How often have you heard the term, be it from a male or a female, “man enough”? What does that even mean? When somebody tells another person, “Come on, be a man,” they are instantaneously assigning their beliefs about what it means to be a man onto another person. They may be stereotyping, judging, and being gender biased.
Many gender stereotypes exist today, learned from pop culture, and they tell us what it means to be a man or a woman — how we should act, what we should wear, what’s attractive, and what are acceptable interests and hobbies.
Granted, a lot of awareness about gender stereotypes has been created over the past couple of years, and there are many more people on the planet today who appreciate somebody who has the courage to be themselves, completely, no matter what society or other people think.
The truth is, whether you are a man or woman, boy or girl, there is no specific “way to be,” but as with everything else, mass marketing and profit paves the way. Our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and even conscious thinking are manipulated on a daily basis, and it starts when we’re children.
How we are supposed to think about ourselves or act as a man or a woman is largely given to us, instead of us figuring that part out for ourselves.
What does it mean to be a male? What does it mean to be a female? Where does the term “be a man” come from? Why are qualities such as aggressiveness pushed onto men over humbleness, gentleness, kindness, and politeness?
It’s not just gender stereotypes, it seems to occur with multiple topics and words. Take “warrior,” for example. We’ve been conditioned to see this as someone who is skilled in the marshal arts, someone who can fight.
But then we have this perspective, from Sitting Bill: “Warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenceless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.”
Justin Baldoni an actor, director and entrepreneur whose efforts are focused on creating impactful media, describes it so well in his TED talk below.
He starts off talking about men, and redefining masculinity, proposing a challenge to men, urging them to see if they “can use the same qualities that you feel make you a man and go deeper.” He says, “Your strength, your bravery, your toughness: Are you brave enough to be vulnerable? Are you strong enough to be sensitive? Are you confident enough to listen to the women in your life?”
These are great points, because sensitivity, and allowing oneself to be vulnerable, are not seen as “manly” qualities, but they are qualities of what used to be defined as a real warrior.
Putting your guard down, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, in a position to be wrong and learn more, are qualities rarely seen because we’ve been taught to fit into this other box of definitions. Yet it’s a very brave thing to do. One reason why somebody might put up a hard shell, not allowing themselves to be seen in a vulnerable light, is because they are afraid to do so.
It’s an interesting way to think about it.
“I’ve been pretending to be a man that I’m not my entire life. I’ve been pretending to be strong when I felt weak, confident when I felt insecure and tough when really I was hurting. I think for the most part I’ve just been kind of putting on a show, but I’m tired of performing. And I can tell you right now that it is exhausting trying to be man enough for everyone all the time.
Now, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been told the kind of man that I should grow up to be. As a boy, all I wanted was to be accepted and liked by the other boys, but that acceptance meant I had to acquire this almost disgusted view of the feminine, and since we were told that feminine is the opposite of masculine, I either had to reject embodying any of these qualities or face rejection myself. This is the script that we’ve been given. Right? Girls are weak, and boys are strong. This is what’s being subconsciously communicated to hundreds of millions of young boys and girls all over the world, just like it was with me.”
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