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As a boy, I thought the films I watched showed how a “real” man should behave, and I tried to act like that.
Amongst other things, it meant not showing any emotions except anger, and to be sure to always “win” without considering what anyone else needed. But the truth is, I wasn’t very good at acting that way, as a boy or as a young man; so I often felt less than “manly.”
It has taken me a long time to let go of that early conditioning, and I’ve been inspired by all those men who’ve shown how much happier they are after breaking free from that limiting, emotional “man box.” I’ve learned that the kind of dominating behaviour that so-called alpha males have learned to adopt is not innately masculine, and certainly doesn’t lead to peace of mind or happiness, which may explain why suicide is the leading cause of death for men between 25 and 50. And that conforming to how I imagine other people think I should be to get their approval is a kind of a living suicide.
The version of masculinity in which every man sees himself in competition with other men, and with nature, has no place in the modern world. If our species is to have much chance of survival, more men need to abandon these obsolete beliefs and behaviours in relation to each other and to the planet we depend on.
The good news is that each of us can define our own version of manhood, and living those values is the bravest thing we can do—the very essence of being a real man. For me, masculinity means doing what feels right, with a readiness to support and serve others and a determination to confront oppression. There’s no need for working out or doing sports to be “manly” if that’s not your thing.
I do feel sure that to be emotionally healthy, all men need to be in touch with and express their feminine qualities such as nurturing; empathy; softness; kindness. Sadly, many men and boys have been taught to become ashamed of and disconnected from their feminine side, and so like someone with only one leg, they become unbalanced and tend to grab onto others as they fall, taking them down, too.
A man who is true to his authentic self will be respected by most people—as well as possibly hated by the cowards who envy him. He will lead a fulfilling life because he feels free to express all his emotions, and not be half a human for whom only some feelings are allowed.
I respect any man who challenges himself, and develops skills, prowess, and endurance in sports and other physical activities. And if he also believes in equality and wants a mutually respectful relationship with a woman who will trust and admire him, helping out with household chores will also be a manly thing for him to do—and so would sewing, raising children, or being a carer if that’s what feels right for him.
The main thing is, to kick the limitations of the man box, and not try to “tick” that box. We should feel proud to live as the real men we know ourselves to be.