Don’t cry. Toughen up. Be a man.
What does that mean? Sincerely, what does that mean? I’m sure you’re running over a list of rules and regulations about what men do, and probably more of what they don’t do, inspired by family, media and whoever coached your (insert sport here) team. To the men, what insults would you fight over? Honestly. “Stupid”. “Ugly”. Not fighting words yet. “Asshole”. “Douchebag”. Probably not yet fighting, hell I revel in being called an asshole. Let’s take it up a notch. “Bitch”. *fists clench* “Pussy”. *What did you say?* “Faggot.” *Square up!*
Let’s keep it real. The most insulting thing a man called be called is a woman. To be denied his manhood and demeaned, degraded to womanhood. Men are probably nodding their heads in agreement, but what does that say about our view of men in relation to women and our roles. A lot of the talk of the day is about redefining gender roles, and I am completely for it. Women have voices that need to be heard and acknowledged and they have the right to decide what being a woman means. I leave that to them. But when we say redefining gender roles, how often do we talk about redefining manhood? Short answer, never. Why? A much longer answer for another week. For now, let’s stay on the what.
The roles as they’re set up are toxic, not just to women as we ingrain sexism and homophobia to each new generation, but to us as well. I love being a man. Don’t mistake me. I don’t love all of the rules however. Most of what the things men are supposed to be are rooted in what we are not. We are not women; thus we are not frail. We are not emotional, so we have a society of men who struggle with emotional expression and thus are most likely to express those emotions via violent crime and abuse. We are not women so our sexuality is about conquering and bragging rights, not expression or emotion. In such a culture we see rape happen to at least 20% of our women (probably higher because of unreported abuse), because we excuse men’s sexuality being out of control. We are not gay men. Point blank. So young men are afraid to ask questions, gay teenagers and young adults are at an increased risk of suicide because a literal feeling inside of them (that’s as best I can define why I like women, so I imagine it feels the same for them but pointed in the opposite direction) tells them not to like what we tell them they are supposed to like. If boys go against these rule then we bully and beat them until we break them. If you’re not stringently straight and hyper-masculine, then you’re gay. We operate in absolutes. Most of the time we write things off to boys are boys and men are men. Good old testosterone, right? Or is that just the copout?
As best I can tell, masculinity is an ego-driven social construct that teaches boys young to prove they are masculine, that is to say not feminine (not a woman, and not gay). We’re socialized young. The difference in my talking about the oppressive nature of manhood as compared to whiteness is that I am complicit. I partake. I enforce these roles. As men, we hold societal power because of the systems that be. Thus we hold the power to unpack and redefine manhood whenever we decide. Change starts at the top.
Maybe everything above is stupid. Maybe I’m spouting off silly hypotheticals because “well I know somebody who doesn’t do that somanhood is fine”. I can say I honestly don’t know. This is my writing out an answer to my own question. This is my trail of logic as I venture into adulthood as a man, and out to define my masculinity for myself.
What I do know, is living in constant fear of “looking gay” (as if being gay is an insult) or “acting like a bitch” (because women are lesser than us or something) tiptoeing around nonsense rules of what it means to be a man is tiring and I don’t plan to commit to this version of manhood for 60 more years.
*Homework before I write the next part of this, go on Netflix and watch “The Mask You Live In”.
“We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, And mouth with myriad subtleties.”
-Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask