I’m noticing a lot of surface-level, clichéd “masculinity” being bandied about lately.
Maybe our current polarizing political climate is to blame. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve been more attuned to it recently.
Or maybe it’s because “everyone these days are weak little momma’s boys who need a swift steel-toed work boot to the rear end,” according to one angry dude’s comment on my Twitter feed.
Whatever it is, it’s time for real men to defend real masculinity against those who would seek to define it by its most stereotypical tropes. And we shall defend it with BRUTE FORCE! *adjusts crotch and spits on the ground.
Damn, no, scratch that. Sorry.
We shall defend real masculinity by confidently setting a better example for our misguided brethren. Yeah, that’s more like it. *refrains from adjusting crotch and spitting.
If we’re going to set the example of real masculinity, we should start by discussing how masculinity usually gets demonstrated in society.
For guys who don’t spend much time in self-reflection, masculinity exists as a set of rules handed down from wise eighth graders to naïve young seventh graders. The rules came into existence by distilling the very essence of machismo from diverse sources as varied as “movies about barbarians” to “movies about special forces operators.” The Rules Committee, comprised of barely-pubescent young chaps, chiseled out ironclad instructions on how to be a real man.
The Inviolable Rules Of Being A Real Man (According To 14-Year-Old “Men”)
Millions of men hold true to these critical lessons of maleness they long ago learned in junior high locker rooms:
Thou shalt never express sadness or pain, even when being whacked across the knuckles or pegged in the back with a tennis ball.
Thou shalt solve conflict through escalating shows of bravado. Start with, “be confrontational and unwilling to back down.” Rise to, “stand up, puff out your chest, and hurl insults, preferably about your opponent’s lack of cohesion to these rules.” Conclude with fisticuffs.
Thou shalt interpret thoughtless or rude acts by others, especially other males, as personal affronts to your manhood. Meet these acts with disproportionate demonstrations of bluster, lest the wrongdoer misinterpret your muted response or inaction as a sign of weakness.
Thou shalt be exceedingly and vocally knowledgeable on automobile maintenance and repair, popular sports in your locale (even with regard to events that occurred before your birth), and weaponry (though too much demonstrated knowledge on medieval weaponry shall leave you deemed a dork).
Thou shalt be an expert in matters of sexual prowess. In the event that you have not yet engaged in sexual activity, you shall be cast aside until you have either realized this accomplishment, or more likely, convinced your peers of the veracity of your fictional bedroom achievements.
Thou shalt consume ever-increasing quantities of alcohol, maintaining your appearance of sobriety as a show of your liver’s masculinity. Thou shalt not wait until you are legally allowed to consume alcohol, as only a little sissy would do that. Thou shalt never drink anything that tastes good, including but not limited to: fruity drinks, frozen drinks, drinks that come in weird glasses, beer with limited amounts of hops, and wine coolers.
Thou shalt disdain pop music, drama, shopping, dancing, using a blanket when not sleeping, the color pink, figure skating, drinking through straws, dogs under fifty pounds, and all cats.
Thou shalt display only two emotions: anger and happiness. All other emotions shalt be funneled through these two available options.
But they saved their most important edict for last:
Thou shalt never expand upon nor alter this newfound understanding of manhood, lest you be deemed a wuss.
If you’re male, you probably related to some or all of those “rules.” They’re a funny version of the truth of growing from boyhood into male adulthood. To be honest, I kind of want to find each of you and crane kick you all for laughing at me.
Sorry, friends. These rules are still seared into my psyche.
Rules Are Made To Be Outlived And Changed
Rules help guide individuals and society. Even a seemingly bad set of rules, if nothing else, gives predictability to an otherwise chaotic world. Nonetheless, every rulebook has the potential to outlive its usefulness and wind up causing more harm it prevents. That’s why modern society no longer holds us accountable to rules like, “an eye for an eye,” “finders keepers, losers weepers,” or “step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”
We realized that maintaining our rigid dogma—and its world full of constantly dispossessed one-eyed people with paraplegic mothers—was simply more trouble than it was worth.
Likewise, society is slowly adapting to progressive notions on masculinity. Little by little, we become convinced that our previously held juvenile understanding of “being a man” has outlived its usefulness, both for the world and for us as individuals. We become increasingly aware of the negative effects of clinging to a 13-year-old’s understanding of what it means to possess a Y-chromosome.
