Masculinity as society defines it is a dubious concept. Through self examination and the questioning of our beliefs, we can arrive at a much healthier definition of manhood.
Growing up my folks told me I could be anything I wanted, if I was willing to work hard enough for it. My father showed me, through his actions, what it meant to be a man of integrity, fairness, and resolve. He taught me that I should treat all people with kindness, and treat women the same way I’d want my mother or sister to be treated.
I wish I could say I have been all of those things all of the time. But I haven’t. Show me a man who thinks he has, and I’ll show you one who hasn’t done enough self-examination. We are all humans, and as such we make mistakes, and hopefully learn from them.
The lessons our parents teach us, as noble as they may be, are only a small part of what we learn. As we grow through adolescence we spend less time with our parents and more time with our peers. We begin to venture out into society on our own and become subject to different ideas of what it means to be a man.
Society has a whole set of norms it wants to impose on men. Conformity to the generally accepted principles of masculinity is a priority because it holds the status quo and maintains stability. This is in direct conflict with nature.
Nature wants conflict and resolution. A constant cycle of conflict and resolution in which the dominant, most useful traits perpetuate, and those, which do not serve the species, recede into the dark by the tide of evolution.
From even a biological stand point it is puzzling that we as a society continue to pass along detrimental and toxic ideas of masculinity to our boys.
But nevertheless, I was thrust into society. I went to school, made friends, and picked up a whole new set of principles of manhood. I grew up playing partially violent, full contact sports like lacrosse and wrestling. I hung out with other kids who played sports.
What society told me about my niche of man was that I was to be tough and never express any emotions other than happy and angry. I wasn’t supposed to acknowledge any weaknesses I may have and I definitely wasn’t supposed to write songs or poetry. I also had to be a ladies man while still maintaining loyalty to my male friends at all times. It all seems a lot to ask a kid who is barely old enough to drive a car.
College was a different animal altogether. To make a long story short it was like all those things I was told when I was a teenager, but amplified and turned up to eleven. Take that hotchpotch and add copious amounts of substances to it and you have quite an unhealthy perception of manhood.
Now I find myself in my mid twenties. I’m a few years removed from the mayhem of college, and have transitioned into a somewhat normal, fully functional adult. I have a full time job and I pay my bills and taxes.
Those few years between college and the present moment have been one long stare in the mirror. I’ve subjected myself to one new experience after another and have traveled far out of my comfort zone. Within two months of graduating college I picked up and moved across the country to Los Angeles, where I knew no one. I decided that I didn’t want to go to law school after all and instead chose to pursue my passion for writing.
Getting out of my comfort zone and subjecting myself to new and different ideas revealed a lot to me about myself. It allowed me to un-package who I thought I was and what I thought it meant to be a man.
The uncomfortability of stepping outside what I had always known forced me to look in the mirror and ask myself “Who are you?” and more importantly “Who do you want to be?”
I discovered that I wasn’t the man society told me I should be. I looked back at my past behaviors and figured out I could keep the good ones and discard the ones that didn’t suit me anymore.
Life tends to come full circle in some sort of weird harmonious way; and I came to the realization that who I really was at my core, and who I’ve always wanted to be, is the man that my father showed me how to be long ago.
Modern society frowns upon self-critique and self-examination. We live in the social media age, where people only share his or her shining successes. It’s all a grand façade, as everyone faces obstacles all along the way. But still, failure is shunned and admitting mistakes is viewed as weakness.
Above all, society does not want you to question your life long beliefs. If enough people began to question their perception of masculinity, or any number of their tightly gripped beliefs, society as a whole would change. Society does not want change; it wants conformity.
But wide scale change is as natural as the concept of evolution itself. There’s no end on the evolutionary spectrum and humans are not exempt from this.
The next phase of human evolution will be a mental one. Many of society’s constructs just don’t suit us as a species anymore. Many of the principles of what it means to be a man will have to go. Widespread change always follows individual cases of change, and as men we owe it to ourselves and to those around us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves “What kind of man am I?” and “What kind of man do I want to be?”
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