What does it mean to be a man? This question has been in the foreground for every man since the beginning of time. Is it the Alpha male depicted in “Hollywood” where a man is never wrong, always smooth, aggressive, proud, muscular, a rock of a figure as shown by any action figure leading role? Or is the caring, nurturing, intelligent, socially awkward, thoughtful man who can be polite? Can you be both?
When asked this question, I have struggled as to what exactly the answer is. There are many parts to being a man….provider, leader, non-emotional, always cool under pressure, brave, and the list goes on. Think to yourself what your ideas of a man are. Is it a simple, clean-cut answer?
In the past, men were defined by how he looked, their clothing, facial hair, bulging muscles, someone that swore often and was always the fixer. Look back at the movie industry’s icons, and all were big, strong, able to get out of an explosive situation with wit, charm, and a paperclip. The hero is always what we were made to look up to emulate in everyday life. The stereotype of a typical male was someone who was still in control, showed no emotions, and had an answer for everything. But was this always the case. Most of the typical “men” as we idolized had their share of problems off camera. Most of the indoctrination from advertising, comics, and magazines was that you would not measure up to be a real man unless you displayed all of these qualities.
At present, we are lost as to what men should be; most of the depictions we followed growing up are gone, replaced by a new era of heroes, albeit with the same characteristics. If you look around, roles are changing; times are changing. It is usual for some men to take a supportive part in their families. Does this mean they are lesser men for it? I would argue that it is not the case. They deal with stress from being in a supportive role and the ideology and stereotypes that they are not fulfilling their roles in life.
The Guardian did a series about this very subject, and some of the results were alarming. 71% of Americans still said it was imperative to support their families financially, and at the same time, 41% of the men said they felt “a lot” of pressure to be emotionally strong. The authors tell us that even though the old stereotypes are alive, men feel just as much pressure to live up to the stereotypical men. Suicide rates are still 3.5 times higher than women, and teenagers still feel they have to express their feelings with anger and violence.
Why is this still happening? We hear about veterans in the military and the rising suicide rates that seem to continue year after year. Why do men have such a hard time asking for help, expressing their emotions, showing a gentle touch, and insisting on living up to an old stereotype when it causes more harm than good.
The Way Forward
I propose that each of us let down our guard, those defenses we build to prove how much a man we are, to ask another man a simple question. “Are you ok?” I caution you, though, when you ask this question, be honest and sincere in your asking. If you do this haphazardly, it will do more damage than good. Find someone in your life you feel comfortable talking to. We need to find ways to reduce stress and fatigue, not increase it. Here at Theory of Men, we aim to provide that place. We strive to build a place where you can let your guard down and heal. To take a knee, if you will, from the stressors of life and recharge.
By growing a community where we uplift and help each other, you are not going at life alone but with a group behind you. We can beat the stereotypes that were in the past and change the perception of the future. If we each only have the desire to change, that is the first step to becoming a man.