photo owned by Men Can Stop Rape
I loved this article so much that I had to give my thoughts, because it says so much about a pending shift in what defines masculinity (at least in North America).
I've never been what would be considered a "guy's guy". I'm not heavily into sports or drinking. As a married man I have a healthy attraction to women but won't be found running them down or engaging in any other stereotypical macho behaviour. Sure I love renovating with power tools and can swear like a truck driver, but none of these things are what makes a man, a man.
The rules that hetero men are expected to follow are unwritten but very definite. Hugging each other is discouraged; a knowing pat on the back is required to make it okay. Men don't say they love each other in case, God forbid, it's taken the "wrong" way. And of course men don't cry, it's a sign of weakness. But to me, being secure enough to express emotion in these ways are a sign of strength.
I began blogging three and a half years ago, and along the way most of the friends I've made have been women. That's not co-incidental. The fact that women are more emotionally open and expressive has always been a draw for me, it's something I relate to very strongly. And it's had a bit of a snowball effect, because the more conversations I have the more I realize the obstacles women are up against. If there's anything I've learned it's this: in order for the sexes to understand each other we need to dispose of the stereotypes, what we only THINK we know. And since this post is about redefining society's construct of masculinity, I believe this is where it has to start. One of the best ways to bridge the gap in understanding between the sexes is for men to lower our walls and become a little more emotionally available. Sure the opposite sex can be a mystery, but it's never enough to accept that it's just the way it is. If instead we take time to listen I can promise we'll gain a better understanding of women's thoughts, feelings and needs.
Becoming more attuned in this way comes through compassion and respect, and they both need to be taught at an early age. I don't have a lot of memories of having a strong male figure in my life. My parents divorced when I was twelve and through my teens I lived with an alcoholic stepfather who had a raging temper and a less than flattering opinion of women. The values I was taught as a child carried me through those years and I swore I would never treat women as my stepfather did. Had I been raised solely by him I could have turned out very different from what I am today.
In the end I think we're going to see a turn over time in the way masculinity is defined by society. My experience has shown me how much influence a male figure can have on a boy, either negatively or positively. I don't think the responsibility adult men have towards youth can be underestimated, and this is where it has to start if our thinking is to change. A man can express emotion and empathy and still be strong.