Changing the way we define manly. By Oluwatosin Awofeso.
Just one time I’d like to walk in on a group of guys having a conversation like this:
“Hey, guess what? I was up late last night with Melanie. She was going through some family problems, and needed me to be there for her.”
“Hell yea man! Emotional sensitivity with no ulterior motives, that’s what I’m talking about!”
It’s a well known fact that any praised behavior will continue to happen—the basic idea of positive reinforcement. In the world today, men are encouraged to celebrate having sex and making money. Both of these things are worth praise, but they should not be the only thing that makes men proud.
Where’s the high-fives for the dads who are taking care of their children? Where’s the “you the man” for the man trying to educate himself about lifestyles different than their own? Where’s the pat on the back for letting a woman cry on your shoulder with no sexual motive? Where are the men crying on each other’s shoulders?
We should be encouraging each other, as men, to do things for our communities and our loved ones. Men should get just as excited to see their friends treating others well as when they get laid.
We can’t discourage each other from showing emotions or enjoying ourselves. Men give each other a hard time for caring about—well anything. No man should be ashamed to say “I saw two kids playing and it was beautiful” because kids at play is a beautiful thing. No man should be afraid to be vulnerable because there is nothing wrong with it.
Here’s an example. I have a friend. She is incredibly beautiful and talented. During the beginning of our friendship, she was introduced to several men I’m proud to call my friends. These men and myself weren’t afraid of being vulnerable and open towards her. We didn’t hide our thoughts and emotions. She asked our advice when she needed it, because she learned to trust us. She learned what love and friendship with a man actually looked like and realized it was not what she was getting from her boyfriend.
One night, at a party, she got drunk and became upset. She was struggling with how she let her abuser hurt her for over 11 years. All of the pain she had carried for so long, tore through her, and she let out a very primal scream. What surprised me was it wasn’t the ladies at the party that came rushing to her side, it was one of my male friends. That night, my friends, half of whom were male, and I opened ourselves up in not so “manly” ways. We weren’t trying to be macho. We didn’t leave the emotional stuff to the girls. She needed to be loved, and love her we did. Our actions weren’t motivated by thinking she needed a man to rescue her. She was crying out for help, and we didn’t let our gender decide how we helped her.
This story ends with her finally leaving him and him getting help. She found herself and her voice, and one of the best parts—the men congratulating each other for being vulnerable and open.
Men aren’t always happy for one another over a friendship with a female, especially one that is intended to remain platonic by choice. We certainly aren’t able to share, in many situations, our genuine love for other men. There is nothing wrong with a man saying “I love you” to another man who has been a great friend to him.
Most men grew up with the pressure of being macho. If you were friends with a girl and you didn’t sleep with her, you must be gay. If you didn’t cheat on your girlfriend when you had the chance then you were whipped. We all know the cliché toxic criteria of manhood.
Growing up under this pressure I had a few questions. If men can’t be happy with friendship, compassion, empathy, passion, or talent—what’s good about being a man then?
If a man thinks his worth is based on how many women have slept with him, what is he going to think of a man who has lots of females friends that he hasn’t slept with? Or a man who sleeps with another man?
Every man who has complained about the “friend zone” or “nice-guy syndrome” are guilty of thinking of sex as the totem of manliness. If you are upset that a girl doesn’t want to have sex with you after you listened to her for 6 hours while she complained about a guy she’s been seeing, you are no better then the guy who follows women around bars after he buys them a drink. You are both waiting for a “handout” and truthfully, she owes you nothing except a “thank you” in both cases.
Most can agree that men and women do things differently. It’s when we try to tell people to make decisions based on their gender that bother me. We are more than our gender. My penis doesn’t make decisions for me. My past experiences, knowledge, compassion, relationships, struggles and triumphs guide my choices.
There have been so many bad habits and bad ideas surrounding what it means to be a man. We need to be having this conversation but it starts with remembering the simplest form of manliness. It’s not the notches on my belt, how many guys think I’m cool, or how many people will listen to me. These are all possible side effects of one simple truth about being manly. We are men—everything we do is manly. Now it’s just about being a good human being.