Is My Manhood in Question?
In the 21st century, there is an identity crisis for men the world over. This article will focus solely on American men. We live in an age where ideas about masculinity, manliness, gender roles, and what it means to be a man are both in question and flux. With the rise of the Alt-Right and the sexist “so-called” incel rebellion, men are floating towards dangerous manhood. Some Black men are continuing to jump on the never-ending “hotep” bandwagon. It’s black supremacy, not liberation, masked in faux Afro-centrism, black power, and the belief that the only civilization that existed in Africa before slavery was Egypt.
Men living in the #MeToo era where sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape culture is openly discussed, and powerful men are finally being held accountable for their heinous actions. This, along with social isolation, false bravado, intense competition, violence, repressed childhood trauma, and lack of rites of passage, has left many men wandering in the philosophical desert in search of what it means to be a “real” man. This article will examine modern manhood, redefining manliness, what we can learn from queer and trans men about masculinity, and what women and feminism can teach us about our manhood. Finally, the article will look at ways to ensure young men have a positive means to define their masculinity through new rites of passage, mentorship, and service to others.
“But toxic masculinity doesn’t only harm women; it’s also seriously detrimental to men themselves. Upholding traditional masculinity causes men to have have weaker friendships, be lonelier and die by suicide 3.53 times more often than women. Men are less likely than women to attend college and more likely to die in the workplace. Men are not free to dress how they like, kiss whoever they want and enter caring professions with their heads held high.”
I’m not going to say I’m the perfect idea of what it means to be a man. I’m not. I’ve drunk too much, drag raced on city streets, smashed stuff, punched holes in walls, been in bar brawls, and came on way too strong to women in my lifetime. I’ll probably still fuck up like many men because no matter what gender we are or what chromosomes we have, we’re all human beings. Mistakes happen when you’re human, and we should always learn from them.
So what does it mean to be a man in the 21st Century? Well, it can be anything we want it to be as long as your manly ways do not harm others. We live in the era of Trump, mass shootings, and Toxic Masculinity. These days men as a whole aren’t looking too good. There are things we can learn from trans and queer men about the balance of masculine and feminity:
“The struggle here is that embracing tears and learning to nurture others are traditionally feminine traits. Cisgender men need to learn to accept the queerness, the veritable strangeness, of being a man with a full heart. Emotional men are often coded as gay, queer, or bisexual — which are labels that cis men often walk away from.But there is strength in vulnerability, whether you’re straight, gay, asexual or bi. If you’re flexible and you know who you are and you’re comfortable with yourself, you’re less likely to snap when confronted — more likely to bend than to break.”
Being open and vulnerable shouldn’t be considered a sign of weakness. It’s something that I’m still even learning myself. We straight men should be comfortable in our sexuality and selves to not be threatened by trans, bi, or gay men. Living in Atlanta, GA, I’ve been hit on by my fair share gay/bi men. I don’t go into defense mode and try to violently attack these gentlemen for flirting with me. I’m flattered that people find me attractive, but I let them know I’m married and straight, then keep on pushing. Through the years, it’s been only one dude who came on the way to strong. I understood firsthand what many of my women friends complain about when it comes to overly aggressive men coming on way too strong and being too damn thirsty. Fellas, straight or not, thirsty isn’t a good look. Plus, if they are not at all interested and blatantly tell you, “I’m good or not interested,” move on. Plus, catcalling never worked in the history of courtship, ever!
Men can learn a lot from the other half of our species, women. Feminism and womanism (since traditional feminism wasn’t always welcoming to women of color, mainly black and indigenous women) can be beneficial to men too.
