Jarren, a late twentysomething from the West Coast, is of African and European descent. A 6 foot 3 former football player at Yale, he’s aware of his beauty and large stature. But instead of trying to fit within society’s claustrophobic box of masculinity, He continues to push against that very definition, constantly asking why. Jarren teaches us that the definition of masculinity is far from a one-size-fits-all. In fact, it’s one that should evolve and grow with you.
When I think about what attributes I saw defining a man when I was growing up, the word “strong” is the first thing that comes into my head. A man was considered strong physically and mentally; he had to be able to hold up against tough situations. And for whatever reason, I always thought of a man as being of few words. But what I remember is that a man wasn’t allowed to be sensitive.
My feelings were hurt a lot when older men called me sensitive and said that I needed to man up. I was explicitly told that being sensitive wasn’t masculine. So, when you hear, “be a man,” you realize that whatever it is you’re doing you shouldn’t do. For example, one experience was when I must have been 11 because it was when I went back to Colorado to visit my uncle who was a father figure to me–my father had died in a car accident when I was 3 months old.
We had our own language and he would always take me camping and fishing. But when I moved to Washington state, I’d stopped doing those things. So when we went back that one year, I was with my uncle outside and I must have said something trivial like that I was cold or hungry or I might have asked could we go home. In response, he said that Washington was making me soft. After hearing that, I remember trying not to cry and trying to figure out what I did to make him say that.
When you hear, “be a man,” you realize that whatever it is you’re doing you shouldn’t do.
Another experience where that happened was when I first started playing football in high school, and my step dad could see that I was concerned with being hit or injured. My step dad said, “You’re not running like someone who isn’t afraid of contact. You need to stop running like that–you can’t be afraid of physical contact.”
When you’re that young, no one is looking to run into another person. It’s very counterintuitive and it is something you have to learn. I was the skinny kid and always wanted to carry the ball. But in that moment, I thought, “I’m going to run into as many brick walls as I need to in order prove him wrong.”
Now that I’m older, I see how the definition of what it means to be a man varied depending on what type of society you’re in and even the people you are involved with. For example, in this popular, middle class, pop culture sort of thing in New York City, I see that money has a lot to do with what it means to be a man.
I also think that aggression and the inability to compromise is seen as a positive, for whatever reason. The idea of not taking shit from anyone or standing up for what you believe in no matter what. But in my mind, I also wonder if adapting or thinking through both sides and perspectives, and then making a decision should be considered being more of a man.
It also comes out in relationships and dating. I was sort of told on multiple occasions that being possessive, physically protective, or maybe even overprotective is a man’s role. At the time I didn’t really know how to respond. Even now, I tangentially approach it. In my mind, someone really asking for that behavior is them wanting to be needed or them seeing physical aggression on their behalf as a manifestation of you caring about them.
But it doesn’t fit with my idea of masculinity. Part of that is because I was never put in that situation or had to deal with the whole idea of “he’ll fight for me.” But I do feel that pressure. It is something I have felt more of a primal draw to that as I get older and as I think about family. There is something about protecting the people who can’t protect themselves that is important to me.
In that moment, I thought, “I’m going to run into as many brick walls as I need to in order prove him wrong.”
On the same note, there’s also that let-me-be-overtly-aggressive-to-establish-my-attractiveness-to-the-person-I’m-desiring… I don’t have that. I’m not the type to beef with other guys so girls will like me. Interacting with women has never been a problem for me.
Physical aggression or even social aggression has never felt natural to me because I was never put into a position where those were the means of seeming more desireable. Part of it is that I have a lot of close guy friends, but I’ve never had a person of the same age in direct competition with me, so I never felt the need to validate myself in that way.
Societally, I struggle for whatever reason with the aspects of my personal life that do not line up with what a man is, such as making money. Someday I’ll have a lot, but I’m not a lawyer, banker, or anything like that. In that way, I feel a little bit of pressure and sometimes emasculated by people who really see that as a high priority. I don’t agree with that personally, though.
There’s also the fact that I’m an artist, which makes me expressive while not being a typical 9-5 job person. To some, who I am and what I do may not be considered masculine, like when I was in college and played varsity football while writing poetry and being an artist.
People can look from their perspectives and point to the things in their definition that would make me less of a man. But personally, I believe it’s a coming of age thing where everyone has to define what it means to them to be a man.
If I had to name one thing that I struggle or am challenged with, it is my place in my family and my relationships to them. I just want to be a man that I can be proud of but that my kids and family can be proud of, too. Even if I don’t meet society’s definition, I want to meet the definition of those I care about about the most.
Personally, I believe [masculinity] is a coming-of-age thing where everyone has to define what it means to them to be a man….I just want to be a man that I can be proud of but that my kids and family can be proud of, too.
In undergraduate courses, these are often based on a real individual, an imagined individual, or a character from a television show, film, or book https://domyhomework.guru/.