5 Lies They Told Me About Being a Man

photo by jimwall

Despite what society tries to tell you, you’re the only person who can decide if you’re man enough, Clay Andrews writes.

 

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Being a man isn’t always something easy to do. With our society changing so much over the past several decades, it can leave a guy confused about what really makes a man or how you measure the quality of a man.

Growing up myself, raised by a single mother and being fed society’s messages on gender and manliness in the 80’s and 90’s from media and other cultural outlets, I was fairly confused. In fact, here are five lies about being a man that I believed for the longest time.

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Lie #1. Your manliness is determined by allegiance to “Manly Things”

I used to feel like an outcast because I wasn’t addicted to watching football. I didn’t spend my free time fantasizing about sports cars. And I didn’t particularly know anything about guns. Sometimes it seems like a lot of men use these topics as a general filler conversation topic much like strangers default to discussing the weather.

And it’s not just men that assume that “manly things” make you a man. Women assume this too.

I once tried online dating back when I was single. I remember stumbling across a profile that seemed interesting. The woman was attractive, but as I was reading her profile, I remember seeing the words:

“About You—You must be a real man. I don’t date wimpy guys. You need to love watching sports and football because there’s nothing more manly than that.”

Hmm… I guess I wasn’t going to be asking her out for a trip to the art museum any time soon.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with liking these things. But liking these things in and of themselves does not make you a man.

It is easy to become seduced by desires of wanting to be a part of the “in” group. We may want to be associated with iconic men or groups like Clint Eastwood, the Dallas Cowboys, the NRA, or any other personal hero or group we may look up to. But simply by liking the things that they like or trying to fit into a mold isn’t going to make us anything like them. Chances are, what you probably like about these people or groups are the character or the values that they represent rather than their style or other external qualities.

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Lie #2. Your manliness is determined by your number of sexual conquests

Many guys (my past self included) use the number of women they’ve been with as a measure of how manly they are, either as proof that they are indeed “man enough” or as evidence that they are a failure. There are entire “schools” that teach men how to seduce women by giving them canned routines to whisper in women’s ears and persuasion skills to approach and seduce them.

Many treat seduction like a video game (their words, not mine) where the objective is to get the highest score as a form of validation, giving high fives and fist bumps to their fellow comrades for each victory.

This may be a bit extreme, but how many men haven’t felt a little envious when a friend is on a bit of a hot streak with the ladies? (Not to be completely heteronormative, sexual conquests are a part of same sex relationships too.) And who hasn’t mocked the socially awkward guy in school who never seemed to have a date (unless you were him!)?

The point though is that so many of us seem to use women as a mirror to define our own manliness. After all, women like men, and the more women that like you, the more manly you must be, right?

The problems with this way of thinking is that it is a huge waste of energy and you are living life in reaction to women rather than actively pursuing your own goals. This is a waste of energy because you spend so much time worrying if she’ll toss her drink in your face when you go up to ask her out at the bar. You worry she won’t answer when you call her. And you worry that she’ll dismiss you when you go in for that first kiss or ask her to come back to your place.

There is nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward or wanting to date a woman, but it shouldn’t come from a place of needing her approval or validation to define you as a worthy man.

This spills over into a feeling of competitiveness with other men. It’s easy to believe that one man is somehow “better” than another because he has been around the block a few more times.

Either way, you are essentially letting women define what it means to be a man. Although women are wonderful, and I am completely open to their opinions, I believe that there are better ways to define what makes a man.

Even if you do succeed and “get with” a bunch of women, does that make you a man? Does letting women validate you and define you as “worthy” really make it so? This isn’t the road to happiness. You’ll never find true happiness by seeking the approval of others.

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Lie #3. Real men don’t need close male friends

Many guys also feel that the only emotional connection they need is with a woman. Unfortunately, this isn’t healthy since putting all your emotional eggs in your wife’s or girlfriend’s basket is a fast track to codependency, often causing men to go out of their way to seek the approval of the woman in their life.

Friendship is about intimacy, and oftentimes men simply haven’t been taught to do this very well, especially with other guys. There are still many men who only have shallow friendships with their guy buddies that involve superficial conversation (and the occasional chest bump).

I believe that many men (at least in North America) fear true connection with other guys out of a concern that they may be seen as homosexual (either by others or by the man they are trying to build a friendship with). This has made a lot of male friendships tenuous or hesitant, and a lot of guys prefer to skirt the big issues in favor or fluff talk about sports or which woman is hotter rather than actually getting to know another man and the risk of having his friendly intentions questioned. But building friendships with other men can create feelings of camaraderie, build trust between other men, and open you up to giving and receiving guidance from other men (all of which are lacking to many men, growing up raised primarily by women).

And the most important benefit of building friendships with other men is that it can help you feel as if you’re not handling all the problems of your life alone. In many ways the modern man may feel more isolated than previous generations due to the challenge of building connections with other men.

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Lie #4. Real men don’t cry

Do you feel as if you must conform to the image of a man with a stoic, uncaring, and unmovable disposition? There is a common belief that “real” men don’t have feelings (or,  at least, the only socially acceptable feelings they can have are happiness and anger).

