I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a man lately and, I’ll be honest, I’m struggling to understand it. A Google search tells me that masculinity is defined as “qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of men or boys” and a further search gives some examples of these qualities: handsome, muscled, driven. But, for me, this doesn’t really compute. My partner and I are expecting a baby to join our family in a few months. A girl. Do I not want her to be handsome, muscled, or driven?
It doesn’t compute and I feel like i’m not the only one who’s struggling with this definition. I’m reminded of a passage in Terrence Real’s brilliant book on male depression, I Don’t Want to Talk About It, where he describes how many men describe masculinity by focusing on what it isn’t. Being a man isn’t about being strong as much as it’s about not being weak. It’s not about being independent but about not being dependent on others. Real summarizes it brilliantly: “Being a man generally means not being a woman.”
The challenge then becomes that there’s no role or identity to aspire to. If being a man is about not being a woman, and we believe that caring, kindness, connectedness to be feminine qualities, then we have a problem. To create a more inclusive and equitable society, we must redefine what it means to be a man and encourage the development of non-stereotypical qualities like empathy, kindness, and communication. I can’t make up my mind if we need to redefinition is sufficient or if have to go so far as to disband the entire concept all together. Regardless, there are things we all can and need to do:
- Educate boys and men and, well, everyone: Teach boys and men about consent, healthy communication, and respect for others. We need to teach both young boys and girls about how patriarchy is a system that only benefits a select group of men and how both genders are held back by it.
- Encourage open communication and vulnerability: Promote and normalize the idea that men can and should express their emotions and seek help when needed.
- Highlight positive role models: Showcase men and individuals who embody alternative forms of masculinity, such as those who prioritize collaboration, empathy, and communication.
- Support feminist movements: Fighting for gender equality is necessary for women as much as it is for men.
- Continue questioning and challenging these gender norms: In one way it doesn’t matter whether gender is disbanded or simply redefined, we all need to continue breaking down the idea that certain qualities and behaviors are inherently masculine or feminine