Jason Hairston explains how constricted masculinity damages male relationships
Growing up in the city, I quickly learned how male vulnerability leads to questions about your manhood. There was constant pressure to prove you were “tough enough.” Many of my classmates would act out of character to create a tougher image of themselves. No one wanted to risk being characterized as “soft” or a “punk.” Fortunately, I was lucky to have a strong father who taught me the importance of standing up for myself. He showed me that love was part of the definition of manhood. It was obvious that most of the kids I knew did not have this kind of male role model in their lives. I was lucky.
Patriarchy aims to suppress (both consciously and unconsciously ) feminine “energy” in both women and men, creating generations of men that equate expressing love and pain as signs of weakness. Stereotypical masculinity is the most obvious gender performance for men, which means many men suppress their feminine side, including qualities such as compassion, cooperation, emotional honesty and creativity. This emotional suppression warps who we truly are as boyfriends, husbands, fathers and sons.
Male peer pressure creates boys who hold back emotions to protect themselves from being judged. Eventually, the accumulating emotional pain reaches a boiling point, overflows and ultimately manifests itself in the form of violence. This violence is encouraged by many people as the best way to resolve problems. Many boys do not learn emotional intelligence skills early on. Instead, they’re encouraged to “man up” to defend a particular type of masculinity, which fuels their aggression. This common dysfunctionality bleeds into men’s relationships with women. Whereas many women want to connect with men on a deeper emotional level, the process is strained when a man lacks the experience of embracing his emotions and expressing himself. This denial of self-expression leads many men to live their lives in an emotional coma.
So how do men break this vicious cycle of emotional disequilibrium and violence? In the context of both culture and relationships, the key is for all of us (men and women) to take on the responsibility of redefining manhood. We should no longer allow the media to define it for us.
It is important for women to know how they can assist in helping men wake up from this emotional coma by doing the following things:
1. Stop supporting and looking for machismo and violence in a man.
2. Stop labeling men who express pain or who ask for help as weak
3. Choose to nurture a man with an open heart and support his goals of becoming a complete human being
It is important for men to know how they can assist each other in breaking this emotional coma cycle by doing the following things:
1. Stop ridiculing other men for expressing their emotion, compassion and pain. Instead, support complex masculinity
2. Stop equating manhood to violence
3. Choose to be completely open with women by being fully present and emotionally available
4. Support and encourage creativity in men
If Jesus were alive today, would we call him a “punk” or “soft” for expressing unconditional love? If Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi were alive today, would we chastise them for advocating love and renouncing violence? Ironically, we celebrate the lives of these powerful men but choose to castrate those who attempt to walk in their footsteps.
We can create a stronger community for our families if all men choose to embrace our feminine traits along with our masculine ones. When this happens, positive competition transforms into a desire to be better and more complete humans being for the sake of the entire group instead of for self-gain. The expression of emotional pain becomes acknowledged and nurtured instead of ridiculed. An expression of love starts to be recognized as strength instead of weakness.
If we want a better world with better relationships, we first have to work toward being better—and more complete—individuals.
image credit: Flickr/William Brawley