After all, weakness isn’t manly. It’s better to give the appearance of strength no matter how much you may be hurting inside, right? Although many people will look to you for leadership and strength as a man (such as your family), it is not healthy to deny and refuse your full emotional spectrum. This doesn’t mean that you should confess every feeling you have to everyone you cross paths with. Tact is of course important. But by no means, should you feel that you need to wear a mask or put on a performance as someone you are not in order to be a man.

Being a man does not mean that you should deny who you are or take yourself out of alignment with what you believe in; it should only bring you more into alignment.

Being a man isn’t about conforming to a rigid set of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” It is about embracing who you really are and holding true to your values.

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Lie #5. It is not OK to be a man.

Maybe it’s a symptom of the high divorce rates, the portrayal in the media of men as predators, or the hatred spread by fringe groups who call out men at every turn, but a lot of men feel ashamed of the fact that they are men.

A belief like this usually originates very early in a man’s life. Growing up with absent father, or with your head filled with negative opinions of men from popular culture and media, it is easy for a small boy to believe that all men are bad. He may tip-toe through life afraid to be like other men, he may go out of his way to be overly “nice” by masking his emotions, always taking care of others’ needs at the expense of his own, or otherwise becoming what Dr. Robert Glover refers to as a “Nice Guy.”

Many men of this generation believe that there is something inherently wrong with being a man, or they may feel as obsolete and insignificant as a bicycle to a fish. They should hide their sexual desires, apologize for their gender, and constantly dim their own light so that others don’t accuse them of preventing them from shining.

It took me quite a while to get this, personally, but there is nothing inherently wrong with you. It is absolutely fine to be a man. In fact, you should be proud of it. No need to walk on eggshells. It may not always be easy to be a man. There are many who will always try to tell you what a “real man” is or isn’t. There are those who will try to fill you with anxiety, shame, or fear about your own worth.

Just remember that only you can ultimately decide whether or not you are “man enough.” It is only through your own values and the choices you make in your life that you can decide if you make the cut or not.

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—Photo jimwall/Flickr

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About Clay Andrews

Clay Andrews writes for the blog The Path to Passion, where he is on a mission to help others love themselves and the people in their lives on a deeper level. He enjoys meeting new people. You can learn more about him and say "hello" by clicking here.

Comments

  1. Sharing this with my trans group! There is so much pressure to “be a man” by following a list of set rules. Sometimes it seems that no human can actually fulfill each item on the list. Not even Chuck Norris.

  2. PursuitAce says:

    You left out real men need a significant other. That’s the most damaging one. I think society is changing in that regard. One less problem…
    And that’s the second time around here I’ve seen something about giving women emotional baggage. I learned that one on my own. Good advice to listen to. Just say no to passing on your problems.

    • Agreed. I think the same myth would apply to women too. On another website I visit, a female-oriented advice column site, time and time again the letter-writers have to be old IT’S OK TO BE SINGLE! (In fact, many of have to be reminded that being single is better than staying in a relationship with someone who is wrong for you). The pressure to pair up might not be exactly the same for both sexes, but there is still pressure to not “die alone” as it is often so melodramatically put. It’s not wrong to want a relationship, but it’s not right to put too much emphasis on one’s relationship status.

      • That is pretty sad, PursuitAce – “one less problem.”

        KKZ, I certainly agree that it’s OK to be single and it’s definitely better to be single than to be with the wrong person. But going through life alone does suck, especially as you get older. I do think that having a mate is a pretty intrinsic human desire and while there may be some individual exceptions, if I were ever to start thinking I don’t want a partner, I’d question whether I was really saying that because it’s what was in my heart or just because I was bitter from having been hurt.

        • Point taken. I should have specified that a lot of the women writing into that advice column website are pretty young, late teens to twenties, and the majority of the frequent commenters are in their twenties and thirties. I guess what it boils down to is what motivates an individual to be in a relationship – and fear of loneliness by itself is, in my opinion, not a healthy motivator for finding a mate or for staying in a bad relationship, especially for teens and young adults. Neither is the perceived stigma of being forever a spinster/bachelor (is there a male-equivalent word for spinster? None comes to mind…).

          • MorgainePendragon says:

            The whole idea that the only way to be “not alone” is to be in a pair-bonded relationship is pretty messed up, IMO.

          • Lucy Montrose says:

            There’s not really a direct stigma about being a bachelor/ette anymore… but there is a LOT of pressure to prove you have good social skills. And the pair bond is still held up as both the best method of proving your sociability and and the healthiest option for your emotions long-term. Which can only increase, not allay, people’s feelings of loneliness. Because there’s nothing like a little extra pressure to motivate you.

      • Lucy Montrose says:

        THIS. Especially when the health-care people join in the Greek chorus exhorting us to pair-bond. This constant message that if we don’t have an SO, we’re doomed to sicker, shorter lives because humans are naturally social creatures– which is unfortunately backed up by just enough empirical proof that dissenters feel they have no effective rebuttal– can only be increasing men’s anxiety about not having a partner.