“Men are as capable as anyone else of being empathetic, caring, non-violent individuals, and contrary to what critics of feminism say, we are not anywhere near as constrained by biology as we’ve been led to believe. According to Lise Eliot, an associate professor based at the Chicago Medical School, “All the mounting evidence indicates these ideas about hard-wired differences between male and female brains are wrong.”Rather, evidence is pointing to the idea that gender differences are socialized: we’ve all been indoctrinated since birth to believe that women are weak, overly emotional, less intelligent than men and inherently better suited to domestic tasks — and, on the flip side, that men should never cry, show physical affection to other men, stay at home with their children or wear dresses. The idea that someone might identify as neither a man or a woman has been ignored or dismissed as a dangerous aberration. None of this is inevitable, and we can change it.”
In my own life, I went from U.S. Navy Sailor to a male social worker in Chicago. I don’t consider myself a feminist, per se, but a ‘recovering misogynist.’ Being raised as a cis-gendered man, sexism was ingrained in my psyche since childhood. I make it my mission daily to continue to unlearn sexism. I still have a long way to go. Many men only value relationships with women that are sexual (conquests), romantic (wife), or family (mother, daughter, aunt, sister, niece, and grandma). In pop culture, men who have platonic friendships are told they’re in the dreaded “friend zone.” But I’ve learned a lot from my female friends over the years, and I hope from those relationships I’ve become a more open, understanding, and evolved man.
“But what also happens when you’re friends with women is you come to understand women. You come to appreciate their humanity, in a way that men who aren’t friends with women tend not to. You see them as real people, as whole humans, with complex inner lives, with motivations, with hypocrisies, with inner goodness. You see that they’re worth forgiving when they hurt others, that they’re worth defending when others hurt them. It’s a strange thing, because our culture tells you not to do this. The phrase “best friend” for so many first and foremost implies someone of the same gender, and just plain “friend” does too…If you’re lucky enough in this world to meet a genuinely good person who simply wants to be your friend, take that opportunity. Even if she’s a woman — especially if she’s a woman.”
Ancient societies’ young men had clear rites of passage. Some cultures around the world still, for better or worse, carry out these rites of passage. In American society, the rites of passage aren’t clear or well-defined. Since that’s the case, it’s up to us as a society to create new rites of passage for young men. I joined the United States Navy at the tender age of seventeen. For better or worse, the Armed Forces was my rite of passage. What good I learned from my years as a sailor was comradery, hard-work, and a thirst for travel. There are a lot of problematic issues when it comes to toxic masculinity in the Armed Forces. But on the other hand, I’m a better man for having served and learned that the world is far more massive and ironically, smaller than the Southside of Chicago.
I do think it’s silly to ask any eighteen-year-old man “what do you want to be when you grow-up?” Hell, I’m almost thirty-five and still don’t know myself. But before young man ventures off to trade school, college, or the workforce after high school, it might be beneficial to society if all young American men and (women) did a year or two of service. It doesn’t have to be the armed forces like I did. There are programs like AmeriCorps, City Year, and the PeaceCorps. I think that a young person leaving their respective hometowns and committing themselves to something bigger than themselves might make for a more well-rounded citizenry. It could break down barriers and introduce young men to lifelong friends and instill a commitment of service to others.
Young men should look for mentors and mentor themselves. My mentors have taught me a lot, and they continue to educate me and challenge me in various ways for the better. There are mentorship programs all over the country, like President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. In the end, manhood and manliness can be a plethora of things. Masculinity can manifest in a diverse amount of ways. The beautiful thing is that we can make manhood mean anything we want because there are a variety of men in the world. There are all types of men: black, white, old, young, tall, short, some men have muscles, some are intellectuals, some are Christians, Muslims, atheists, some men are gay, trans, or straight. We can be soldiers, teachers, runway models, social workers, plumbers, or nurses. It is essential to acknowledge that many men are misbehaving, and the ‘boys will be boys” or “man up” ideology limits the real potential of many men. There are countless men doing good in the world; they’re fathers, husbands, friends, brothers, lovers, teachers, and leaders, making the world a better place for both men and women, and everyone in between. For the sake of humankind, manhood needs to be redefined.