What are we going to do about all of the "non-manly" guys running around the United States? Apparently, the great assumption is that by engaging in activities ranging from military exercises to boy scouting, we could eliminate the "problem" altogether.
I am 100-percent in support of greater parental involvement in children's lives these days, especially when positive role models, life skills, coping mechanisms, and constructive reinforcement are lacking at alarming levels. Joel Stein's appearance this week on Fox & Friends regarding his book, Man-Made, doesn't just talk about how culture views men and how they "should" act; it really points out how misunderstood men and boys are when they don't conform to societal views of the traditional guy.
The book attempts to show how a scared, soon-to-be father tries to become manlier by hunting, rebuilding a house, trying boot camp, and going into the UFC ring. In the end, as expected, the façade that all men need to act a certain way to be accepted is busted. I feel terrible that the author actually labeled himself "effete." This is the word thrown at children, boys, men, and fathers who may not act or parent in a particular way. But there are so many holes in this "man-made" theory that you could drive a truck through it.
Is the thought of becoming more masculine by virtue of performing tasks or going through certain trials just an emotional high? I ask because at times, after treatments for addiction or illness or at the beginning of a relationship, people go through a "honeymoon" period where life appears perfect and they feel as if they were never in trouble. Does this actually have a lasting impact? My background in cognitive science tells me this begs further research.
As a member of the LGBT community, I'm sure I am able to speak for many men, and women, who are stereotyped into categories of how we should or shouldn't behave. I think back to the author of this book and wonder at what point someone becomes "enough." When I say that, I am referring to the point at which it's viewed as sufficient for you or someone else. Just like recovery, it is a different timeline for everyone.
As a gay man, I am probably thought by those who do not know me to enjoy certain activities, prefer certain music, have a particular political affiliation, etc. That's fine. Allow them to believe as they wish. But just for argument's sake, what exactly could have made me masculine or more feminine? From the book's perspective, I ought to be more masculine than most guys I know. I played baseball, basketball, track, hockey, and football; ran college track; branded and herded cattle; spent a lot of time traveling across the country and world, apart from my family (you'll understand why I list this if you read the book); fell on glass during a camping trip with no supplies to treat the injury; tore ligaments in my knee; knocked teeth out; broke my chin on concrete; and managed to slice my hand down to the bone with my own track cleat. I was taught to never give up or back down, and a perfect example is when I lay injured on the football field and heard my family scream, "You're fine! Get back up!"
So at what point did I become "man enough" for myself, my friends, or the world? What defines or shows the line of when "enough is enough"? If I break bones, do trainings, or am abandoned or taught senseless lessons, does that draw the line? Or is it at another point in my life when I am emotionally scarred because I didn't allow myself to talk about things I may have wanted to? The truth is, I don't believe in that line or label, and I actually feel that emotionally, I have become more of a "man" out of the sheer privilege of identifying with others than the physical toll life has taken.
For one individual, this type of experience may "work" in a particular circumstance, just as some medications may work for some and not others. But to say that men in general aren't "man enough" is a vast, sweeping generalization. This is where society is far behind the times. A complete individual understands their emotions and is confident enough to express them as they feel they need.
The LGBT community, men, women, and society in general need to stop being defined by what we are said to be lacking or by what we don't "fit" into. Instead, we should take a look at our own emotions, the distinguishing ways in which we experience them, and their role in who we are. Wouldn't it be an overwhelming sense of gratification if we understood that concept, and why we are the way we are? Wouldn't it be great if we could finally explain ourselves without preoccupation or hesitancy as a result of fear?
The LGBT community and I'm sure other groups often feel that they need to be completely self-reliant. They are sometimes forced to focus on providing solely for themselves and feel they have to hide their emotions. This behavior is reinforced every day in the various stereotypes characterized by our culture.
Listen, honest power does not lie in what we regard as being strong, today. It lies in the capacity of a human being to express their inner feelings and recognize the intuitive perceptions of others.
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