To Be a Man

Thomas Luu

Source: Psychology Today

Two hundred years, a drop in the bucket in terms of how long this big, blue world has existed, yet a drop so dense, that its splash still sending tidal waves of traditions, and thoughts and processes that are centuries old. These two hundred years of revolutionary challenges have fertilized the landscape of the twenty-first century.In many areas citizens live in a profoundly democratic age, where people have more control of their destinies than they have ever before. However, the greatest strides have been made by mobilizing impressive coalitions of people brilliant in theory and in practice. From the American revolutionaries to a fresh generation of avid protesters, the melting pot of American culture has become more amenable to the needs and values of its minorities.

However, prior to this drop in the bucket, the rest of the water was contaminated with poisonous ideals that still remain. The color of a person’s skin decided if one was human or property. Women were married to men by families for the sake of honor, prestige or wealth, not love. As overused as this phrase has become, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to disassociate the actions of men in power with the everyday men of today. It could be Thomas Jefferson raping Sally Hemings, the current controversy with Brett Kavanaugh, or Harvey Weinstein’s actions that makes poor treatment of women seem possible without repercussions for the men. As a result, the feminist movement has triggered a nationwide campaign to strike against the long standing power of a patriarchal society. However, some of the more extreme factions of the movement have demonized the male gender as a whole for being the cause of gender tensions. If the more extreme members are allowed to force their beliefs on the rest of the campaign, the credibility of the feminist movement may come into serious doubt, resulting in the  collapse of the fight for gender equity. As such, it is imperative that the silent majority of men, who are under an oppressive system of their own, to begin rising from mental chains and stand proudly alongside the other members of society.

To achieve this mutual understanding, we must recognize the origins of modern male behavior which will allow for a glimpse on what males are expected to be. In particular, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ernest Hemingway were larger-than-life characters who overturned long standing traditional conventions. These men had a bloodstream consisting of possibly pure masculinity. From Roosevelt’s killing a cougar with his knife to Hemingway’s inability to be fazed by alcohol to Lincoln’s audacious administration of the Civil War, these stories inspired men to take on their own self-created challenges. Rugged individualism, as coined by Herbert Hoover, is a belief that states that any person, regardless of their situation, can reach greatness and sustainability if they can work hard enough. The idea of being like these champions was preached by many fathers, but none of the aforementioned figures revealed that part of their success was owed to effective channeling of emotions.

For example, the emotional toll on Lincoln overseeing the deaths of so many Americans during the Civil War, inspired the fervor for his legendary Gettysburg Address and second inaugural address. The gall to harness and utilize all of that emotional gravitas that lead to his words being immortalized in American history for helping the nation realize the moral crises of slavery and the potential abuses of states’ rights. A similar case is the Emancipation Proclamation. While formulating it, he commuted often to a cottage nearby the Soldiers Home to live among the wounded and slaves. The emotional weight of these interactions keep him both returning regularly, but also caused him to become an increasingly stalwart fighter for the emancipation of slaves. The legacy of Hemingway came not from his façade of bravado, but his pioneering of the modern American writing style. He wrote literature that meshed journalism and storytelling in place of the traditional flavor text. It should be noted that another author of his caliber, J.D. Salinger, had a close relationship with Hemingway and became close friends. Author Jackson stated that Hemingway’s seemingly macho identity was just a façade and that he was actually just as timid as the notoriously reserved Salinger. In addition, Roosevelt’s sympathy for the common man cemented his legacy as a crusader for the people. He defied his pro-business wing of the Republican Party in order to respond to the disturbing experiences that workers faced during the Industrial Revolution. Each of these men have the argument made that their comprehension of their thoughts and feelings, not machismo became the driving forces of their legacies.

Yet, that tremendous ability to understand that a man is not built only with bravado and toxic masculinity was kept hidden from the public. True, these figures are hailed for seemingly unilateral and created monumental changes they could bring into the world, but hearing the success stories only includes the masculinity aspect. To the public, it is a case of “out of sight, out of mind,” where the part about dealing with personal, emotional crises is not seen as relevant. Compounding this fact is the go-get-em entrepreneurial drive that is a centerpiece of Generation Z that reinforces the behavior of these champions. A man is expected to uphold half of what their heroes were made out of and to do it alone. Such thought processes breeds unhealthy perspectives that emotions are irrelevant.

This does beg the question: what are the consequences of those ideas on the mental health of men? What makes it so pressing? For starters, a psychological study on men’s mental healthreported that seventy-five percent of suicides are by men. Notably, men are also much less likely to seek out therapy to deal with stressful transitions or events compared to women. Men are wired to “… prefer action over words…” as it is simply put. This crisis is silent because the stereotypes lugged onto today’s men do not appear to be detrimental to them or their health on the surface. Ideas of being aggressive, having the most girlfriends possible, being strong enough to suppress any “weak” emotions, etc. are not seen as bad they are oftentimes seen as embodying success. A man who can dominate physically weaker men, is so attractive that he keeps an impressive tally count of women in love with him, or someone able to never feel sad. All “manly” traits. This mindset also rejects the bountiful benefits of therapy and intimate relationships, which can lead to the boiling of inner turmoils and shortcomings. Once things begin to overflow in a man’s life, the coping mechanisms can be self-destructive. It can feed into alcohol and drug addictions, maybe the aforementioned suicide route, or even physical violence to close ones.

So what can be done to help this nationwide, societal issue? First, we can generate discussion on the topic and raise awareness. Those great organizations mentioned previously have made it their cause to champion and lift up those who are struggling. Feminism does not stand just for women,, but for the betterment of those in similar states of oppression. The progress gained with these two hundred years has gifted us the sight of unshackled black men and women, women eagerly voting in elections, and so on. Any crusader worth their salt will help bring awareness for their brothers subjugated to a quiet societal imprisonment and judgment. They understand what it feels like to be neglected and looked down upon, it is what keeps them fighting for a better society.

Additionally, we must adjust our own perceptions and socialize a brand new type of man, one still brave and bold as before, but also free to fully express their colorful spectrum of emotions. Men, alongside any American citizen, should not be limited to a specific spectrum of expressible emotions. Rather, it should be okay to see a man cry or a woman acting like a “tomboy.” On that note, the educational curriculum of the twenty-first century prides teaching children on how to build a more inclusive world and to further that educational agenda, it should be taught early on what gender equity is. Schools should not have to segregate the hobbies of their students by what gender they are, but teach from the get-go that the students to their left and right have just as much right to enjoy an opinion without being judged differently.

In the end, Generation Z has made, and is still making, historical strides in creating gender equity. I cannot stress enough the importance on generating discussion on this issue. Whether it be challenging a child to question why they perceive gender a certain way to just discussing why is it so detrimental if a man discusses his feelings openly, any and every word helps the march of progress that is the twenty-first century.

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