I feel lost. I’ve been struggling with an identity problem that isn’t going away. It’s the issue of masculinity… toxic masculinity.
Growing up all I saw was that men were the breadwinners, the career people, the successful ones. I was told that men watch football, so I watched football. I was handed a beer and told to drink it because that's what men do. Men don’t cook… they barbeque; while simultaneously never setting foot in the kitchen to cook anything… because, well, that’s what your wife is there for. And speaking of what your wife is there for… let's not forget that she is there for sex. Lots of hard, rough, dominating sex regardless of whether she wants it or not.
Men drive fast cars because the slow ones are “cute” and cute is for the girls. Men have beards, big muscles and tattoos. Men fix things, with big power tools. Men go hunting, fishing, and pride themselves in their wilderness survival skills. Men are athletic or at the very least fit because they go to the gym every day and do squats.
Men are never shamed for showing anger. Men are told they need to bottle up their emotions and feelings. Men are not allowed to cry; we were taught that from a young age. But then when it gets to be too much and they explode with anger… that’s ok. Men can throw their son down a flight of stairs and tell him “to toughen up and grow a pair because he ain’t raising no pussy” and that's okay, because that’s a masculine way to express your emotions.
Men are shamed for showing fear, pain or being timid. Men always have to be courageous and confident. Men are not allowed to hesitate because if they do, a stronger more manly man will push them aside. Men tear each other down and anyone else who gets in their way. They are savage. They are killers in an eat or be eaten world.
There is this belief that to grow into a man you need to be emotionless. You keep your feelings to yourself, you detach from your emotions. There is pressure to act a certain way. It’s a competitive world where boys and men are told they need to be the strongest and the fastest and the best in order to validate their masculinity.
Everyone is born with two basic human capacities. To think and to feel. But we’ve taken that and given them a gender. To think is masculine and to feel is feminine. But it doesn’t make sense because we’re all born with the capacity for both. Boys and men have an enormous capacity to be connected to their feelings.
The world has this notion, this preconceived idea of what a real man looks like. A box - or maybe a cave, for “real men”. You need to check off everything on the list (see above) in order to fit in. And if you don’t you’re shamed, ridiculed and looked at as being weak and insignificant.
But the world is changing. Roles are changing. Look at me! I’m a stay-at-home Dad. Growing up, I can’t think of a single example of this. Dads were at work and moms were at home. This is why I’m feeling lost. I feel isolated and alone. It has been so difficult to navigate. On one hand there is this new movement saying that guys… men can now be in touch with their true feelings and emotions and be whatever they want to be. But the old regime still exists where men are belittled for admitting those things.
What happens if I don’t have any or all of the above mentioned characteristics of being a man. What happens if I’m the homemaker rather than the breadwinner? What if I don’t drive a sports car, but rather a minivan? What happens if I drink a bellini instead of a beer? What if I DO cook in the kitchen and I DON’T own a barbecue? What happens to my “man cred” if I don’t have any tattoos, have never killed an animal and can’t set up a tent? Will you seriously tell me I’m less of a man?
I had a conversation about this with a friend last week and they suggested that along with how the world is changing, maybe the stereotypes are changing too. Maybe the definition of masculinity - the behaviours, qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of being a man - is different here in 2019 than what it used to be.
What if I told you that I have such an intense passion for my kids, I gave up my career to stay at home and raise them so that my wife could pursue her career ambitions? Does that make me a man?
What about having the courage to be real, raw and vulnerable in what I’m going through. To share my story in hopes that it will one day help someone else going through the same things. Do you think that counts as being masculine?
Or here’s a big one. What if I tell you I have the strength to calm an autistic meltdown with a simple “squeeze”; not once, not twice but upwards of ten or twenty times a day? Does that get me an invite into the man cave?
I’m a leader… I always have been. Leadership is seen as a masculine characteristic all over the world and here is why: A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.
Advocating for your special needs kids takes assertiveness to a whole new level. Unless you’ve walked that mile, you will never understand the level of exhaustion that comes with that responsibility. I know there is this saying “Advocate like a Mother…” and there are some fierce Moms out there, especially in the special needs community, but I want to say being assertive is pretty masculine in my opinion.
I am a very driven person and that carries over to how I raise my kids. We set goals and targets every single day. We challenge ourselves. We are disciplined, resourceful and focused. Are these timid and weak characteristics?
There is no perseverance, like that which is needed to get through a 20 hour day filled with meltdowns, special needs, communication barriers, endless appointments, sleep issues and the energy needed to keep three little ones - and a wife - safe, happy and well fed. I guarantee you that not every man can do that!
And finally, I am determined to raise kids who are going to make a positive difference in the world. Young leaders who are going to be the change and see and do life differently. I’m done with bullies. I’m done with hate. I’m done with these power struggles that all stem from toxic masculinity.
Being emasculated is one of the worst feelings a man will ever experience. To deprive us of our strength and to weaken or kill our spirit is horrible to think about, let alone live with.
Men can be very insecure at times and we often need to be reassured that we measure up or that we’re good enough; I know this first hand as it’s what lead me down this path in the first place.
We’re not weird or abnormal, or an outcast made to feel like we don’t fit in. We are unique. Like everyone else. Maybe we feel different because we’re not that stereotypical, cookie cutter person that we grew up thinking was the epitome of masculinity, but honestly - in this day and age who is?
In the end what does it even matter anyway? Maybe masculinity is something different to each and every guy out there, and as long as you’re confident in your own masculinity, then to hell with anyone who tells you otherwise. You da man!