I have been spending time recently with too many men who have been damaged by the expectations placed on men to be “manly”. In some cases, these men are struggling to find new definitions of manliness that allow them to be emotionally alive, but in others, they are struggling to be stronger and tougher than feels natural to them to meet some ideal they have absorbed as a goal.
These men are not comfortable with what is going on and are yearning for a more authentic way of being in the world. The biggest sign of this is that they are opening up and talking about it – in a world that does not encourage men to talk, and especially not about feelings.
Some men don’t even realize that they have been damaged, but demonstrate the damage by acting inauthentically; covering up emotions they fear would make them appear weak. Unfortunately, instead of coming across as tough and manly, these guys just look like assholes. But, they don’t realize that this is what is happening, so they don’t know how to transform from creep to cool.
There is a push back towards gendered expectations in North America. The war on women being fought by the Republican party in the United States is trying to drive women back into the dark ages. And women are fighting back. I see a lot of justifiable anger from mothers of daughters who are being pushed to absorb limiting ideas of what a girl or woman can be. I see less anger about the damage that is being inflicted on their sons.
I have sons and I hate seeing them pushed into roles that do not suit them. Even my most typically boyish son is deeply emotional, but he is absorbing the “guys play with guns and balls and don’t express emotions” expectations of the society around him. My two deeply emotional, sensitive, and creative boys are struggling to find any place for themselves in this world. They do not want to become competitive and tough. They want to stay open to the wonders and beauty in the world.
The most recent research tells us men and women are psychologically more alike than different. A social construction of gender expectations that posits men and women as fundamentally different denies the experience of large numbers of men and women.
Every individual has a particular constellation of psychological traits, traits that are not determined by gender. Only by recognizing people as individuals and treating them as such can people be free to live psychologically healthy lives.
Gender equality and avoidance of gender stereotyping opens up options for men to be true to themselves and their own personalities and desires, just as the fight for gender equality has opened realms to women.
In my years of InterPlaying, I have been privileged to watch many men embracing their whole selves and it is always a powerful transformation to watch. By allowing themselves to be whole, these men I have worked and played with have invariably become stronger, more grounded, and more effective in their lives. And it all starts with stepping out of the straight-jacket of gender expectations and looking at the actual data of their own lived experience to discover who they are.