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“Traditional masculinity is often such a big part of men’s identity that when you call out anything that might be harmful about rigid gender roles, they seem to go haywire. I have actually heard men say ‘If we would just start telling men that they are great just the way they are, and reinforce the idea that men can do anything, the world would be a better place.’ How can I get men to be open to a different point of view without them storming off and never speaking to me again?”
The hard-core truth is that we live in a society where men have been conditioned, if not outright mandated to be seen as strong, rugged, independent and as “masculine” as possible. American men of all eras, from the dawn of the republic, have been expected to live up to certain expectations that society has imposed. The American male of the 21st century is idealized as:
- on the top of their game as sexual Casanovas
- financially in the periphery of the one percent
- having a rock hard body
- routinely winning father of the year awards
- demonstrating his unyielding commitment to humanitarian efforts
- and achieving nothing short of “saving the world”
Being inundated with such a constant level of unattainable, unsustainable ideals can cause stress levels that often result in a degree of physical, social, emotional and psychological issues. Rather than subscribing to piercingly impervious, unalterable and largely unrealistic outcomes, more men need to:
* Focus on being their true selves
* Be willing to reevaluate their present relationships
* Disregard critics who feel they are not “masculine” enough
* Move at a rhythm that is conducive for their personal growth and well-being
* Be thankful for all the positive things in their lives
Ascribing to such retrograde societal expectations are problematic. In the case of men, attempting to live up to the image of “Mr. Perfection,” can result in succumbing to mental illness, volcanic levels of anger and self-loathing, adopting attitudes that are callous, insensitive, vehemently sexist, bullish, frequently homophobic (at least among middle aged and older men) indifferent, and in some cases, violent toward women as well as to one another.
Women often bear the brunt of such misogynistic behavior in the form of rape, domestic violence and other forms of physical , emotional and psychological abuse. The result is a harrowing and horrific situation for all involved. It is a vicious circle that damages relationships, psyches and perpetuates itself in households where children are being raised and workplaces where sexism and misogyny still run rampant.
The truth is that over time, especially as we get older, we get to know ourselves better. Along with this self-acknowledgement, we also tend to have a better sense of what things can work in our favor or in opposition to us. This is true in regards to our health, emotions, finances, relationships and other facets of our being. Being true to ourselves and developing a solid regiment and set of values that are ethical, pragmatic and will provide long term benefits.
More than few psychologists, psychotherapists, physicians and other specialists have discussed the plethora of issues that result from the conflicting messages bombarding men. As a result, a growing number of men have formed men’s groups where men routinely get together and discuss their fears, concerns, desires and goals with one another. I have seen a number of these gatherings where I live.
Often men are more inclined (and feel more comfortable) having such discussions with other men. To give you an example, several years ago, I was teaching a course that met one night per week. It just so happened that particular week none of the women registered for the course attended. What happened during that particular class session was particularly noteworthy.
The men in the class, the majority in their 20s, however, a few in their 30s and 40s were refreshingly candid and open about a number of topics – financial fears, distant fathers, feelings of inadequacy, sexual performance etc.. It was a revelatory moment for all in attendance. At the conclusion of class, one of the guys stated “there is no doubt that any of us would have been as candid tonight if there had been any women here.” He was probably correct.
Now, I am not advocating that men engage in solely gender segregated spaces with one another as it relates to certain issues surrounding the conversation about modern masculinity.. This is a piece of society we should keep trying to change. We should work to ensure that men and women feel equally comfortable talking to each other.
In fact, we can’t stop there — people who identify as any gender should be equally comfortable talking with the full gender spectrum. Working to normalize the gender spectrum will go a long way towards making men feel less rigid in the ways society assigns them gender roles. That having been said, such settings can be beneficial to “get the conversation started”. In fact, there are many women who are pleased to see their husbands interact with other men in such a healthy and therapeutic manner. We must make it clear to men that:
* Refusing to conform to staunchly subscribed societal expectations of masculinity does not make you any less of a man
* There is nothing shameful or emasculating about being emotionally vulnerable
* Studies indicate that men who are able to resist falling prey to hyper imposed stereotypes tend to be more content with their lives
* Research demonstrates that men who are able to express their feelings and emotions are often healthier
In essence, men need to know that there is nothing wrong with being human.
Now that I have reached the middle age chapter of my life, my goal is to have a life that is one of good health, emotional happiness, financial stability, solid, reliable relationships and a peace of mind, respect for others and being as sincere and true to myself as possible. I will be doing everything possible in my effort to achieve these goals. This is the advice I urge you to give when speaking with fellow men.
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This post is republished on Medium.