What we believe dictates our behavior and choices. In order to be who we want to be; we have to choose our own standards, expectations and values. It’s easier to follow social norms, but this yields conformity and all the self limiting crap that comes with trying to be “man up.”
Men do dumb shit because so many socially constructed ideas about masculinity remain unexamined outside of the research of academics and the superficiality of pop culture. There are at least ten thousand healthy ways to be a man, but we cling to notions that limit our ability to express our true selves and connect meaningfully with others (especially with other men).
I would never attempt to define what masculinity is or what it should be. I do believe that it ought to be very broadly and inclusively conceptualized. Ideally, it would not be distinct from femininity, but that feels like utopia. Instead I am mindful of what is generally excluded from our definitions (awareness and expression of emotion, being vulnerable in relating to others) and what is assumed but not adequately in supply (be a good dad, don’t abandon your kids).
I met with a very good man recently who personifies traditional values of masculinity. He was on the verge of breaking down but told me, “I think I’ll die if I cry. I’m not supposed to feel anything. I’m supposed to be stoic and strong.” These are the very expectations that promote his drinking as an acceptable means of coping and discourage crying or sharing his needs with another man by conceptualizing these behaviors as “weak.”
Being a Tough Guy
The men who seek me out professionally want transformation. A large percentage of them are tough guys – big scary looking guys who have held the world at bay by appearing to be imposing/intimidating. They are fearful, insecure, and sad. They’re also lonely – that’s the downside of being scary – people don’t try to get close to you.
So, now they want to learn how to be more self aware, deal with feelings, have intimacy and meaningful friendships, be a good husband/partner, and how to be a better dad. Many of them express a concern that they’d like to be able to achieve all of this, “Without…you know…being like a pansy.”
By every prevailing social norm, I am a pansy and I’m proud of that. Here’s a breakdown of:
What Makes Me Less of a Man
- I hate “man hugs.” Man hugs occur when a guy hugs me but slaps my back while he’s doing it. This is a nonverbal form of communication that is designed to communicate to all who may be witnessing, “I am fond of this person BUT I DO NOT WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH HIM and so I am hurting him a little to show that I do not find him attractive.”
- I never could hold my liquor. Worse, for the past ten years or so I don’t even drink. I am immune to peer pressure and laugh at grown men who succumb to it.
- I think “bro code” or “man code” is childish, sexist, and weak.
- The only thing I can do with power tools is hurt myself.
- I do not own a: gun, fishing rod, boat, snow mobile, ATV, motorcycle, or even a hammer.
- I cannot change the oil in my car, nor can I imagine wanting to. That’s why I have a great mechanic
Here’s the flipside:
What I Can Do that a lot of Men Can’t
- Identify and express a full range of emotions easily, readily, and comfortably.
- Tell you when something hurts my feelings
- Talk about my fears, which makes them lose power over me.
- Speak “female.”
- Have a truly great marriage.
- Have intimate friendships with women I do not have sex with.
- Collaborate with, work for, and employ powerful women. I learn from them, support their efforts, and do not feel at all threatened by them.
Bottom line: The key to getting comfortable with my masculinity was overcoming my insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. The keys to self acceptance I’ve found are:
- Accept that there are things you do well and things you do not
- Give yourself permission to be and do as you like – not as others say you should
- Stop comparing yourself to others – it only ever makes you feel bad
- Don’t measure yourself through social norms, don’t try to keep up with the neighbors, don’t even judge yourself through your father’s eyes (unless he was a great dad)
- Choose your own beliefs and values – to thine own self be true.
A man’s worth is not in his status, education, money, or belongings. They are in his character, his actions, and in the love he gives and receives. Real men value relationships above all.