The biggest issue facing men today is society’s pre-scribed characterization of what it means to be a man, and the (role) models that influence and continue to promulgate negative perceptions as masculine reality.
The idea of ‘masculinity’ is marked by active, nonverbal and verbal philosophies that defines manhood by: strength (either by brute force or manipulation), hyper-sexuality, and indifference. On the journey from boyhood to manhood, there is a steady stream of messages, certain ‘rites of passage’, images, and behaviors that are deemed acceptable (normal) male behavior. The behaviors, or ‘ways of being’—invariably open the proverbial door(s) to greater access to the world, acceptance by society, and the community in which he lives. He is revered as someone who can handle every situation and any challenge, without assistance from anyone. Men are superhuman gods with supernatural capabilities that women do not possess. Men can do the impossible. Men ignite the world and are fully in control of their life and family, and are leaders amongst their friends. Their dominance is a natural consequence because of who they are, and they carry the weight of the community on their shoulders. Leadership comes natural for men and their innate ability to conquer by any means necessary – because they know and have (all) the answers.
Wow. That is amazing. The problem with this concept is that it perpetuates (self) destructive, self-serving behavior that can lead to personal and professional conflict and disillusionment, and it demeans men with an inaccurate, controlled assessment of who they are through:
• violent and misogynistic music and lyrics
• images of men as thugs/con artists
• overtly aggressive behavior in/outside sports
• depiction of men as emotional abusers
Of course, there is the push-pull connection between truth and fiction, nature versus nurture, and the fascination with fulfilling the seemingly innocuous distinction between the sexes. It’s difficult to understand how and why over the last century the idealism remains; but there is no doubt that it’s profitable to draw a hard line between what’s masculine versus feminine, although the stories of men who succumb to the less than forgiving expectations of them are slowly coming to the forefront.
But ignoring their cry for help or compartmentalizing their actions as isolated incidents condemns genuine and authentic opportunities for intimacy and connection, and reiterates the fallacy that there is only one way for men to speak their truth. Who are they if self-expression is not thoughtless, vague, and inconsistent? Men silently suffer while they attempt to fit and conform their reality into society’s. This dichotomy affects every, single aspect of their lives, and they need help with pulling their inner lives together without facing unforgiving scrutiny.
So how do we start talking about the issue? The first step is to acknowledge it. We must speak up and acknowledge that men are hurting and that some have resorted to suicide, drugs, and alcohol as a way to cope with the turmoil and the shame they may feel for not living up to the expectations of society and of themselves. We need to discuss the skewed, inaccurate representation of men, and begin the healing process by accepting that men are multi-dimensional human beings. We can also begin to utilize the tools we have, like social media, to disseminate, change, and contest the narrative by shifting the focus from the negative to the positive. If actors, artists, models, and politicians can be front and center, with the minutiae of their lives, then surely, we can devote a few #hastags, Instagrams, and Facebook posts to talk about the good deeds that men do in their everyday lives. This doesn’t mean that stories will reflect a biased sense of reality; rather the approach will be a well-rounded appreciation of men and how they actually live and love.
The next thing that has to be done? Parents need to change the way they speak to their sons and daughters and reexamine how they are reared, especially in terms of gender roles. It is time to let go of the ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘don’t be a sissy’, ‘man up’ and ‘boys will be boys’. We need to tell our daughters that a man who isn’t afraid to be vulnerable is not a weak and that the ‘bad boy’ is not someone she should aspire to date or marry, and more than likely, he will lack the integrity to provide the stability you need and want. It is imperative to raise boys to be emotionally intelligent; to raise their ‘emotional IQ’ so that they are available and able to navigate life and be ‘functionally literate’ in the language of caring. We need to teach them about being affectionate, and that it is okay to show affection and how to control their negative emotions, like anger, and yes, even envy. We need to develop a safe place where their emotional development can soar, and by doing so they become more comfortable with themselves, and therefore make it easier for them to channel and relay the feelings of joy, anger, and disappointment that are inevitable aspects of life. We need to teach them how to empathize and how sharing their feelings with others (‘catch and release’) will help them to become even greater human beings and increase their capacity to forgive – themselves.
It is important to note that there are many men who are comfortable with their feminine as well as masculine energy and that it doesn’t disregard their ‘male identity’. They are self-aware, gentle, kind, and capable of communicating their needs and emotions in a way that doesn’t antagonize or create animosity. It is time to wave the white flag and relinquish the limitations that have defined men and embrace the cultural shift to envision men beyond the static roles and identities. The ‘evolution of manhood’ must be televised.