marry a 5th percentile man? Would he be emasculated because his wife was stronger than him? Should he be condemned as a “beta cuck” because his wife is physically stronger than he is? He is, after all, still a man and she a woman.
Those who treat masculinity as a black-and-white issue are just as likely to treat 1 Peter 3:7 as a black-and-white statement. Rather than treat Peter’s statement as a general principle (“men are generally the protectors of women”), they’ll treat as law (“men have a duty to protect women and women may not protect men”). The logic of their position means that a man who wants to be masculine must be stronger than his weaker wife even when that isn’t the case. “If a man fails to do this, he is a failure as a person, as a man” as it were. Or, “he should never have married her.” Good luck if a man ever becomes disabled.
It is not surprising that the Christian manosphere is full of Christian men who interpret the Bible in strict black-and-white terms while also viewing masculinity with strict rigidity. These two modes of thought go together. That this will conflict with reality is inevitable. Reality demands that masculinity be viewed as both a black-and-white sex binary and multiple spectrum of different traits within the context of that binary. In the next part, we will ask and answer a number of questions about how to determine what is or isn’t masculine and how best to think about those concepts generally and flexibly without denying the reality of their differences.