And we’re starting to believe that maintaining a rigid set of antiquated norms is more trouble than it’s worth.We become increasingly aware of the negative effects of clinging to a 13-year-old’s understanding of what it means to possess a Y-chromosome. Click To Tweet
New Rules: Masculinity For Grown (And Growing) Men
One by one, we free ourselves from the bondage of heretofore predictable yet harmful rules. And in doing so, we set the expectation and the cover for our sons, our brothers, our fathers, and our friends to come out and do the same. We do this proudly, demonstrably, and unapologetically.
We model the reality that showing emotion is a natural, important part of being a human being and a man. With our tears, our smiles, our laughter, and our pain, we show that, incredibly, none of those things make our testicles disappear. We exhibit true strength and courage when we discard fake stoicism and instead confidently allow our emotions to shine through.
We diffuse conflict, knowing that mutual victory is far more sustainable than tit-for-tat wins at others’ expense. We feel empathy for our brethren who, in their misplaced shows of misunderstood masculinity, attempt to force zero-sum games in every contest. We know that true manhood seeks peace, even for “enemies.” And through all of that, we retain our courage, always ready to step in and defend the defenseless against real injustice.We exhibit true strength and courage when we discard fake stoicism and instead confidently allow our emotions to shine through. Click To Tweet
We allow slights and insults to travel past us without remaining enslaved to rote and ritualistic responses. Freed from automatic reactions, we are able to focus our energy and emotion on worthwhile pursuits and real relationships.
We like what we like. We dislike what we dislike. We do both with no apologies, seeking to align our inner reality with the exterior we display. Some of us like K-pop and cooking, and some of us prefer Slayer and working on cars. No mere preference can determine our vitality as a “real man.” We believe being true to ourselves—with neither regret nor duplicitous motives—is the ultimate masculine trait.
We are heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, asexual, bisexual, and any number of other orientations. And not a single one of us is more or less of a man as a result.
We drink what we want, eat what we want, and live how we want. We don’t answer to anyone for any of those choices. And we especially don’t answer to naysayers who judge people for mere matters of taste. Being a man means never having to say, “I don’t like fruity drinks.” And thank God for that, because piña coladas are freaking delicious.
When we get angry, we recognize the possibility that we’re actually embarrassed, threatened, hurt, sad, scared, or lonely. Or we could just be pissed. But we’re mature enough to examine our own emotions and avoid knee-jerk reactions. And we understand that anger is rarely just about being mad. That realization is especially pertinent in light of our upbringing, steeped as it was in antiquated rules that continue to limit our emotional range.
And most importantly of all, we understand that masculinity itself is an ever-evolving notion. These rules can and must change.
New rules are added as formerly marginalized populations are freed to simply be themselves in our society. The definition of manhood expands. The rules change as we age. We alter the order of importance of these beliefs as we become fathers, uncles, husbands, and grandfathers. The definition of masculinity is open-ended and personal; indeed, the need to remain true to oneself demands flexibility in our personal creeds.
A Call To Less Reactionary Action
My seventh grade brain is now covered in 42 years’ worth of obscure trivia, successes, abysmal failures, random song lyrics, pain, grief, joy, and love. And the toxic “rules” of being a man I learned growing up still leach into my daily life.
Someone cuts me off in traffic and I hit the gas to catch up and flip him off, lest he think me a little b*tch.
Friends talk about the 1979 Houston Oilers, and I’m illogically embarrassed that I don’t remember enough about the “Luv Ya Blue” days—as in when I was three years old—to chime in.
I find myself using my larger-than-average size to intimidate smaller men, as if I’m a silverback repelling challengers to my jungle territory and harem of lady gorillas…except I’m walking around a TJ Maxx in the suburbs. And I’m not even into lady gorillas, at least not without several piña coladas.
It’s ridiculous. It has outgrown its usefulness…if such behavior ever had usefulness in the 20th and 21st centuries. And it’s potentially shortening my life, either through placing me in harm’s way or by flooding my heart with stress hormones.
Unlike my 13-year-old self and far too many of our fellow adult men, I see how my schema has become detrimental to life as a modern, educated, intelligent, compassionate, empathetic, happy member of society.
Seeing all of that is the first step. Admitting it comes next.
But chipping away and rewriting the schema itself is what’s really required.
I’m working on that, both for myself and to set the example for others in my life. I hope you are, too. If you are, I hope you’ll save this, share it with your friends, and read it again from time to time to see how you’re progressing.
Unless, of course, you’re chicken.
This article was republished at The Good Men Project. Go read it in a different font and maybe click around on their site for a while, there’s tons of good stuff there!
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