Our society has a masculinity problem, that is no secret. This problem is so prevalent that it has cascading effects on men and women. The problem I am referring to is our definition of what it means to be a “man”. We are currently operating on a definition that is outdated, broken, and downright dangerous. Our definition of masculinity has become rigid and tied to unrealistic expectations. Our children are constantly subjected to this definition through social interactions, popular media, and misguided parenting. The product of this indoctrination is a definition of masculinity that contributes to isolation, repressed emotions, and contempt against men and women. Our children need appropriate education and guidance to reform society's toxic definition of masculinity. It is on us to change the way we teach our children about masculinity.
You all know the common masculine tropes. A man is someone who is brave and without fear. A man drinks whiskey, smokes cigars, and has muscles. A man never fails to impress women, and his “sexual exploits” often define his social status. Most importantly, a man must never be vulnerable. In fact, men are never supposed to show any emotions at all, outside of anger and lust I suppose. Our current idea of manhood declares that there is a right way to demonstrate masculinity. A true man is defined by his physical strength, sexual pursuits, and social dominance. Let me know if any of this sounds familiar.
There are several glaring issues with these portrayals. The most important issue is how it affects our young girls and boys' perception of worth. Men are supposed to be our brave and fearless leaders, implying that women are not fit for the role. Men are supposed to be the head of the household, implying that a woman’s voice comes second. These perceptions tell us that man and woman are counterparts, but that one is inherently superior. This needs to be changed.
The perception that women are inherently lesser has vast implications for the structure of our society. The basis for gender inequality is rooted in our toxic definition of masculinity. Under the most toxic forms of masculinity women are only valued by what they can provide to men. Without proper guidance, our young women can be led to believe their worth is tied to their value to men. Many women never have the opportunity to explore their own worth. Many women are never taught that their worth is unconditional, everlasting, and absolute. This is dangerous for our daughters.
On the flip side, young boys that don't fit our definition of masculinity begin to question their own worth. They are taught to believe they are lesser for having emotions, being vulnerable, and needing support from others. Their self-worth is determined by how accurately they fit our narrow definition of what it means to be a man and they suffer because of it. However, the boys that do fit this definition don't fare well either. They live in fear of losing their masculine identity and are in a constant battle to maintain it. In both of these cases our men are suffering from issues of self worth. Many men grow up without understanding that their true worth is unconditional, everlasting, and absolute. This is dangerous for our sons.
Misguided children turn into misguided parents and the cycle continues. This must be changed for our children to understand their true value. We must teach our children that their true value comes from within and is never defined by anyone else. Since this post is focused on men, I will attempt to redefine masculinity so that our young boys can see their true worth.
I believe the most important aspect of masculinity is self-confidence. Confidence that comes from within can never be taken from you. I am not talking about being confident that you can win a fight or get the girl. Rather, I am talking about having the confidence to fully embrace who you are and to constantly work to become who you want to be, whoever that may be. This type of confidence can't come from external factors and is completely up to each individual.
Self-confidence is only the first step toward my definition of masculinity. The next step is using that self-confidence to make a positive impact. Three components are necessary to ensure that self-confidence is used to make positive impact: 1.) control over your actions, 2.) a well developed sense of empathy, and 3.) a strong conviction to integrity. These components of masculinity all come from inside each individual, but they must be taught to him by others. Men and women are currently failing our young boys by passing on a broken definition of masculinity. I intend to disrupt this cycle by providing my children with tenets that align with my core beliefs of masculinity. Below is a list of several tenets I try to adhere to and will pass on to my children.
Expressing kindness and understanding before all else
Empowering others around me
Acknowledging and working through my emotions
Fully embracing my vulnerability and understanding it is a strength
Acknowledging my flaws and having the desire to improve upon them
Knowing I can't do it alone and I need the support of others
Our current definition of masculinity is fragile, toxic, and unsustainable. I will make the argument that my definition is sturdy, constructive, and everlasting.
Nothing can take away my definition of masculinity from me because it comes from within. This is not the case with society's definition, which is based on the perception of others. This makes that masculinity fragile in comparison with mine. My definition enables me to make a positive impact on myself and those around me and is constructive. Society's definition often leads to contempt, violence, and despair, which is toxic. Finally, my definition of masculinity has built-in avenues for improvement when we inevitably fail. I am certainly not perfect at sticking to my tenets of masculinity. I have failed many times, but I strive to use these failures as opportunities for growth (see tenet number 5). This keeps me motivated to be better and keeps my self-confidence high. Failure to live up to society's definition of masculinity can create a downward spiral that is devastating to yourself and those around you. Societies definition is clearly unsustainable.
So this begs the question, what is the solution? We must teach our children a new definition of masculinity. They must be taught that they have inherent worth and that their worth can not be taken from them. In men, positive masculinity stems from self-confidence built on that inherent worth. Our boys must understand that masculinity is not determined by who society tells you to be, but rather your ability to become the person YOU wish to be.
Our new definition of masculinity does not come naturally and requires consistent effort, constant failure, and continuous growth. Our children need proper guidance and we are the only ones who can give it to them. We can work to break the cycle of fragile, toxic, and unsustainable masculinity and give our children a definition that is strong, uplifting, and everlasting. My first step is to work on myself so I can give my children the proper guidance. Let's all make that change one lesson at a time.