Boys like video games and girls like Barbie dolls. Boys stick with blue and girls choose pink. Men are straightforward while women speak in code. If these statements make you uncomfortable, it’s probably because you know their restrictive nature limits what you can do and what you can like based on biological factors you can’t control. The fact is, society still likes to judge how strong a person’s habits, inclinations, and characteristics are to their biological sex. This creates some major issues–particularly insecurities and feelings of “not being enough.”
I’m nearly thirty and should have long ago evolved from the simplistic stereotypes and how well I fit into the mold of the typical man. The problem is, to be honest, I haven’t fully broken free. Growing up, I never felt too much pressure from my dad to “be a man.” It’s not like my dad took me aside and said, “Son, if you experience an emotion, you turn into a girl.” I know some men had it much worse as boys; their fathers pushed them to adapt toxic attitudes and beliefs they otherwise wouldn’t have wanted.
The problem with our modern image of a man is that it’s not modern at all. The same stereotypes we had in, say the 1950s, are still prevalent in this day and age. We should know by now that “molds” are harmful and too restrictive. But because we claim that these molds are the way to go, it leaves a lot of people alienated when they feel they can’t quite conform.
Just as an aside, I’m speaking from my experience as a man. But I also want to acknowledge that women suffer through outdated stereotypes as well.
One thing that men struggle with is the obstacle of emotion. Men feel they can’t cry, especially in front of their partners. There’s this message of “be strong no matter what” that is prescribed to so many men. Repression of emotional expression (even positive emotions) is conflated with strength. In reality, true strength comes from being able to ask for help, to ask for support, to cry and let all the pain out. If men do cry, they more than likely do it alone.
Men are also called to be aggressive and competitive in everything. It’s as if the ideal man must conquer everyone and everything. While I don’t believe passivity in life is a good thing, I also don’t agree with being overly combative or aggressive. The common phrase, “boys will be boys” is so easily applied to men who get into fights, as if throwing fists is an inherent part of what it is to be male.
And of course, we can’t ignore the tropes men must follow when it comes to sex. Media continues to reinforce the value of getting off no matter the cost. Instead of focusing on deep and meaningful relationships borne of mutual respect, men are taught to value only the carnal aspects of intimacy while doing all they can to avoid the emotional “baggage” and further consequences. Young adult men in college believe that “getting laid” before 30 is a noble goal just so their pals won’t mislabel them as gay or a virgin.
Even more disturbing is the pickup culture that leads men to objectify women. Pickup artists claim to teach mean how to be confident when it comes to approaching women. Confidence is one thing, but making women into trophies to be won is damaging. Treating women like prey to scout and overtake fundamentally effects the morality and good sense of any man. Soon, sex just becomes a game. The novelty wears off, so the man addicted to sex must continue to make sexual experiences more and more risky until the consequences hit like a ton of bricks.
Western society has given us this blueprint of a man, and I must admit it affects me too. The very first book I self-published contains a female protagonist. For the most part, that never mattered to me. I had a character that I felt was interesting and provided humor, emotion, depth, and unique quirks that made sense on the digital page. But sometimes, I did feel insecure about the fact that I didn’t write the main character as male. Why? Why does it matter? What is there to fear?
I’ll tell you what it is. It’s the primitive fear of not being manly enough. It’s the little, prickly spikes of insecurity that people in my family who read will think, because the protagonist is female, I must have a written with a female frame of reference. In other words, I’ve somehow packed away my manhood in order to access my feminine side. And being seen as feminine is something that makes me feel that I won’t be seen the same ever again.
Also, my book is more about dealing with “soft” elements such as growing into adulthood, finding your passion, and coming to grips with past failures and learning from them. These topics access the more emotional side of my brain. I mean, I guess I could have included explosions, guns, and excessive foul language since those things tend to be more manly.
I don’t want people to be mistaken; I am proud of what I wrote. Even if someone thought I wasn’t manly based on what I wrote, I would still stand by my work. However, I bring this up to illustrate the way that many men process things. Every little action could compromise our security in manhood. We have to continually prove that we are still men. But as you can see, this is in conflict with what we truly want.
Hell, even being an author who doesn’t really like sports, isn’t into cars, and doesn’t have a six-pack makes me feel less manly. Can you imagine if I liked an activity that was primarily seen as feminine? Well, I do watch a lot of romance movies because I’m typically interested in the emotions that motivate a character to take certain actions. In certain circles, there’s no way I could admit that.
I think this is why my blog is aptly named. I haven’t conquered my afflictions; I’m still hunting them and bringing them to the light. For the record, I’m fine being a man. I know my sex and my sexuality. I don’t have doubts that paralyze me. But I’d be lying if I said insecurities about my manliness don’t plague me every now and then. I look at this insecurity and realize it’s nothing but smoke and mirrors. But damn, it’s sometimes so ingrained into me that I may not even identify it at the time I feel it.
In conclusion, I have some advice. The first question you should ask isn’t “Is this manly enough?” The first question should be, “Is this something I like and want to do?” Because if the answer to this question is “yes” and it’s not something that will bring harm to another, then no other question matters. Without all these stereotypes, we’d be a lot happier.