Masculinity is such a heavy word. I immediately think of strength, power, responsibility, money. As a young girl and even a woman now, I never really bothered to think about the complexity behind masculinity and what it means to “be a man”. The obvious differences between the societal definition of masculinity and femininity are clear to me, but I wish someone spoke to me about the similarities instead.
Man Enough is a book describing the exploration of his own masculinity written by Justin Baldoni, commonly known as Rafael on The CW’s Jane the Virgin or as the director of films like Five Feet Apart and Clouds. I’d happily give up my personal least-favorite subjects in school like Biology or Geography to study this book over and over again instead!
Each chapter is raw and real. Justin speaks from a place of complete honesty, admitting his deepest and most personal thoughts and secrets to the open world for everyone to see. We often forget that actors are real people with very real lives and emotions. Not identifying as a man myself, I figured I wouldn’t understand or be able to relate to a majority of his story. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The reality is, men and women, can be very alike and when that happens, men lose respect because being like a girl makes you weak. Needless to say, it isn’t a good thing for either group. Justin explains how he felt a need to prove himself physically — be strong, be athletic, have big shoulders, rock-hard abs, and only then you become the cool kid. As a girl, the pressures about appearance are similar, just focusing on different body parts and features.
The most baffling part to me is….
What is so bad about men crying?
Why do men feel the need to suppress their emotions? Why can’t jocks cry in their locker room after losing a game without being told to man up or quit acting like a girl? What is it about men expressing even the tiniest bit of real emotions that are so threatening to other men?
From my experience, bullying can stem from insecurities. If one man teases another man for crying, it’s probably because he’s jealous of how brave the other man is, for being strong enough to healthily channel his emotions. It’s about time we stop allowing our friends to think that crying makes us weak.
Within my own circle of friends, including a handful of male friends, I have actively been making sure that our friendship is a safe space for all emotions. I would consider myself successful in contributing to a shift towards “healthy” masculinity if one of my male friends is able to open up to me, be vulnerable and shed a few tears or even sob buckets in front of me. What I hope for is that my male friends can do the same for their own male friends. Let men be a safe space for other men. In return, they become an even safer space for women.
Why is it important to talk about masculinity?
I am lucky to have been taught to break barriers, be a strong, educated, and financially independent woman. After a LOT of hardships, we have broken out of the outdated definitions of “being a woman”.
Why haven’t men been able to do the same? Stay-at-home husbands are frowned upon. A man earning less money than his female partner is deemed incapable of supporting a family. Men being temporarily unemployed feel stripped of their identity and resort to drugs, alcohol, violence as a method of coping. We need to stop defining a man's identity by his ability to provide for other people.
Talking about masculinity is not only important to enforce good practices, but also to un-learn bad ones. I know men who haven’t correctly understood the definition and boundaries surrounding platonic relationships with the opposite gender. When boys use girls as a measure of higher social status, there are consequences. They might overstep boundaries, behave inappropriately, disregard the girls’ feelings, all in the name of increasing their social status because “the guy with the most girls is the coolest, the manliest”.
“No one is free from gender norms, and the messages that men receive about their gender is setting them up to fail, particularly in their intimate relationships.” — Liz Plank, For The Love of Men: From Toxic to a More Mindful Masculinity
Why is masculinity important to me?
Boys will be boys won’t fly with me anymore! I’m done making excuses for toxic masculinity and this has drastically reduced the number of males I speak to on a regular basis. I’m here and all-in to support my male friends shift towards a healthier relationship with themselves. These past few months, I’ve made a conscious effort to do my part in enforcing mindful masculinity. Yes, I’m not a man myself, but I want to make sure the men around me can confidently say that they feel man enough. I want to have and enforce real conversations about masculinity and how its meaning has shifted over the years.
Here are some of my favorite resources that helped teach me about masculinity
- For The Love of Men: From Toxic to a More Mindful Masculinity by Liz Plank
- Man Enough by Justin Baldoni
- The Man Enough Podcast hosted by Justin Baldoni, Liz Plank, Jamey Heath
- The Good Men Project, a non-profit founded by Tom Matlack, James Houghton