“There are two things men desperately need from one another that, generally speaking, they are not getting or giving: permission to express their deepest feelings to one another and the freedom to be affectionate.”
– Stephen Arterburn, The Secrets Men Keep
None of us have this thing we call manhood figured out. In most cases, it is guesswork; we’re either mimicking our everyday heroes or we’re self-taught, pretending to have all the answers. But if we plan on ever understanding this lonely and unique burden we carry as men, we have to talk. And that’s where I–and this entire project–come in.
We’re told that being a real man is being hard, tough, swagged out, and a sex fiend. No matter the culture or the race, men aren’t encouraged to be feelers or thinkers. They don’t want more. They don’t have substance. Instead, they are mindless buffoons–slaves their to their forever-raging hormones and sexual urges. They are no more than beasts obsessed swinging their big sticks to get what they want–figuratively referring to their possessions and the one hanging valiantly between their legs. That’s what we’re told, but none of it is true. And for the pieces that do apply, it’s based on the individual, not their gender or sex.
When there is talk that men can do or be more, there is often a harsh reminder from those they care most about: to do so is to be less than–less desirable, less masculine, less than enough. To avoid humiliation and being considered weak, many men keep all their feelings and emotions bottled up. Until there are sometimes dangerous consequences often resulting in violence and the destruction of whatever is in their path–other men, but especially women, people of color, and those of the LGBTQ+ community.
An Unexpected Solution
No matter what we want others to think, men are all searching for something. In fact, we all are. Ourselves. One another. Love. Acceptance. Respect. We’re looking to develop deeper, more meaningful connections so we don’t have to figure out this complicated thing called life on our own.
But in order for us to do that, especially men, we must all embrace a new definition and embodiment of masculinity–not just one of brawn but of fearless empathy and intimacy. We must accept terms such as “masculinity” and “manhood” as social constructs that have been created to oppress, not restore or build. And then we must stare them down and understand that they vary depending on the individual and are truly amorphous, evolving.
It seems almost too simple, but we must do the one thing no one expects: we must talk. About our feelings. The things we’re most afraid of. The weight we carry on our shoulders. The secrets of our imperfection. The myth of our infallibility.
And in the same breath, we must understand that we are human, despite the toxic narratives on TV shows, movies, and advertisements. Despite the narrow-minded retorts of those we love most. And it’s a good thing, for to expect we’ll be anything other than human is to set ourselves up for disappointment.
And we can’t do this by ourselves. We must push those around us to re-think the very shackles they, too, have clasped around our wrists and ankles by bringing them into the conversation as well. By being honest about how we’ve all been complicit in reinforcing the dangerous archetypes of masculinity that wreak havoc and senseless pain on men–and those who love them.
And perhaps most importantly, we must lift up those who are pushing the needle forward, showing us what is possible as a man or woman, on their own terms. Then we must embrace and show whatever that means for us, together. With those we like. With those we don’t like. With those who understand. But especially with those who don’t. Strangers. Lovers. Students. Colleagues. Friends. Family. Until there is no more need for it.
It’s Your Turn–Make a Move
My dream is that The Pillow Talk Project can be a place where you can lay your burdens down, free of judgment. A spot to call your own, ask and talk freely, and simply join me and countless others as we figure out this beautiful but complicated thing we call life, and our place in it.
We’re all yearning to be heard, so I’ve created this place just for you. For me. For any and everyone brave enough to lift their voice, roll up their sleeves, and have the hard, tricky, fearless conversations that are necessary for change. Only then can we focus on what really matters: healing, helping, and learning from one another.
Ready to be a part of the solution? Share your thoughts in the quick, 7-minute survey below. And when you’re done, learn more about how you can get involved as a partner, Pillow Talker, and/or thought leader.
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