Redefining views on masculinity


The last thing I expected to hear while running out of the Chick-fil-A playground with blood dripping onto my Crocs was a complete stranger telling me to “man up.” Boyishly naive and in pain from skinning my knees, I continued crying and ran to my mom as the stranger glared with what I now recognize as contempt. 

As I grew older, such situations continued to plague my life in progressively impactful ways. These small interactions—many of which I did not identify as toxic until years later—were the defining factors behind my intense aversion to society’s expectations of a growing male. 

From a very young age, I was given a mold that I was supposed to conform to. This mold had no room for emotions, since society tells us that men who show emotions are weak. Instead, men are expected to be aggressive, and never rely on others —god forbid— for emotional support. Men I looked up to, like my dad, would instruct me to neither expect nor receive any help, to never complain and to never cry, and to simply brush off any insults to my masculinity from anyone in my life. 

And I did, just as I’d been told. I had always felt comfortable fooling around, being raucous and taking everything with a grain of salt, since the excuse that “boys will be boys” was always accepted. Similarly, I was encouraged to grow into my dominance and strength, simply for the reason that I was a man.

In all honesty, the parallels to toxic masculinity had always been—and still are—there; I had just been too busy trying to fit the mold of my perceived masculinity to notice. But, no matter what I did, it seemed that I was still too weak or emotional to be a “real man.” 

Except none of these traits make up a real man. True masculinity lies not in how hard of a hit you can take, but in how you handle emotional blows. 

One of the best examples of true masculinity I have ever seen is in Kentaro Miura’s “Berserk.” The manga features a main character, Guts, who, at first glance, is an archetypal edgy character whose only characteristic is being angry and powerful. Yet, under his macho persona, Guts is delicate. He fears being touched because of being sexually assaulted as a child, and cannot even have an intimate moment with the woman he loves before his past comes back to haunt him. 

In a fantastical but harsh environment where room for emotional baggage is the last thing anyone is given, Guts hides his fragility behind a hulking physique and menacing outlook. However, Guts is still a real man— he knows when to give and receive support and does not feel the need to portray their masculinity. 

Toxic masculinity, on the other hand, does not endorse true masculinity; it is a projection of insecurities by those with the perception of masculinity and a byproduct of emotional suppression. 

As I mature, I find myself thrown back into that playground again and again, but I am still nowhere near strong enough to conquer these situations without reaction or lingering emotions. Although some around me may be blind to it, I’ve begun to open my eyes to see past the playground, to begin to see what real masculinity is.