In my life, nothing has hurt me worse than being put down for being who I am. At times my thoughts and emotions were more in sync with those of the girls on the playground. I learned to be ashamed of that. I’ve been bullied throughout my entire life, either for being too smart, too feminine or the latest reincarnation of that same line of attack: “too gay.” You hear that every day for your entire childhood, from your classmates, from people you considered your “friends” and it starts to eat at you. It hurts your soul. At least it hurt mine, but some of the implications went far beyond how I felt about myself. The taunts definitely shaped how I thought about others.
Maybe you were more athletic than I was growing up, but when I would toss a football around with the guys from school, I was told- “Man you throw like a girl.” I remember at the time being embarrassed, one of my earliest memories of being conditioned to believe that women were inherently weaker than men. They were presumed to be as weak, if not weaker than me…and I was WEAK. 🙂
Rather than being taught how to cope and how to put my emotions into words, I was mocked for my weaknesses. As a result, I learned to mask them. I showed no fear, no hurt, and no pain. I showed no weakness for fear of being teased, or mocked, or tormented. It went against my very nature. I don’t mind admitting that I get scared, that I get hurt, that I get scarred.
I’m an emotive person. When I’m hurt I wear it on my sleeve. I bawl my eyes out. Countless times in my life I’ve been told to “man up”. It’s happened when I would get hit and not hit back. It’s happened when I exhibited any emotions that push beyond the boundaries, beyond the comfort level of my male friends. Emotions aren’t masculine. Right? At least they weren’t considered to be when I was growing up. I was taught that crying wasn’t how a boy or a young man behaved. I started to guard myself and keep how I felt locked deep inside. I was conditioned to toughen up and deal with it. I watched my female friends being encouraged to let it all out when I was being told to keep it all in. I couldn’t understand why it was okay for them and not for me.
One of the things I deal with in my life on a day-to-day basis is living with a mental health disorder. It manifests in many different ways, but starting when I was about seven and until this very day, I’ve been coping with acute anxiety attacks. I recall very vividly, lying in my bed when I would break out into a cold sweat and just lose control. I recall very vividly, panicking and going downstairs to talk to my dad who would be on the couch watching TV. The end result was always the same. I was either ignored or dismissed and I came to believe that when faced with challenges we must overcome them alone.
We hear all the time how men never want to ask for help. I think it stems from experiences like that in our childhood where we were left to our own devices. There is nothing wrong with overcoming adversity alone, but it’s not always possible. Sometimes you need that support. Sometimes you need that person to hug you and tell you everything is okay. Sometimes you just need SOMEONE. I think it’s tragic that there are men who don’t have that in their lives and feel uncomfortable looking for it.
An old friend of mine who is overseas serving in the Peace Corps sent me an email in response to our first post and made a really insightful point:
“As a former sociology major, I’ve studied gender and society in depth. One of my professors would say to us, ‘Men and women are far more similar than different, but we only tend to focus on the differences.’ After all, as the saying goes men are from Mars and women are from Venus. As humans, we like to create boxes and labels for things. It helps us make sense of our world, so as a society we say, “women are like this… and men are like this…” Being emotional, strong, a good cook, powerful, quick decision maker, sensitive, etc. are all human qualities. To label a quality as masculine or feminine is to deny a piece of humanity. To tell a man that he can’t or shouldn’t be emotional is asking him to deny something that makes him human.”
By empowering men to redefine masculinity to fit their own personality, we merely seek to prove that there is no one right definition. We aren’t trying to say that some traits are only for men and some are only for women. We believe that all traits should be acceptable for all people. We simply want to start a discussion. We hope to lease the term and do some renovations on its meaning.
Thanks for reading,