Over the break, I had the chance to watch Justin Baldoni’s “We Are Man Enough” series. Baldoni’s mission is to have an open discussion with guests about the notion of masculinity—what it means to be man. So far, he’s released two thought-provoking episodes with one covering the question of why men don’t talk, and the second episode covered vulnerability within men.
It’s a topic that I believe is tough to discuss among many of my guy friends. The idea of what it means to be a man, and masculinity in general, is something I’ve begun to question over the past few years.
The idea of men not expressing their emotions is an interesting one. My cultural background is dominated by the idea of masculine strength. Growing up, I knew that the expectation of me is to get married, have kids, and be the breadwinner for my family. I have to lead, I have to be strong, failure cannot be shown, emotion needs to be bottled in, any emotional turmoil mustn’t be spoken about, and I have to be the tough man of my future family.
Growing up, I don’t think I ever did take these notions of being a man to heart. However, they were definitely engrained in me early on in my life.
Do I blame my parents teaching me on how to be a certain kind of man? Definitely not. That’s a product of their upbringing and how they grew up and thatt was out of my control.
However, I’m in a position now in my life where I can question my place as a man, in a society that forces me to be a specific kind of man. I’ve begun to venture away from the traditional notions of manhood to understand how that could be damaging rather than rewarding. From an emotional standpoint, I know indefinitely that hiding away from what I am feeling and avoiding a conversation about something that may be hurting me does more harm than good. Before I really began to open up to friends, I told myself that I would let it pass, that I could move on from it because as a man it didn’t matter how I was feeling or what I was thinking. I would never allow myself the opportunity to be vulnerable with my friends, or even my brother. I do believe that I have, in my life, unconsciously and knowingly tried to just solve my problems on my own with no help. I had to get on with it. That’s what I’ve been exposed to my whole life, and that seemed like the right answer.
One really needs to take time to challenge masculinity. Why are men so engulfed in the idea of being the alpha, or why I need to have the right answer all the time and solve my problems instantly and move on? The idea of being a man and not talking to your fellow guy friends about deeper issues is such a hard thing to do, that we just escape those conversations to discuss more manly things, such as sports. And that to me is a problem. Of course, letting emotions fester inside only breeds an build-up of anger waiting to burst. However, I believe that conforming solely with stereotypical masculine traits only creates an environment of hyper-masculinity. This is what makes the very notion of masculinity toxic.
Dominance is inherently embedded with the idea of being a “real man.” Men have become accustomed to being the dominating voice in all situations. Coming from an Arab world, that’s what is intrinsically and extrinsically okay. The man is the dominant person of the world. But I can’t write this editorial and be okay with these ideas that I’ve been taught. I don’t believe that my role in life is to be the breadwinner or the emotionless strong man who will solve their problems with no care for anything else. That isn’t something I can believe because I believe that masculinity is fundamentally a problem.
It’s a problem to how we treat ourselves, how we treat other men, the way we talk and act around women, and how we form relationships in general. I thoroughly believe that the notion of masculinity, or being a man, is something men need to question. We need to sit and analyze ourselves and our behaviours.
If we allow the failed notion of masculinity to continue to be a part of our structures and our behaviours, we allow the failure of humanity and empathy. Why is it that I need to have a lean body to be attractive? Do I need to have a beard to be a man? Do I have to lead teams to success and be the alpha male always? Am I meant to be a breadwinner no matter what? Why do I have to pay for a dinner because that’s how you charm your date? What makes me a man? Is it empathy or is it power? Why am I so privileged as a man?
These are questions that all stem from various discussions of masculinity. However, they’re all derived from one idea of being a man. This creates a cycle where men are required to pass on their ideas of masculinity in order to maintain dominance.
I don’t write this editorial with the intent to solve the problem of believing in traditional masculinity. I write this editorial to open up the discussion of what it truly means to be a man. Masculinity exists in many shapes and forms, and I speak from an experience of masculinity different from someone else’s. I believe that having this discussion about masculinity is important to teach men and boys that they do have the ability to alter their behaviour and actions.
Men, we have a ton of work to do. We need to question our behaviours, our attitudes, and our masculinity. Don’t be afraid to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Dive into what makes you, you. It’s not easy, it’s not pretty, but it allows you to be a human. Question everything. Understanding our privilege is not enough—we need to challenge it. We need to stop being afraid of letting down our guard and giving up our power that we have acquired as a result of this privilege.
The sooner you can do that, the sooner you’ll lose your ability to be a man, and gain your empathy to be a human.