Redefining Manhood in Modernity

Redefining Manhood in Modernity

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By Steve Gooch

Did you ever watch Fast & Furious? Of course, you did. What guy didn’t? A classic celebration of hypermasculinity played out behind the wheels of testosterone- fuelled supercars, tearing across the globe in a hail of bullets and fire. A confirmation that across the world, real men are tough, and real men take action. They make things happen, they solve problems and they do it with muscle. Lots of muscle. They do not feel. They do not reflect or empathize. And they definitely don’t cry.

Tough men suck it up!

This extreme fantasy of the ultra-macho hard man, as entertaining as it might be as a movie, reinforces the concept, on a conscious and a subconscious level that to be a real man means to be tough, and when life is hard, real men suck it up and carry on. Society of course, dominated as it is by men, happily buys into this craziness, thus reinforcing and perpetuating a fantasy of what it means to be a real man.

Both boys and men are encouraged to conform to this stereotype, and in so doing, as many reports show, they suffer from significant mental health problems. Joel Wong, who led a research team at Indiana University looking into masculine ideals and mental health, said: “In general, individuals who confirmed strongly to masculine norms tended to have poorer mental health and less favorable attitudes toward seeking psychological help.” Three times as many men as women kill themselves.

The cult of machismo is a sickness at the heart of global culture. Boys, instead of being hugged and loved when they need it, have their hands shaken in an effort to assert manliness rather than the nurturing and character-building emotions of love and caring. In perpetuating this sort of idiocy, the whole of society suffers. Machismo is an expression of mental weakness and lack of confidence and often cowardice. In reality, tough guys have respect, know how to cry, care for others and are motivated by kindness. And there are plenty of guys out there who possess these qualities.

But it’s often difficult for a sensitive man to understand what it is he is feeling. There are no signposts. Society doesn’t care. He’s left on his own to figure it all out. So, when asked, he will respond that he is fine and that there is nothing wrong, when this is not the case at all. This can create emotional distance from those he cares about and who care about him, leaving him isolated and alone in his suffering. It can become impossible for him to receive the love and support that he needs.

Emergence of the real man

So, what do you do if you were born a smart sensitive man? What do you do with all that empathy and that awareness? How do you handle your love of art or poetry or pink? How do you deal with your despair at the violence of the world or your tears?

The answer is not ‘suck it up’. You can start by redefining the concept of masculinity. Use that highly creative and sensitive brain of yours to construct a template for a new model. Make sure that in your ‘new man’ project, tenderness, kindness and love are signs of strength and achievement. Because they are.

Being a sensitive man means that you are more creative, empathetic and able to appreciate the sensory pleasures of life, like music and art, color and fragrance. You have a powerful ability to help others and, in a world, so dominated by the cult of ‘me, me, me’ this is an increasingly important ability to have. By expressing your feelings and allowing your true self to emerge from under the mask of fake machismo, you can draw genuine and loving people into your life, people with whom you can share mutual support. You can teach others how to cope and celebrate who they truly are.

It’s important to understand that the way you are is the way you are meant to be and that there is nothing wrong with it. Being sensitive, empathic, kind and understanding and celebrating those qualities is okay. And you don’t need to tough-it-out in life alone. There are plenty of others out there just like you. Get involved in music or art groups, take up yoga or tango. Go to book reading groups, have a go at meditation, or just find a friend and lie on your backs and gaze at the stars. All of these are positive life-affirming activities that you can get involved in.

There’s nothing attractive about machismo. It’s not something the world needs more of. And it’s not something that men should be striving for.