Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Pixabay.com
My post of last week, on Womanhood and Sisterhood, wasn’t easy to write. Femininity is an issue I don’t really have clearly formed ideas about anymore.
On Manhood, however, I have a couple of very clear and long held beliefs. Just like men grow up with stereotypical ideas about women and men – and we are now seeing the negative effects of these in movements like #metoo – we as women also grow up with stereotypical ideas of manhood that are equally damaging.
We grow up hearing stories, seeing images, watching movies with images of ideal men. These men have a certain look, but even more so, carry themselves in a certain way. They are strong, certain of themselves, and either emotionally unavailable or emotionally stable. How often do we see a male lead in a movie who is unsure of himself or is in emotional pain? And when they are, how often do we see a male lead actually cry?
We also grow up seeing our grandfathers, fathers and brothers. In earlier generations it was even more taboo to openly show your insecurities or struggles as man. Growing up, the men in my life didn’t cry or express doubt very much. They kept any difficult emotion out of our visibility, except maybe for anger which is socially acceptable for men to express (but not so much so for women).
What these examples do to our perception of men is quite self-evident, right? We form ideas about what a man should be from this culture, and from the men we see around us, and we get so used to this idea that we stop questioning it. We forget that men are also just human beings, with every aspect of that human existence wrapped insight of a body ever so slightly different from our own.
Apart from strong, generous, kind, assertive and confident, they are also insecure at times, tender, in doubt, nervous and ashamed. They can cry and feel small, in need of someone to hold them. Insight of every man is also still a little boy.
Yet when I see a man who mirrors those insecurities and flaws I have a hard time dealing with in myself, it makes me uncomfortable. It feels unsafe, as if somehow he can’t be both sad and protective, or both insecure and strong.
Knowing that women expect them to be a certain way, puts a lot of pressure on the men around us to hide their ‘weaknesses’. We often say that we want men to be able to talk about their emotions, to be sensitive and open, but how do we respond when they talk about those difficult feelings? Do we mock them? Or cringe at the idea that they might need us for something more than the practical things? Do we open our arms and let them know we are there to support them no matter what?
It is exactly in this way I want to show up for the men in my life, for my father, my brothers, my partner, my son. And it takes awareness to catch myself in my own patterns and create new ones. Only if we start doing this, will men be able to show all of who they are and embrace their own emotions without fear of rejection.
I have different examples now. I have a partner who isn’t (too) afraid to show me when he has a rough time, even if it sometimes triggers fear in me. I see men who talk about how hard it is to raise children, and the doubts that come with it. I see my father tear up at something that truly moves him.
Toxic masculinity is a societal problem, a cultural problem that we need to fix together. We need to embrace men as they are. No expectations, no guide books, no long lists of ‘what I want in a man’. The solution starts in the same place where every revolution has ever started: in our schools, in our homes, and, most of all, in our hearts.
The talk below is by Justin Baldoni, tired of trying to be ‘man enough’. So brave, so beautiful!