For most of my life I never realised that the way I understood masculinity could have been having a negative effect on me. At the time I didn’t have a good idea of what masculinity is. If you had asked me to describe what I thought it was I would say it exists on a scale of “someone who can’t screw in a lightbulb to a muscular bearded man who lives in a log cabin hand built by himself.” For me a man was; independent, tough, highly sexual, straight, proud, had the final say and was the breadwinner who was too busy to do cleaning or cooking around the house. These ideas came to be a sort of script for life that I, and many other men aspired to live up too.
There existed a pressure to be the type of man this script puts forward, as this is what a man is. If I didn’t act in this way, I felt there was something wrong with me, that I risked losing my friends and that no woman would ever be attracted to me. Due to this perceived danger of not fitting in and the consequences that come with it, I followed the script of who I as a man should be. With time I came to realise that by following this script I wasn’t being myself. My ideas and expectations about what a man is and did not reflect myself or my values. I came to see that this dissonance was stopping me from reaching my full potential as a person as I became more focused on being a ‘man’ than being myself.
This realisation marked a long and slow process of self discovery that I am still to this day. This process involves realising a value I hold isn’t one that I actually feel, disputing it and substituting my own value.
For a while, early on in this process, I thought that most of masculinity was bad. I saw so many masculine men who were proud, rude, self centred, “tough” but really just violent and short tempered. These men tended to put themselves, their views, ideas and value before others. I resented this way of living as I saw it as causing harm both to themselves and those that surrounded them.
With a bit more thought however I realised that there are many masculine traits that are valuable when harnessed in the right ways. I decided to actively define and shape myself into a better person based off values I chose myself. This involved incorporating some values viewed as feminine, as well as masculine values. One of the masculine values I came to highly value is independence. It is all too easy for independence to become toxic in a man. It can lead to stoicism, wherein men don’t show or share emotions, cutting themselves off from themselves and others. However when properly approached independence is a great attribute. It is a desire for my own independence that sees me clean my house, take care of my body and mind and cook good healthy food for myself. None of these chores are traditionally masculine, however they are intrinsic to the process of being independent, and for me being independent and capable of providing for yourself is a mark of a mature person, and a capable man.
I think that one of the greatest signs of independence is thinking independently, questioning the ideas and ideals that others put forward and have the strength to disagree if needed and stand firm in ourselves and our own opinions. This came to a head in me recently. For years I have owned a pink scarf that I really liked. However I was never brave enough to wear it out in public. This was because a part of my didn’t want to appear effeminate. I thought I would be judged as less of a man by those around me, that people might assume I was gay. None of these fears made sense and they represented some deep seated toxic masculine attitudes within myself. So I wore the scarf to challenge these toxic beliefs. I felt pressured to be a ‘man’ and in the end realised that a stronger expression of my masculinity was my willingness to be independent and wear a scarf I liked regardless of what other people thought, and to not let the colour of a scarf makes me feel insecure in my sexuality.
This example is a small and petty example, that at the end of the day is not a big deal. However there are many men who succumb to the pressure of what it is to be a man, sometimes it’s something as small as such as not wearing a scarf, sometimes it’s not sharing or displaying emotions and sometimes it's denying a core aspect of their personality. I got off lightly compared to the burdens that living up to the standards of masculinity puts on many other men and how this affects the people who surround them.