How do you define masculinity? When you think of a “real man” what comes to mind?
There are a few different reasons why masculinity has been a topic of particular interest for me the past few years.
I am a man who has been challenged to redefine what kind of man I wanted to be and needed to be to live the life I desire to live.
I am a father of both a daughter and a son. I’ve had to teach my daughter about masculinity and what a healthy and productive man looks like. I’ve had to teach my son what being a healthy and productive boy is all about in an effort to lead and guide him to connect to the values and identity of a healthy and productive man as he grows older.
I am a volunteer with a group whose mission is to show, lead, and guide boys aged 10-17 years old who have very few healthy and productive male role models in their life what a healthy masculinity is all about.
There is an underlying tone in our culture that today’s man isn’t stepping up like the “real men” of the past.
There seems to be an identity crisis around the “modern man” and masculinity. The concept of an identity crisis is something I talk about when I speak and in my book as I feel it is a key contributor to people feeling insecure and lacking confidence.
Identity crisis is defined as:
“a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society.”
This identity crisis around man or masculinity is one that impacts both men and women as individuals, as well impacts men and women who are in committed relationships with each other. I think one of the main reasons both men and women experience an identity crisis around masculinity is our image of what a masculine man looks like is way outdated.
I was born in 1977 and in recent years, prior to my birth our country had made great strides in women’s rights and equality. I grew up the youngest of three children with two older sisters. I feel like the only message I heard from the world around me was to be kind to and respect women, but very little in what it means to be a man. Now, I acknowledge, I might have been more sensitive to this stuff because of my home culture. My father was an alcoholic and was not very nice to my mother and sisters. At a very young age I remember thinking about how when I got older, I was never going to treat people like that, especially women.
As I got older I probably grew up soft and insecure with my own identity crisis. I think part of it was watching how my father impacted the world and part of it was having a few overly domineering and critical women in my life that were quick to cut you down. There wasn’t a lot of positive messaging coming my way and looking back, I kind of got shafted on both ends. I think as I went through my adolescent years into becoming a man I had to rely on comparisons of “real men” from the past that I didn’t relate to and the current images society was showing that weren’t all that productive. Those were two totally different messages. I was kind of a mess.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I began to pay closer attention to masculinity and just being a good man; a man who knows what he wants, believes in himself, handles his responsibilities, and leads the world around him to become a better place. Am I perfect? No way! Am I committed to being the best man I can be? I am!
There is one underlying theme I have noticed that I think cripples men from becoming all they are capable of and creates unnecessary conflict within relationships. It’s something I think most men and women are oblivious to. This one underlying theme is how both men and women define the “real man”.
As a culture I feel like we have attached ourselves to an image and idea of the “ideal man” or the “real man” that is greatly outdated. The image is a farmer, soldier, or laborer from the 1950s, who was the sole bread winner, and tough looking. They fed the world, defended our freedom in wars, and spent more time working than they spent at home. They were confident, strong, and proud. They were real men. For many of us in my generation and those younger, these men are our fathers, grandfathers, and uncles. They were hard working and many of them are heroes in our families. These are the men that today’s boys and men are compared to and it’s setting everyone up for failure.
The world has changed and we must adapt.
Back in the “golden years” when “men were men”, people had limited options for what they would spend the rest of their lives doing to support their family. Good or bad, the world was simpler. Today, men have what seems like unlimited options for jobs and careers. Today’s man is more likely to end up in a cubical of a large company and working on a computer than they are working on a farm, joining the military, or working in a factory. Creativity, personality, and relationship building skills are as or more important than elbow grease to earn their living and take care of their family.
There’s no question that men from past generations were also creative, had personality, and had to build relationships. I’m not suggesting they weren’t as smart or as talented. But careers today that are meaningful and fulfilling may not be as valued because they are perceived as “desk jobs” vs work that “real men” do.
So is today’s man any less of a man because he doesn’t break their body to earn their living? Are they any less of a man because they sell something for a living rather than building or fixing something? Are they any less of a man because their “farmland”, “military base”, or “factory” and their labor and serving is done on laptop and within a computer network?
Do they know what they want? Are they confident? Do they take care of their responsibilities? Are they making the world a better place?
We as a culture need to change the way we define what a real man looks like. Comparing today’s man to a 1950s masculinity is outdated and unproductive. How is today’s man supposed to maintain confidence in himself and find meaning in his work if the world continues to send messages that it’s not good enough because they don’t mirror our fathers, grandfathers, and uncles? How are today’s women supposed to find value and respect for the men in their life if they keep comparing them to dads who spent their lives earning a living doing manual labor and holding that as the expectation for what a “real man” looks like?
Both men and women need to redefine how they look at masculinity and what a “real man” is.
Last week I met some friends of mine for a drink; a couple who are engaged to be married. The female and I were joking around about fantasy football and she made the playful comment to me that she gets frustrated when she gets home from work and her fiancé is sitting on the couch with the laptop open and is excited about his team winning or losing. She then made the comment “Does he ever work?”
I challenged her and said, “Why do you question that?” Now the reality is, she knows he works hard and is damn good at what he does. He is in sales, is authentic, and is a master at relationship building. That is his trade and building trusting relationships is his labor. This is how he will support his family and pay for his children’s college tuition in 20 years. But, she gets pissed because he can’t fix the furnace. As we talked more I learned that her dad is a farmer and when she was growing up, he was always outside doing something. Up until now that has been a model of what a “real man” is and what a “real man” does. He earned his living working hard and if something was broke, he fixed it himself. Her fiancé is not her dad and if she doesn’t see him for the value he brings to the world, this could create challenges in the future.
Now, I’m picking on my friends and I asked her permission to talk about this, but this stuff happens all the time. Men get thrown under the bus or devalued or called lazy because they don’t fit this outdated picture of what some people have stuck in their mind. Therefore, many men aren’t stepping up with confidence to make their mark on the world, doing whatever it is they are good at.
I don’t care if you are a man or a woman, older or younger, if the world around you is constantly challenging who you are and telling you what you are doing is wrong or that you are not good enough, the likelihood of you having the confidence to achieve all you are capable of is slim.
Men, own your work and recognize the value within it and the value you bring the world. You must develop enough self-respect and self-worth that you can ignore messages that try to put you in a box and compare you to ideal that have very little relevancy today. Know what you want. Be confident. Take care of your responsibilities. Make the world a better place. Take action.
Men today can flourish when they are not held to outdated standards of masculinity or compared to “real men” that came before them. There are a lot of them out there who at one time knew what they wanted, were once confident, had pride in taking care of their responsibilities, and felt like they were making a difference who have been beaten down by irrelevant and unrealistic expectations.
We all know men and women are different; different in amazingly awesome ways and different in unproductive ways. To a large extent, it is what it is, always has been, and always will be. BUT . . . there are things we can control and do differently. We can change our beliefs and perceptions in the world. And there are some beliefs and perceptions we have formed that are irrelevant, unrealistic, and outdated that create unnecessary stress for everyone.
The world had changed and we must adapt! I had a client who shared this quote with me:
“Change is necessary, because survival is not guaranteed!”
We all must change, but not just to survive. To feel alive, thrive, and positively impact people’s lives.
How do you define a real man?
Originally published at JasonKiesau.com.
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