Boys don’t cry. Man up. Just take it. Dominate. Bury it. Be a man. Be a man. Be a man.
If your gender identity lands somewhere in the spectrum of male, man or masculine, chances are you’ve heard some variety of those phrases growing up. I know I did. As a queer Mexican man from the border, I observed how the men around me demonstrated “manliness” through their actions and words -through snorts, sports, spit and sweat, through always having something to say, being strong, being smart and being the best. Always.
For generations, men have been trapped in the same suffocating, outdated cycle of “masculinity,” where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness equals power over others. Consequently men often find themselves trapped without the language to talk about how they feel, because that language is considered sensitive or feminine in our current society.
And so, the man who feels lost but wishes to preserve his sense of masculinity has one of two options: withdrawal or rage. This country has seen what withdrawal and rage can lead to; from the devastation of mass shootings to an ongoing history of abuse and violence against women to the more mundane daily microaggressions that impact people every day. All stem from the same place: misplaced anger, a desire to demonstrate power and visibility and feeling terribly alone. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, it’s clear that difficult conversations about masculinity, vulnerability and inequality are long overdue, and almost impossible to entertain.
Earlier this year, Chatelaine magazine, in partnership with Abacus Data, asked 1,000 men between the ages of 25 and 65 about growing up, work, fatherhood, sex, ‘mansplaining,’ loneliness, #MeToo and more.
Growing up, 57% of the men surveyed believed that “being a man” meant being physically tough. The next highest percentage, 48%, believed that it meant being the breadwinner.
Only one-third of men surveyed were encouraged by their parents to talk about their fears and emotions.
Men are most likely to feel guilty about their health and diet (46%). 41% of men compared their bodies to other men and 45% were insecure about their weight.
79% think men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. But only 18% would describe themselves as feminists.
49% of men received their sexual education from friends (other older men). Men between the ages of 25–29 were far more likely to have received their sexual education from porn (43%).
When women talk about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment, 25% of respondents said they feel “nothing.” 42% said they feel sad and 32% feel angry. 34% often feel lonely. That number increases to 45% for 25–29 year olds.
42% aren’t especially (or at all) comfortable talking about their emotions with male friends. 24% do it all the time, and 18% said they share, but their friends don’t reciprocate.
In my experiences being around other men, and talking with them about what it means to be “men,” I was struck by how many were scared of other men–and afraid I am about being around other men. It’s as if being vulnerable and speaking truth to each other is an act of rebellion, something taboo and unrecognizable. And as we grow older, it is far more difficult for men to hold onto friendships; research suggests this likely begins in adolescence, and is one of the largest contributors to loneliness (and increased suicide rates) among men as we age.
There’s a social isolation that many men in America face today, especially in the wake of rapid social and political progress. Why are men so afraid of connecting with other men, emotionally and intimately? American masculinity, masculine norms and masculine expectations often shun friendships and moments of intimacy as a “girly” or “gay” thing rather than celebrating an emotional connection between two people. So as boys grow older, many become overwhelmed with the expectation or need to be on their own. And somehow, the desire for intimacy with other boys is problematic in a culture driven by hypermasculinity. Young men pick it up quickly and unconsciously; as they raise young men of their own, the cycle continues.
This is a modern American crisis. In a world where the loneliness of man leads to profound withdrawal and potential outbursts of rage, what should men do? In a world where social, political and economic interest is already geared towards the success and progression of men, how can room be carved for vulnerability and connectivity without compromising the emotional and mental labor of women and queer individuals? Where can men be the leaders of their own journey away from loneliness?