I started writing this blog with the title “A happy feminist”. Some might think that I mean these words as a contradiction, but I’d like to see it as something we should all aspire to be, namely a happy feminist. I changed the title to “Tears of men” because I think it is more fitting. The blog is still about feminism. The word ‘feminist’ triggers a negative association with many people and in my opinion this only shows we’re limited to a certain kind of thinking. A feminist is a person who believes in equal rights for both genders. Being a feminist has as much to do with being a man as it does with being a woman. Reading the book “We should all be feminists” (2014) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, explains this clearly. In the book, she discusses pre-set gender roles that we are taught ourselves and then go on to teach to boys and girls at a young age. She also discusses the influences of society and the historic origin of gender roles. Looking at my own childhood, upbringing and life so far, I can say that I haven’t always been a feminist. It was something that I had learn to become.
Gender roles hold a certain significance in our current society. It made me wonder about my own perception of my gender. Looking at my own life I would say that there are several steps to grow from boyhood to manhood. And if you follow these steps, you’ll reach your ultimate goal: becoming a man. If I do this, or act like that, I’ll get respect and I will become even more of a man. But what is a man? After seeing the documentary “The Mask You Live In” (2015) by The Representation Project (watch the trailer), I wasn’t sure anymore. It is a documentary about how we as a society teach boys to become men and what a typical man should look like. I learned that one of the most destructive things you can say to a growing boy, is that he should man up. And what man hasn’t heard that sentence when he was growing up as a boy (myself included) or a variation on it? If it’s not said by a parent, a coach or a teacher, it can also be said by one of our peers. It implies that we as men can’t be emotional. We’re taught to hide our feelings. I never imagined that exploring my own manhood would be this painful.
And while I’m writing this I feel emotional, sad, shocked but mostly confused. What does it mean to be a man? Never in my live could I have imagined that I would ask myself that question while I was exploring what it means to be a feminist. It is so easy to take something like my own manhood for granted, since I’ve been a male all my life. From time to time I do think about what kind of man I am and aspire to continue to be. My picture still mostly fits the type of men as seen in Hollywood movies: I want to be brave, like a super hero, keep my emotions in check, be a kind of bad guy (but not really a bad bad guy) because that gets you the girl. Now I realize that these roles I’ve been taught and have internalized so well aren’t or have never been up to date. This feels world changing. At some point in my live I started telling myself that I shouldn’t cry and be strong. Resulting that I now sometimes feel numb and have trouble crying when I feel like I need to. I can be sensitive towards others but cannot grant myself that same kindness.
I think my perception about manhood has already changed dramatically and this is a positive thing. I’m looking forward to see what more I can discover about my manhood. Gender roles are really limiting peoples potential in society nowadays. I hope that one day I can teach my son or daughter that he or she can be him- or herself, support them in pursuing their dreams and give them strength to withstand pressure from outside. Let them see that these gender roles are not something to live by, but just to be themselves. Teach them not to measure themselves by the standard that society thinks a man or woman should be, should act, should look. This is an ongoing learning process, also for me. I’ve become more aware of the effects gender roles have on society and, ultimately, power distribution. I will consciously try not act on the biases that are implied by the gender roles that we have formed in society. This is feminism. Because: if I as a man don’t have to measure myself to the standard that society has created, there will be more space for women.
What do we need to do to reshape the structures of our gender roles? We need to critically look and discover to which standards we measure ourselves and others. We need to educate our youth and give them space to grow. We need to address each other and keep learning to reach a balance in which gender roles aren’t relevant anymore.
So, do YOU act out your gender role or do you live your life?
Adichie, C.N. (2014). We Should All Be Feminists. London: Fourth Estate.
The Representation Project. (2015). The Mask You Live in. Consulted on 23 October 2016, on www.netflix.com.
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