Real men _________. What would you write in the blank? Is it something that men are generally expected to do? Or is it something different, maybe even what society says is off limits to men?
The funny thing about masculinity is that so many of us men expect others to fill in the blank for us. We never stop for a second and realize our definition matters as well.
In fact, I would venture to say our definition matters more. From an early age, we’re all expected to learn the rules–to see the sides of the box.
But as The Nightingale learns, perhaps it’s because we’re meant to be brave enough to step out of the box, entirely.
I was always small for my age and effeminate. When we moved back to Louisiana, a lot of my uncles would say certain things regarding how effeminate I was, but when I was six years old, I started school and I got it from other kids, too. Around third grade was when I started to get questions like “Why do you walk like that?” “Why is your voice so high pitched?” and even “Why does your butt poke out like that?”
I’m very close to my family–my mom’s side more than my dad’s. My female cousins and I were like the Three Musketeers. We played games and with dolls together, so I early on I associated with feminine things. It was never a problem because my family was always loving, never judgmental. No one ever said I shouldn’t be a certain way or that something was wrong with me. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that it was a matriarchy.
My uncles on my dad’s side were different. There was a standard of masculinity and a lot more monitoring of my behavior. Real men (and boys) enjoyed roughhousing and felt comfortable carrying themselves a certain, such as speaking from your chest. So when they saw I didn’t measure up, they would make comments about it.
That’s when I started to feel more insecure about my sensitivity and emotions, and when I saw them as a weakness versus a strength. I often felt like an outcast. A lot of that was my own doing because I have always been one to overthink things, so I internalized a lot of they said, gradually weeding out certain behaviors.
There was a standard of masculinity…Real men (and boys) enjoyed roughhousing and felt comfortable carrying themselves a certain, such as speaking from your chest. So when they saw I didn’t measure up, they would make comments about it.
Women are viewed as more affectionate, emotionally aware, and intimate, so as girls, those attributes are nurtured and encouraged. But boys are taught to believe that emotions are a sign of weakness, which is why you don’t get to see many men who are able to freely express their full range of emotions, outside of anger.
As a child, that’s what I was taught to believe, too. I encountered so many situations that made me believe that feeling was weak, and like so many other guys, I just learned to shut them down and bury them. And even though I’ve learned to embrace them more, I still struggle to express them freely and openly.
When you factor in the expected role of men as the heads of families who have to be incredibly strong, men are taught to prioritize being the rock and hiding their emotions over expressing them freely. In their mind, to show those emotions, like fear, sadness, etc. is to scare and weaken everyone else.
So that’s why boys are told at such an early age not to cry. So all of us–men and boys alike–hold it together, pretending nothing bothers us because we don’t want to be seen as weak. None of us what to be seen as less than any other man. We want to be seen as the strongest, the best. And that doesn’t allow much room for vulnerability.
One thing I have learned over the years is that masculinity looks different for just about every guy. For example, I was seen as effeminate. But my younger brother was always naturally rough and into sports. And there wasn’t a man to teach him that. It’s just the way he is. And as feminine and androgynous as I am, I had definitely didn’t have a role teaching him to be that way.
So much of my life, I altered myself to fit others’ definitions; I didn’t know who I was and where I fit….But becoming brave enough to just be who I am–nothing more, nothing less–has helped me. And I like to think it’s helped others as well.
That realization has taught me that there are men out there that are authentically and naturally what we consider to be masculine. And then you have people who try to be that because they want to be accepted and belong. But many of us are afraid to be true to our natural selves because we are afraid of being alienated or ostracized.
However, when you accept who you are and are confronted because of it, instead of you changing, people don’t realize that you can help others change their minds and hearts. Because of your own bravery, you can help them open their mind, redefining what others would consider to be masculine and feminine.
So much of my life, I altered myself to fit others’ definitions; I didn’t know who I was and where I fit. And when I did have moments where I was brave enough to just be who I was, which wasn’t too masculine or too feminine, people around me would get offended because I didn’t fit in the box they wanted me to be in. But becoming brave enough to just be who I am–nothing more, nothing less–has helped me. And I like to think it’s helped others as well.