Hol’ up, Hol’ up, We Dem Boyz

For the entirety of our childhood, we boys have subconsciously been taught that masculinity consisted of strength, toughness, apathy, and confidence among other things. In the past few years though, the concept of toxic masculinity has been tossed around, attempting to shine light on unrealistic expectations that both boys and girls place on boys to act tough and strong.

This movement has tried to encourage boys to seek help with mental health problems, to pursue interests outside of gender norms, to not resort to violence, and possibly most importantly, to stand up for women and women’s rights, too.

But, the complication lies in the fact that some of these less “masculine” actions, such as crying in public or supporting women, will still be judged by certain communities, families and groups to stray away from what traditional masculinity looks like, and would essentially lean to the side of femininity, which is “weakness”–this somewhat untrue truth is what often causes men to act tough even when they don’t really want to.

But, if someone doesn’t act traditionally masculine, it doesn’t mean they are feminine, and it doesn’t even mean that they can’t really be masculine too.

In fact, the less masculine option would arguably be to conform to these gender norms and be a man even when you don’t feel like one. The choice that requires real bravery and strength is the one that lets men be comfortable in themselves and can likely help out women in the process, even if it means sacrificing what many believe it means to be a man.

My idea to write this was sparked by a TED talk I saw a year or so ago by Justin Baldoni. He says this to the audience: “I challenge you to see if you can use the same qualities that you feel make you a man to go deeper into yourself. Your strength, your bravery, your toughness: Can we redefine what those mean and use them to explore our hearts? Are you brave enough to be vulnerable? To reach out to another man when you need help?

To dive headfirst into your shame? Are you strong enough to be sensitive, to cry whether you are hurting or you’re happy, even if it makes you look weak?”

Strength comes from going against what others tell you that you are supposed to do, even if it entails some sort of sacrifice. The question should not be whether you are man enough to work out at Lifetime every single day, or if you are man enough to deal with all of your mental health problems on your own, the question should be whether or not you are man enough to admit that you aren’t traditionally masculine at all.

When I heard this line of thinking for the first time, it changed my perspective on everything that I thought would make me seem like a man—I even made my New Year’s resolution this year to cry more.

Even though I knew that standing up for women or letting my emotions fly free was likely the right thing to do, I never considered it to be manly. But, it just makes so much sense.

He goes on to say this too: “Are you confident enough to listen to the women in your life? To hear their ideas and their solutions? To hold their anguish and actually believe them, even if what they’re saying is against you?

And will you be man enough to stand up to other men when you hear “locker room talk,” when you hear stories of sexual harassment? When you hear your boys talking about grabbing a– or getting her drunk, will you actually stand up and do something so that one day we don’t have to live in a world where a woman has to risk everything and come forward to say the words ‘me too?’”

The more we make these terrible actions towards women seem cowardly or unmanly, the less likely the bro-culture is to accept them, starting in high school.

None of this is to say that by getting rid ourselves of toxic masculinity, we will rid of sexual misconduct or sexism altogether—it’s much more complicated than just that. But, by encouraging real discussion on what it means to be a man, we can deter men from doing these acts, and encourage more of them to stand up against those who do so.

Competitions with friends on who can hook up with the hottest girl might seem harmless and fun, but the essential need for power that some guys feel within their communities or groups contributes to pain that women feel by being objectified or harassed at the same time, too.

The fear of what it means to do the right thing in the context of still being manly, is what often stops us from doing it. But, what if we choose to realize and understand that to stand up and go against these outdated norms is really where our masculinity should come from? Now, this should be scary, and this will be harder. This requires more strength.

I can’t say I am perfect on this issue. I have definitely said or done some things to fit in or to seem like a man, but this fact shouldn’t disqualify me or anyone from getting better in the future. At times, I have found superficial strength in acting like a man even when I didn’t feel like one, and even some weakness in not acting in the way I knew was right. Sometimes, I simply didn’t have enough strength to seem feminine.

Remember, the culture has taught boys to be this way, and it will likely take a long time to reverse these ideas. So, we should be patient. We should hold men accountable for their actions but understand that for some, what they know is being uprooted, and what they thought was the “manly” thing to is no longer accepted by society.

This will not be easy, and it will require a major cultural change to have these new ideas about masculinity impact everyone, but that isn’t the point.

By knowing that standing up to bad guys or crying during movies (because hiding emotions usually makes them worse) is the right thing to do for yourself, and that it requires *masculine* strength, hopefully more men will feel compelled to change for the better.

Find strength in being vulnerable. Find strength in being a feminist. Find strength in going to a therapist. Find strength is choosing to be openly gay. Find strength in wearing the clothes you want to wear. Or, choose to find strength in doing exactly what every other guy is doing, which will sacrifice your individuality, and likely hurt yourself along with the women in your life by doing so.

Stand up for what is right for others and for yourself and the rest will fall into place. But, no matter what, we boys should never be worrying about whether or not we are being a man when we do so.