What's in a Man

#communication #emotions #men #relationships #toxicmasculinity Mar 26, 2021

Yesterday someone I follow on instagram posted something on their stories that really upset me. Actually several things, but one thing in particular that really hit me right in the core and brought a lot of irritation and frustration out. So much so I wanted to message this person and explain how what they posted is ridiculously hurtful and detrimental, however I took a step back and thought about what they generally post and realized that no matter what I say, they aren’t the listening type. I can’t change the way that they see the world or people, and coming from a woman may continue to push them further into the opinion that they originally shared. However I did inquire what they meant by this post, just out of sheer curiosity, but of course, they never responded. Here is what they posted:

“Make men more masculine, make women for feminine.”

Shared aside this particular quote were many other slides about gender identity and sexuality. As someone who is still learning about what the definition of gender means, and how many different types of sexuality there are, I don’t consider myself to be well versed on the subject, so I’m not going to speak much on that. But what I can speak on, as someone who grew up in a masculine forward household, and someone who is a boy mom, I want to share some thoughts I have about the quote in question. 

What does it mean to be masculine? What does it mean to be feminine? Masculinity is roughly defined as “having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men.” The definition for femininity is the same, just adding women in the place of men. I guess this post confused me, mainly because the term “masculinity” and “femininity” have such broad definitions I feel like it’s hard to instruct an entire sex to be more “masculine” or “feminine” without having any clear idea of what the word actually means. Society, of course, has placed labels and boxes around a certain type of human, potentially categorizing them to be more “masculine” or “feminine,” but that’s just societies definition. It’s not truth, right? As a human in this world, being socially conditioned, I would originally define masculinity as the blue collar type; hard working, strong, drinking beer after work, head of household type. But after listening to a podcast by Jon Ward called “Hemotional,” with a friend of mine, Andrew McClain guest speaking, I was reminded of the diversity in the word “masculine.” Andrew is a Neonatal nurse, working with newborns and from time to time stepping over into the postpartum ward with new mothers. He talked about how even though it is a field mostly worked by women, he feels that having men in the field is important for the new fathers. A lot of the time, there is no guidance for the dads. In a lot of ways, new fathers can feel helpless, seeing their partners in pain, not knowing what they need, and being surrounded by doctors and specialists that are focused on getting the new mama through the birth process. What isn’t talked about enough though, is that fathers play just as important of a role in the birth process. They helped create this little being trying to break free of the womb right? There’s always the comments of how when dads do something minute, they get praised and congratulated, and how mothers are expected to just do it, without any encouragement or congratulating. But what people need to realize is that fathers, from the beginning, aren’t always given the opportunity to be involved. When it comes to the postpartum process, it’s a lot of checking up on mom; making sure she’s not bleeding too much, helping her get baby to breast feed, helping her to the bathroom, giving her an abundance of information so that when she goes home she feels confident and supported. But the dads job isn’t just to support mom, he needs the opportunity to bond with the baby too and learn what he needs to do to take care of both of his loves. Andrew talked about the importance of skin on skin contact as a father, how bonding with the baby soon after it is born is just as important with him as it is with the mother. He talked about how one of his patients husbands wasn’t interested in this process and even left for the evening because the bed wasn’t good enough for him, regardless of the fact that his wife had been through a hard labor and was now left alone at the hospital with a new baby. It was Andrew who had to step in and help this new mother learn how to get her baby to latch to breast feed properly, something that while medical, can also be a very intimate process, something that can be taught to the father. Giving the dads the opportunity to not only bond with their new baby, but their wife or partner as well is so important, and having more men in this field to help make the dads feel more comfortable in the moment is key to their longterm success as a new dad. 

When it comes to masculinity, there is more to it than just the lumber jack, head of household, breadwinner, type. There is the stay at home dads, the neonatal nurses, the artists, and so on. So I’ll ask again, what is the definition of masculinity and how can we make men more “masculine?” Short answer: we don’t.

Because there is no definition, there is no box.

