Lately I have been contemplating my standing in the world, specifically with regard to where I land in terms of my masculinity. That has raised the higher order topic of defining what masculinity looks like in a modern context.
It occurs to me that men are given the broad strokes as we mature, and that the picture which comes into focus is more of what might be deemed to be machismo. This is a stereotypical, almost caricature of masculinity, watered down to the even looser term of manly. The picture is devoid of context and contains zero of the nuances that make up today’s deeply complex modern man. There are obviously caveats to my branding: Not all of us are what might be considered deep. Not all of us wish to analyze ourselves in the context of the time we live in and would prefer a time in the past, where men were almost comically manly. But this removes all subtlety. All of the shades are blasted out in favor of conformation to a standard that is at best outdated, and at worst, blatantly sexist. This classic, stereotypical image of a man has never made sense to me, no matter how far I have tried to stretch that image over my character. All I’ve ever gotten was an ill-fitting skin and mirrors that lied.
So maybe the classic image isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of masculinity. Maybe there isn’t a solution at all. Nevertheless, I find it within the confines of my curiosity to try and define what I have come to see as my unique brand of masculinity. And maybe that’s the rub: it is unique to the individual and thus impossible to define so broadly.
In my experience:
Masculinity can take on less than ideal characteristics.
Whether it is the stereotypical stubbornness or emotional distance, masculinity can make the wearer appear shortsighted, childish even. As a person who has worn both of these unattractive qualities on occasion I can confirm that they did the opposite of bolstering my feelings of being masculine. This can feel more animal than human, as though acting purely on an instinctual channel. Animals have little need for emotions and can seem autonomous in their motivations, and there are times it feels the same to be masculine. I understand this may be an oversimplification and that this can just as easily take place on the feminine side of things, but my experiential database has all been while embodying the mind and body of a man.
Problematic word choices and comparisons to the animal kingdom.
It seems a common theme among modern men to bring up the concept of the Alpha male, and typically shortly after that, any number of titles lower in the Greek alphabet. At some point, someone with a marketing degree figured out that there was a dollar to be made by telling men how to become an Alpha (read dominant) male. Only shortly after did the same set of geniuses decide there was more money to be made by foiling these Alphas against their inferior, weaker counterparts, Betas. If you want to be a manly man, the surest path forward is an aggressive, domineering appearance, if not nature. In my experience (as is the case with this entire editorializing), strength more often shows up as steadfast consistency to any given cause. Of all the times I’ve been lead by anyone and took note of their overriding strength, it resembled a calm, focused attention on the goals of the group. There is very little boasting, chest thumping, or loud proclamations of superiority. There are simply demonstrable examples of how the person leads to consistent positive results. It requires zero explanation. These kinds of people are undeniably magnetic. You WANT to be lead by them. It is rare and it is powerful. It’s the type of man I aspire to be, but must take leave of my ego every time I consider I may be one. There is always more to learn, there are always ways to improve. To assume I have become anything approaching this is admitting that my search is over and that feels like a surrender more than an epiphany.
Loud versus quiet.
Treading the line between obnoxious and unassuming has been my modus operandi for much of my life. There are times when I find myself among the type who always has a better story than everyone and it becomes necessary to blend into the room and observe. Yet at other times I will find myself in a room full of wallflowers and feel personally responsible for getting to know them. The part of me that bulldozes through doubt in both rooms is a factor of my masculinity. But what drives that is an insatiable curiosity about any human experience unlike my own. Having a reserved person open up to me one on one makes me feel as though I have a superpower. On the contrary, when I am within a group of outgoing people, I challenge them openly with conversation. The goal is the same: a greater understanding of who they are. But maybe this is just being a human, free of the trappings of concepts like femininity or masculinity.
Masculinity is only a piece of the puzzle.
…but it is a corner piece. As I’ve attempted to deconstruct masculinity it has become clear to me that it is a cornerstone of what it means to be a modern man. Though the definition itself is set in stone, as are so many words, the proper usage and context is amorphous. Nothing about who we are as men fundamentally requires the adoption of classically masculine traits, but societal and internal pressures can become insurmountable. Challenges are issued almost daily; between men and within men, and who doesn’t love a good challenge? But when is the best time to press pause on these challenges, observe who we are and where we are in time, and alter course? That is all this treatise is; an attempt to press pause in my own time and build upon my current level of understanding.
One day my understanding will be closer to whole. In the interim, I’ll do my level best to be a good human first and foremost, picking up clues as I go.