As a mom, I sometimes hear other parents, in speaking about their own children, say things like, “He’s all boy!” or “She’s all girl!”
Sometimes these things are said in frustration; other times with pride—but always spoken with affection and perhaps a bit of relief in that my child is conforming to gender stereotypes and even in 2016 most of us harbor at least a subconscious belief that this will make his/her life easier.
Recently The National Review (of all places) posited, in part, that today’s men are “weaker” than in previous generations, and therefore less masculine. It echoed a recent conversation I had with a friend who said that men ought to be able to work with their hands and do manual labor, even if they are well-educated intellectuals.
I bristled at this suggestion, just as I did at the article: when will we release the idea that being a “man” entails a specific checklist to be fulfilled?
It is interesting to note that while we do sometimes talk about men having a “feminine side,” we are less inclined to acknowledge that women can have a masculine side as well.
We all have personal contradictions galore that make us the people that we are; the so-called “battle of the sexes” can be as much an internal war as an external one. I am a very assertive, opinionated person and tend to “take charge” in a lot of situations; this doesn’t mean I don’t like it when someone takes care of me.
Remember back in the 90s when Jerry Maguire told Dorothy, “You complete me” and ladies everywhere swooned? Nowadays the idea of looking to romantic relationships to “complete” you is considered a cardinal sin. We are told over and over that we are strong and whole alone and women especially get the message that it is weak to “need” a man.
My parents’ 50-year marriage was in many ways a union of opposites: my Dad was a great family man and provider, but he never met a tool he liked and would no sooner tinker with a car or participate in extreme sports than skin a cat. My mom, on the other hand? Would roll up her sleeves and get right down in the mud, no matter what the task.
In most ways, they conformed to the gender-specific roles of a traditional marriage. But their relationship had a lot of yin-yang; seemingly opposite or contrary forces that are actually complementary and interdependent. They were so comfortable with frequent and varied power exchanges that they always came off as an entirely united front; Mom and Dad were the quintessential team players.
They both “needed” each other to function at their personal best.
As a strong-willed woman, I found when I was dating it was hard for me to strike a balance in relationship with very strong-willed men. I am an aggressive energy—aggression is usually considered a masculine energy. I found guys who had a more laid-back, receptive energy were more likely to accept me as I am; meanwhile, receptive energies tend to be labelled feminine.
But this no more made me “the man” in my relationships than it made the men I dated effeminate. I fact, I found the more secure in his masculinity a man was, the more likely he was to be laid-back about letting me make decisions.
The interplay of traditionally masculine and feminine traits, behaviors and energies exists in every one of us; does it not make sense that we seek partners whose unique dynamic is harmonious with our own? Not because we are not “complete” without them, mind you. But because, like my parents, we need to realize that teamwork is an essential part of a healthy, long-term relationship and it makes no sense to have a team made up of all catchers any more than it makes sense to have a team of all pitchers.
A lot of parents I know are having to deal with the fact that teenagers are more and more likely to describe themselves as “gender fluid” and more likely to experiment with same sex relationships than ever before. We all want our children to be happy and these sorts of “nonconformities” can be at the very least troubling (for some) to a flat out emergency (for others).
But the reality is that this is a symptom of something we call “evolution.”
As adults we have to be evolved enough to accept that no one is “all boy” or “all girl”—the masculine and feminine exist in each of us and it is important to recognize and allow this in order to have the healthiest relationships possible. Our willingness to embrace all of our differences is what ironically brings us closer together. I think the transgender community has done a huge service to contemporary society in opening up this line of dialogue.
Just as we can accept that transgender people are the sex they identify with as opposed to what biology informs us, a man who knits (for example) is still a man if he says he is. Ditto for a woman who chops wood.
We cannot allow ourselves to be defined by these narrow parameters of behavior.
In that National Review article, the author also opined that it is a man’s “responsibility” to be a “protector, builder, and fixer.”
Wow, really? Says THAT GUY. I say: BE YOURSELF and don’t let anyone tell you who that is.
When Caitlyn Jenner shared, “I am for all intents and purposes a woman” I actually thought to myself—I can relate to that! Because of my “masculine” traits, I sometimes get treated like “one of the guys.”
Except I am not. I am a woman, whatever that means to me.
And I look forward to a time when “boys will be boys” could just as easily describe a spa day as a pub crawl. Please, BE YOURSELF. And don’t let anyone tell you who that is.
Read Kara Post-Kennedy every week here on The Good Men Project!