Trying to categorize men, just like anything else we try to categorize as a society, limits the potential of human beings around us. Giving men opportunities to be dads, giving men opportunities to educate themselves, giving men permission to feel deeply and be emotional is not emasculating, it’s freeing them from the confines that society has put on them. It’s opening the cage and letting them be free to be who they are. As women, we are always trying to break through barriers, convince men that we can and we will, and as a self proclaimed feminist I am all for moving forward and having equality between men and women. But so often we forget that we are not the only ones who have been conditioned and molded into a proverbial box. I can’t tell you how many times I hear the phrase “don’t cry, man up.” Or, “boys don’t cry, get over yourself.” Well, as a mother of a two year old, I can tell you that boys do in fact cry. They do in fact feel emotions, and they feel them deeply. So why has society conditioned men to suppress feeling? Why was the phrase “boys don’t cry” introduced into the world of men? Through some research, honestly it’s not even pinned down where this phrase came from, or why it was introduced. I imagine it started early early on in history. Grooming men and boys to be warriors, be the providers of their families and do the hard work that women “couldn’t,” or more appropriately, weren’t allowed to do. I imagine they had to put up walls to show their bravery and their strength for the tasks that they had to do. I imagine it had to be difficult having to go from boy to man overnight for the sake of whatever cause civilizations were fighting for at the time. But as society has adapted and changed over time, it’s been less about fighting wars and more about fighting to stay afloat financially, right? Men are given the responsibility to take care of their family financially, or themselves, and in a lot of ways that is a lot to ask, especially in an age where the cost of living is ridiculously high, and good paying jobs can be difficult to come by without certain degrees. You add the stress of providing with the socially constructed idea of holding ones emotions at bay, and you create a being struggling to cope. I imagine this is where the idea of “mid-life crisis” comes in, as well as angry outbursts and noticeable frustration.

Society has not made it easy to feel.

For women, if you publicly show your emotions, you are “overly emotional,” “unstable,” and maybe even “PMSing.” But for men, when his emotions are visibly shown, he can be labeled as “cry baby,” “weak,” “too sensitive,” and so on. What frustrates me the most is that regardless of the way someone is feeling, society dictates that we keep it to ourselves, unless it can be monetized for the personal gain of someone else. We are expected to keep our emotions neutral so that we aren’t making others uncomfortable or appearing “unprofessional.” What isn’t talked about though is that feeling is what makes you strong. It makes you human, relatable, and hiding your feelings for the sake of others opinions or because that’s what the world thinks you should do is poppycock. So how can we, as women, encourage men to be more vulnerable and feel comfortable showing their true feelings without feeling chastised? 

