We are in a patriarchal society, we know that and all of the issues related to it are spoken enough for everyone to be aware. More than being patriarchal, our system is unbalanced. Not only it oppresses women, for « not being men » (I don’t want to debate the nature of sexism here, that’s why it is just a platitude), but it also molds men into a specific model that annihilates any feminine traits in them, that annihilates anything that is not manly, virile, that does not follow the idea of what a man should be. That’s how we get toxic masculinity. And fucked up men.
The social construction of a man
As far as I can remember, I’ve always felt apart from the other boys. Not interested in the same things. Didn’t care about football, or sports whatsoever. I was lucky my parents always made me do some sport and that I grew up in a quite sportive family. But it was not a passion, or a subject I would cheerfully share with other boys.
To be honest, I’ve always had a hard time bonding with boys. Because where I’m from, in the countryside, boys fight from a young age. That’s how it worked. Of course, it was not street fighting out of fight club. We were 7 or 8 years old, so it was children’s fights during recess or lunchtime. I tried it. But it never made me feel anything. No excitation, no amusement, it was just fighting. So I stopped. And not because I lost the fights, just because I couldn’t find anything for me in it.
Now you can imagine, not wanting to play football, to fight, or to do what the boys were doing, I quickly ended up with the girls. Because the girls were less physically active. Talking, or playing but in a soft way. And I liked that. It was easier for me because I felt that I didn’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not. I liked being able to just talk, about stupid childish things but just talking. Something that boys don’t do at this age, or not as much. Weirdly, talking is considered quite a feminine thing if you think about it. It’s always the girls that are punished for their chit-chat, for talking too much.
At that age, boys were more into physical activities and girls into “mind” activities. Letting the imagination kick-in to play games, talking, arguing over stupid things. Yes, those are generalities, but aren’t they true?
Later I found myself sticking with the girls for the same reasons. And the more I stood with the girls, the less I knew how to bound with boys. Because they don’t behave in the same ways. And I started being bullied for that.
Of course, being a man and staying with women is a good reason to be bullied at that age, in that system. Because I was probably seen as less than a man for them as I was not acting the same way, not interested in the same things, and not surrounded by « my boys ». Plus I grew up in a small village where homophobia and racism are still present. Mostly because the ignorance of differences is strong. I was interested in clothes, (didn’t want to be a full jogging type of guy) and very close to the girls. I was listening to them, cared about them, and was some kind of medium for them to understand boys. Funny considering I didn’t really understand them myself at this time.
So I started being targeted and underwent some homophobia remarks. Even before I started questioning my own sexuality. Just because I was not filling their « man » characteristics. It definitely led me to a lot of questions. Made me think a lot about myself, about who I was, why I couldn’t be normal, like every other boy. Why was I perceived as different?
It’s only later in my life that I understood what I now know. That there’s nothing wrong with me and that I’m not less of a man than others. In fact, it allowed me to find a good balance and to have good mental, emotional, and physical construction.
What I see now is that all of the things that those boys reproached me at that time, is what is lacking in them today to feel fine, to be fine.
The bounding scheme of a man
As a young adult, I’ve understood how to bound with other men and their way of functioning. If you think about it, it generally starts with a « scaling » step through humor, through soft cynicism. They’ll start by throwing little spades, to see if you can handle and throw some back. If you can’t, most likely they’ll stop if they are alone and won’t know how to act with you, because to them they’re just joking and don’t see any harm in what they do. If they’re with some of their friends, they could go deeper and sometimes fall into a little bullying scheme, without knowing it.
This step really is a scaling point for them. They act like that because unconsciously it allows them to see if you can measure up to them. Not in a bad way, they just have been taught like that. Because men estimate other men if they’re at their level, if they are man enough to stand for themselves.
It reveals an inability to just communicate. To initiate basic discussion to get to know the other. Because to properly know the other one, you have to reveal a part of you. And that’s something most of the men can’t do. Because it’s uncomfortable. Because they have no idea who they are behind what society expects them to be: a strong, independent, active and manly figure. The man is built to be a father, to be the figure of the family… there is an overwhelming archetype of the man in which all men lose themselves. Because they don’t grow as individuals. We don’t teach them to understand what they like, what they want, to dive into their true passions. We expect them to be strong, to be smart, to be able to handle any situation without flickering.
So most men can’t bound over true things. They just share general interests, are more comfortable in doing things together than just sit and talk. It is only after a long time, or in a close relationship, intimate or not, that you’ll find men being able to talk about themselves. About how what they go through in life. And it does not happen often, because men are expecting to be able to go through everything.
The inability of vulnerability that leads to toxic masculinity
What’s problematic is that men are not taught how to be vulnerable. They’re not taught how to be themselves, because society expects them to fulfill that « man archetype ». And that leads to overly independent men. Of course, it’s good to be independent. But the extreme independence is a side effect of the survivor syndrome. It happens when you’ve been left by people who mattered to you. So you end up relying on yourself to an extreme level, not letting anyone in your life. And for men, it can easily happen. Imagine, how hard it is for a man to open up to someone. It requires a huge trust in the other, and a huge effort for them to open up as they’re not used to talk about what they feel or go through. So it will be uncomfortable. Now imagine, they start doing that with one or two people, that they deeply trust. And then those people disappear. Because that’s life, it happens, you lose love, you lose friends you thought would always be a part of your life. That’s how you got yourself a man that will immediately close up and fall into extreme independence.
What we need to understand is that we can’t truly bound without true vulnerability. And as men, we need to be able to tap into that sensitive side of ourselves. If you haven’t seen or read Brené Brown’s research on vulnerability, now is a good time to take a look at it.
Vulnerability is at the core of every true relationship. We need to stop being afraid of being vulnerable. Because being vulnerable is being our true self, and it does not make us feminine or weak. It is not weak to talk about your emotion or to let yourself feel what you feel.
I see too many men being lost, being afraid of feeling things because society has taught us that a man can’t cry. It leads to half-constructed people. We’re complex human beings, with feelings, with thoughts, with preoccupations. And it’s not related to our sex, to our gender, or to our sexuality. And embracing all of our faces doesn’t make us weak. It makes us complete.
To conclude, I want to say that it’s our responsibility, as men, to open up to our sensitive side. Because it makes us human and allows us to connect with the world and with people. It allows empathy and compassion. But it is also our responsibility, as humans, to change our view as what a man should be. There is not an only way of being a man. And we cannot expect men to fulfill a specific model. A man is a man, whether he is overly sensitive, whether he is gay, whether he is like you or not.
By accepting sensitivity and vulnerability as a basic human characteristic we can help reducing sexism and toxic masculinity. Because what is targeted in women is also found in men. It is only suppressed and creates unbalanced people, leading to a fertile ground for huge existential crises, neuroses, and sometimes mental health issues.