One of the explanations of the chasm between sex and reproduction is that people find it difficult to think of masculinity and femininity as something distinct from machoism and coquettishness.

This tendency is exemplified, rather grotesquely, by two well-known representatives of the transgender movement. “Caitlyn” Jenner (born male) fashions his/her public persona according to absurdly cliched sexual images. He/she even posed on the cover of Vogue as a stereotypical sexy starlet.

Conversely, actor Laith Ashley (born female) plays a male stripper in a recent film – not your typical man by any means.  

The characterizing features of a macho hunk are physical strength, a display of (oversized) muscles and – more alarmingly –disdain for the weak and feeble. A hunk does not care for a woman’s feelings; he sees her as an object for his pleasure, as a toy to be exploited, and – in the “best” case – as someone who should worship him unconditionally.

He is a bully and he may be aggressive, disrespectful, and careless. Unsurprisingly, whilst few women are indifferent to a good-looking man, the type I have just characterized is hardly the Prince Charming they desire for lifelong companionship.

Similarly, a coquette dedicates a disproportionate amount of time to her looks; she tends to dress, to use make-up, and to behave in order to be alluring for men. She unmistakably conveys sexual availability. She is perceived as vain and frivolous. Unsurprisingly, while she may draw the attention of those seeking a night’s pleasure, she is rarely regarded as an ideal wife.

By way of contrast, the ideal we should offer to our sons and daughters tempers a young person’s temptation to play at being a macho or coquette and transforms them into true men and women.

Masculinity should be articulated as a combination of a reasonable physical attractiveness and the moral capacity for caring, for self-sacrifice, for being attentive to the weak, for protecting the vulnerable, and for being reliable. A true man, unlike a macho hunk, is a good husband and father. He places his physical prowess, together with his intellectual qualities and his moral traits, at the service of his family and of the community.

Similarly, femininity is not only being graceful and attractive – though every woman should take care of her physical appearance. Femininity is courage, gentleness, openness, generosity, cheerfulness and a capacity for consoling and comforting.

Whilst macho hunks and coquettes are focused on themselves and rejoice in their powers of seduction, a true man and a true woman possess radically different qualities, virtues (virtue and virility have the same Latin root…) which are the result of moral education and life-choices.

Today’s culture rightfully condemns the dark side of machoism, like domestic violence or sexual harassment. Yet these traits will not disappear by abolishing sexual differences and imposing an androgynous model on men and women. They will be overcome by the cultivation of virtues and the pursuit of ideals which come to fruition in the creation of stable and loving families.

Not all men and not all women will become spouses or parents; however, the virtues which could make them good parents and good spouses are the same as those which make good human beings, male and female.

It is not by criminalizing masculinity that we will overcome sexual exploitation, harassment, and violence: it is by educating real men and real women, in their uniqueness and in their complementarity.

Dr Chiara Bertoglio is a musician and theologian moonlighting as a journalist. She writes from Turin in Italy. Visit her website at