  1. For the mothers (and fathers) out there raising sons, allow them to feel their emotions. When kids are born to about the age of five, roughly, they are just starting to understand what emotions are. Crying is also how kids, especially babies communicate. When a baby is first born, their cry signifies their health, that they are breathing and accepting the climactic change from womb to open world. So why can we celebrate the cries of a newborn, but not the cries of a child or even a grown man? When your child is crying, let them know that it is okay, that what they are feeling is valid and seen. Help walk them through their emotion and try allowing them to communicate what it is that is bothering them, and why these emotions are present right now. Encourage their empathy, encourage their sadness. I know that after a while, especially when their emotions don’t seem to have any real cause, it can get frustrating and frazzling. Hi, mother of a “bi-polar” two year old here! But they are just experiencing emotions for the first time. They don’t know what these feelings are, their bodies and hormones are constantly changing, and they don’t know the difference from right and wrong. Be patient, be sympathetic, and most of all, be vulnerable with your child. It’s okay for them to see you cry, it’s okay for them to see you upset and frustrated, it makes it all normal to them. The more open and comforting you are of your feelings and your sons feelings, the more they will accept that feeling is good and healthy, and will help shape them to be a more understanding, supportive and genuine man. 
  2. Allow openness into your relationships. I know it’s so easy to just bottle things up and then have outbursts and fights in relationships. It’s so hard, especially when you do have kids, and communication between you and your partner is short and often interrupted. But taking that time every day to talk about the difficulties, the frustrations, the sadness or joy is so important. Allowing each other to be vulnerable and open, and seeing each others emotions is key. My partner is not a very emotional guy. I’ve seen him come close to crying only once in the almost eight years we have been together. But we try to be open and honest with each other about how we are feeling, and be sympathetic to each others stresses when they arise. We listen to each other and make sure that the other person feels heard and seen. I’ve learned over the years that my partner is what I call a “fixer,” so when I’m stressed or frustrated and just need to vent, I need to tell him that I’m not looking for a solution, just simply a shoulder to cry on, or have that physical connection to help me get through it. Communicating this allows him to mentally step back and not take my frustrations as another thing to add to his plate, and shows him that all he needs to do is just be there and be a listening ear. We aren’t perfect, and it’s taken us years to understand and apply this communication with each other. But in doing this, we are showing each other how much we love each other by openly communicating our needs and creating a deeper narrative for our relationship.
  3. Open up yourself to receive emotions from the men around you. I understand that there is the feminist narrative that we don’t need men and can be strong without them. I get that, and I see some truth in it. But I also see that if we are asking for equality, putting men down and casting them off isn’t creating equal opportunities. Recognizing that we are all here together and should work together equally is essential to push forward our feminist movement. But I digress. Allowing yourself to be a safe space for the important men in your life to be open and vulnerable with is not only important to them, but to you too. It opens the pathways to a deeper communication, and allows you to see the parts of him that he feels he has to hide. Women in the media, and outside of it, bring up toxic masculinity regularly, and while I have definitely experienced it in my relationships, it makes me wonder if they just weren’t given the chance to openly communicate and express their emotions in a healthy way. To add to that, when we talk about toxic masculinity, we tend to talk about it in a negative context instead of talking about it with the intention to educate. When we, as women, open a dialog with he men that are important to us, and educate them on the feminine experience, we are inviting them to be apart of the narrative instead of shutting them out and labelling them all as “bad” or “toxic.” Now we can’t educate everybody, sometimes it isn’t worth the time and energy. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said: “Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.” But at the same time, a lot of sexism is generational and passed down. Learned behavior even. If we are going to be advocates for change, that also means taking the time to educate those closest to you and creating a line of open communication that allows both man and woman to correct toxic behavior. 


We are all responsible for the narrative that we want to share with others, and so often we become encompassed with our own problems, that we forget that we aren’t alone. I won’t deny that we live in a mans world. I won’t deny that men often get more opportunities than women. But that doesn’t mean that men should be forced into emotional solitude, or not be included in parenthood, or feel like they can’t express themselves. When we were put here on this earth, we were put here together. Creating space for each other, and opening communication with one another is vital. Now going back to your toxic ex with the intention of changing him isn’t what I’m trying to get at here, there are some things that we can’t, and shouldn’t, waste our energy on. But opening that line of communication with the important men in your life, your fathers, your brothers etc. creates new beginnings, and encourages growth and understanding.

Breaking those generational cycles is so important.

Opening yourself up, as a woman, to share the female experience, and educate the men around you what it’s like, and how it affects us on a daily basis can help them to start understanding the reason we do certain things. It can help them to open their eyes and advocate for change, even if that change is just for you. And you will start to see who is worth keeping in your life as well. Just like with your girl friends, if your guy friends aren’t sensitive to the way that you feel, to the things you are struggling with, and aren’t willing to make corrections after you’ve given them the information to make positive changes, they may be leaves or branches on your tree of life. Don’t let them go just because they are a man, let them go because they aren’t helping feed you or sustain you. Man, woman, whatever you identify as, opening yourself to a deeper understanding, encouraging communication and dialog that helps sustain your relationship, and giving yourself up to be open to this communication will ground the relationships you have, and bring those who are important to you closer than ever. We are in this together.

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