So much time and energy these days is spent on how we define what a man is and what a man should be.
At some workshops I run on helping therapists work more effectively with fathers, I spend a good chunk of time on masculinity and understanding the many social ideals and stereotypes we have of men and masculinity.
Often, people see them as the same thing.
I’ve taken to adapting an exercise Michael Kimmel talks about where I ask people to shout out what comes to mind when they’re given the phrase: “A real man is…”
I get the same answers in every workshop:
- Never cries
- Always wanting sex
- Never shows emotion
- Get angry
- Gets physical
- Loves sports
- I’m sure you can add your own and they’d match the list we generally come up with.
I then change one word in that phrase and ask people to complete: “A good man is…” And I get many of the following answers:
- There for his family
In other words, a good man is a good person. A real man…well, he’s got a lot to prove, and NOT proving it can lead to a lot of negative feelings.
Feelings like shame, fear, and guilt.
Those are feelings that “real men” aren’t supposed to have so once those come up they often double down on the anger. Or the “being strong” (which for the “real man” means being silent, stoic, and holding it all in. Not letting them see you sweat.)
But inside he’s churning.
A Waste of Time and Energy
It’s not pretty and there’s really no need for it.
If we could just be more content with being “good men” instead of proving to everyone that we are “real men” we may feel a bit more content.
Here’s something weird, though. We can be the “good” man, but still feel all the shame and fear that we’re not “real” men. The gatekeepers and masculinity police continue to monitor whether we’re measuring up and clicking all the above check marks. When we fall short—and we all fall short—we’re made fun of, we’re emasculated, we may even be in danger.
This is where we need to come together because it’s not just about showing up in a less toxic manner, but stepping in when someone is being upbraided by the masculinity police. This means putting ourselves on the line at times.
We need to stand next to each other in this. Not be a male savior of the put-upon male, but we need to interrupt these shaming events together. None of this alpha male coming to the aid of the beta male BS, which just reinforces the whole patriarchal mess that got us here in the first place.
Good men engage.
Real men provoke.
Real men work too hard.
Good men connect.
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