As boys, men, girls, women, Fathers, Mothers, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives, what is our definition of what it means to be a boy and a man?
Where did our definition come from: peers, parents, teachers, coaches, religion, movies, television, music, magazines, and billboards?
Have we taken the time to question the validity of that definition? Is it evolutionary, helpful, expansive, based on personal experience or solely an unexamined regurgitation of what we were taught? Are we absolutely sure that we want to believe in what we say we believe in?
Throughout my childhood and adolescence, some of the messaging I received about what it meant to be a boy and a man, mostly from peers, mentors and entertainment outlets was to be strong always, unemotional except for anger, confident, masculine, a heavy drinker, work obsessed, externally successful, powerful, sexually proficient, prolific and dominant. The negative effects of absorbing and adopting these beliefs were wide spread for me and the people who came into contact with me.
In order to be strong and unemotional, I sacrificed the processing, understanding and expression of my fear, sadness, guilt, shame, enthusiasm and love. This caused me to miss out on the growth, transformation and joy of truly intimate relationships with females and males for numerous years. In order to be work obsessed, externally successful and powerful, I sacrificed play which caused me to be painfully serious about myself, my art/work and life, therefore omitting the sacred delight of light hearted spontaneity. In order to be sexually proficient, prolific and dominant, I became quite sexually promiscuous in my teenage years, recklessly racking up female conquests as if they were points in a video game. This of course did not foster a deep respect for the divine feminine energy, power and wisdom I now know, respect and benefit greatly from today.
My not being able to talk about, therefore begin to heal from the sexual abuse I experienced as a child until 22 years later, also had something to do with my absorbed beliefs about “being a man." “A man must always be strong,” therefore the often implied belief is that a boy or man cannot or should not be victimized, especially sexually; if so, he can be labeled as weak. What additionally played a role in my years of silence was the disgusting homophobia frequently associated with “being a man." Not yet able to understand that I was victimized, I carried deep shame and therefore great fear of being exposed as to having participated in what I mistakenly believed were homosexual acts. These were, of course, not homosexual acts but acts of child sexual abuse.
Furthermore, we must question the deep insecurity of why so called “manly” men are often threatened by and emotionally or physically violent in reaction to another males sexual preference.
How many times have we experienced or witnessed young boys getting physically or emotionally hurt and being immediately reprimanded by their parents or guides to “be a big boy” or “be a man” and “stop crying.” I believe the repetitive impact of this can be catastrophic: this being the beginning of what can become an onslaught of messaging that teaches the boy to bury his feelings in order to “be a man.” Ultimately this can lead to a man that is filled up with a lifetime of unexpressed hurt and fear that is merely waiting to explode at the slightest perceived threat. This may have something to do with the fact that at least 80% of all violent crime is committed by males. As the Father of a young boy, I am trying my best to help our son avoid these damaging male archetypes.
I also experienced some positive male role models and messaging as I was growing up such as my Father was often gentle, compassionate, loving and playful. Some of my older brother's qualities are humility, thoughtfulness, and a quiet stability and strength. G, a Father figure of mine, was and is very emotionally expressive, silly, holds the divine feminine in deep reverence and as a heterosexual man was always an outspoken proponent of romantic and sexual freedom.
In my experience, sometimes the most manly thing we can do is to have the courage to be vulnerable: to express our fear, sadness, loneliness and shame as well as our dreams, enthusiasm and love. Because only when vulnerability is present can we truly commune with others.
Optimally, like all concepts and definitions, the ones we hold about manhood should constantly be evolving and expanding. What was relevant yesterday, 100 years ago or 1000 years ago may very well no longer be relevant today.
Let’s let go of the old noise and moment by moment, decide what we choose to believe based upon what FEELS right, compassionate, loving and evolutionary. A generation of men that are strong, honest, compassionate, vulnerable and gentle when appropriate, emotionally expressive, progressive, deeply reverential and empowering to women, could change the world.