HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.
Hello. I am a man who has been exploring the boundaries of what is considered to be manly ever since I started to become one and didn't really know what it meant. I recently began to use a nail file instead of nail clippers to keep my nails short and nicely shaped. I was considering the other day why it had taken me so long to use it and realised it was because it's not considered 'a manly thing to do'. Then came all the other questions...
Does it not show how weak and brittle this image of a man is if it can be destroyed by such a small object? It's like knocking down the Berlin wall with a pin. That is how weak our manliness actually is. How did we come to buy into this idea of a man and accept it without question and raise our sons by its rules, generation after generation? It's endemic.
The nail file is associated with women. For men to avoid at whatever cost to not be associated with femininity is the first rule of being a man. Break this rule and ye shall be damned amongst thy peers forever more. At age five, many boys are told to stop crying and be tough where girls are allowed to continue expressing their feelings. To have feelings becomes grounds for being mocked by the time boys are teenagers. This does not paint a very hopeful picture and is truly sad for a human being, for whom, regardless of sex, all of life is first and foremost an experience of feeling before we ever think, although many may have trained themselves to ignore it, including women.
I only have to look at my nipples to remember how close I came to being female. I only have to look at a flower and appreciate its beauty to know that femininity is not exclusive to women. Perhaps femininity is not a gendered characteristic as we have so deeply entrenched in our psyche. Perhaps 'feeling' is not exclusive to women.
If this idea of men being tough and strong is actually very brittle, it would need constant reinforcement through projection of our self-image, competition and bravado. How exhausting! We would need to carve out a life where we avoid rejection at all costs, because rejection would mean having to feel something, which might be too difficult to handle; after all have we not been told that only 'girls' have feelings? Doesn't this thick layer of protection stop us from being our true inner selves in the outer world? We are rejecting ourselves by not being true to our feelings.
Being tough costs men lives. The suicide rate for men has always been much greater than women. It is the greatest cause of death amongst men under 35 years old. This says a lot. It says that men being tough is not working. It might have worked long ago when life was a lot harder, as it was for the previous generations that endured world wars, but we can let go of those traditions. I was nearly one of those statistics, but I saved myself. With support I let myself feel what hurt and deal with those feelings.
If we see true strength as allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and express our worries and anxieties as well as our most delicious and intimate feelings, we could diminish this horribly unnecessary statistic altogether.
Women don't suffer that same level of depression and suicide because they are better equipped to deal with their feelings, only because they weren't trained out of knowing and sharing them. They talk about them with each other a lot, which is how they survive. What do men talk about? We all know those conversations when we look like we're in control, but inside we're screaming out because there's something happening that we don't know how to handle. It's like men don't know what a man is, so we have to live by all these silly rules. One of them is calling women weak for having feelings, when we are not being strong enough to even allow ourselves to feel our own!
We've got to change the beliefs in our heads because they are hurting all of us - men, women and children. Women are not weak. Having feelings is not weak. Being tough is not strong. Using a nail file is perfectly manly, if that is the expression of the man that you are. We don't have to live by rules that set out who we should be. We don't even have to be 'manly'. By giving ourselves permission to be tender instead of tough, we can free ourselves bit by bit of the shackles we have bought and be the man we want to be.