        Frankly, I think it’s a nasty, manipulative tactic; exactly the kind of next step you would take if the old line about “you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than get married after 35″ wasn’t working anymore. We WILL shut up and pay attention if you imply that by making certain lifestyle choices, we’re putting our health in jeopardy.

  3. Great article! We have to poke holes in the paper cut-outs that we make for male stereotypes….an 8th grade male friend used to imagine himself as a Casanova or James Bond character that had to hit on all the girls…..scoring girls was paramount to him….later he got to write his own version of his junior high and high school conquests in his memoir (he lied about our relationship and left out a few humiliating facts!)…..His pathologic need to prove his masculinity by hitting on girls was contrasted by the violence in his parents’ marriage and their eventual divorce….He is now a creative writing instructor at a well known university and he is married to a feminist writer…and yet, he was leering at my ass at our 25th HS reunion…

    Fascinating stuff you guys write about….the duality of masculinity in today’s terms…and the conflicts in self-image…so much hypocrisy!

  4. A condensed version of this should be made into a poster, or better yet, a laminated wallet-sized card and given to boys, teens and young men. How cool would it be to take the idea of the Man Card and make it something that accurately represents what it is to be a man, instead of something that can be metaphorically revoked if you don’t follow a certain set of rules. (Incidentally, I’ve never heard of someone threatening to take away my Woman Card. I get to carry that card simply because of my biological sex. The same should hold for men.)

    I wonder where this idea of “most men” or “a lot of men” come from. Because these myths sure don’t represent most men I know, not even a lot of men I know. In fact, I’m not sure I know *any* men who actively try to follow all these rules. Some of them might hit one or two of the points – might be really into sports or cars or guns, or really concerned with getting laid, but I’m proud to say that the wonderful men I know and associate with are far removed from this falsified depiction of what men should be.

    I admit to the potential for selection bias – that I consciously or subconsciously avoid men who behave stereotypically for whatever reason. I’m not denying that these men exist, and they are men in their own right. I suppose I just want something more substantial that really shows me that “most men” or “a lot of men” actually behave this way and believe these myths. Instead, from my perspective, I see a culture that collectively believes and promotes the myths through media and pop culture, but very few actual individuals who follow them. But that’s just my experience.

  5. Really enjoyed the article, Clay. This part made me cringe, though, for a couple of reasons:

    I once tried online dating back when I was single. I remember stumbling across a profile that seemed interesting. The woman was attractive, but as I was reading her profile, I remember seeing the words:

    “About You – You must be a real man. I don’t date wimpy guys. You need to love watching sports and football because there’s nothing more manly than that.”

    First of all… what was “interesting” to you about this woman’s profile other than “she was attractive?” Second, I certainly wouldn’t use her as some kind of example of “what women like.” Lots of us adore men who couldn’t care less about sports. Not watching sports makes you a wimp? What a superficial freak! :D

  6. The Bad Man says:

    A few more lies about being a man:

    -Getting married
    -Having children
    -Dieing for others
    -Always want sex

  7. John Sctoll says:

    You also left out.

    “Must work to support your family”, iow, it isn’t ok for you to stay home and look after the house and kids.

  8. wellokaythen says:

    I think these are pretty common messages to white men and boys in the U.S. during the late 20th century. I use those specific words because a lot of our ideas about gender are based on the specifics of the historical context. These “lies” are less common or more common in other parts of history, even within the U.S. There are some aspects of masculinity that seem timeless, but the more you look at the historical details, the more varied they become.

    For example, there was a time not so long ago (1950’s, under McCarthyism) when it was actually suspicious for a man to have lots of sexual partners. (Not nearly as devastating to one’s reputation if you were female, of course, but still suspicious.) Ironically, if you were too much of a playboy and slept around too late in life without getting married, people might think you were gay. (Gay and “unmanly” were generally synonyms at the time.) It didn’t matter how many women you had slept with if you weren’t married by 30 or 35 – you must have been a sexual deviant of some kind. Having lots of female partners would not save you from suspicions that you were not a “real man.” Hugh Hefner would have been accused of being gay, as paradoxical as it may sound. He would never have been trusted to work for the government in the 1950’s, just based on his sex life alone, not counting his media career.

    Going much further back into Western culture, there have been very patriarchal, masculinity-revering societies in which men formed very close friendships and were expected to express deep emotion. In ancient Greece, men tended to see men as superior to women, so of course loving a man was better than loving a woman. Women were not expected to be intimate emotional companions or soul-mates in marriage. Hard to say by any stretch of the imagination that classical Athens and Sparta were free of gender constraints….

    What society tells men and boys varies over time, and the messages we send can change incredibly quickly from one generation to another. We are in a relatively rare historical context in which people are actually examining gender as a subject of study, as something that people define and redefine. That itself is a weird contextual factor.

  9. #3 is particularly interesting. A whole book could be written about it. Research has shown that men confide in their wife or girlfriend and women confide in their friends.

  10. Love to all the men! You are beautiful and valuable and wonderful! Thank you for being!! <3

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