We can’t simply talk about societal pressures, we have to look at what it feels like to be that boy, that man. How you are treated, the psychological progression from “ok” to “frustrated” to “anger” to “desperate”, how you necessarily have to internalize your problems, how you are set up in life only to fall through the gaping hole that is called “the male ego” and then to be ridiculed for being so naive as to want to express yourself
You know how you feel pressure to look good and dress nicely. You feel that everyday, no one tells you but everyone is looking and you feel those eyes on you. You can’t help but notice that everyone notices. It’s ingrained into society, it’s accepted, you don’t even realize it’s there because it’s omnipresent. Like air.
The same thing exists with “be a man”. No one wants to hear how hard you have it, your problems or your emotions. “Man up” echos everywhere, silently, implicitly. At first an innocent term of motivation, now an ironically desperate attempt to demonstrate masculinity. The term is so confused it is now used to claim opposing behaviors as manly. A real man doesn’t cry - A real man cries. Can you imagine hearing someone say “A real woman drinks margaritas”? There is an uneasiness around being a man these days because no one knows what it means anymore.
The worst part about these struggles is how everyone seems to be ok with it. There is no visible group advocating for a balanced masculinity or an open discussion on male identity. Male problems aren’t even on the radar. If you don’t ask for help what do you do? You do the only thing you can do, you internalize your pain, you ignore it and it grows silently. Who is going to help you through this? Is there anything more terrifying to society than a man who needs help? Have you ever seen a grown man cry in public? It’s unsettling.
You’re too ashamed and simultaneously too proud to ask for help. Asking for help means you aren’t “manning up” like everything in culture silently tells you to do. And so everything that isn’t addressed becomes that dark beast inside you, lurking at the edges. You become so out of touch with your emotions it’s a surprise when you’re actually happy, like it’s an accident. A childish glee of a once happy childhood being crushed by your everyday repressed identity. You lose all sense of proportion. Drugs, alcohol, depression, fighting and other self-destructive behavior show up. At least self-erasure makes sense, at least you can control the rate of your descent. A joyous self-annihilation, like watching your own car crash in slow motion from far away, simultaneously inside the car and outside it. A symbolic interpretation of reality. This is in fact your true position in all this, your emotional self is a 1000 miles away observing this scene with equanimity, your actual self speeding into a brick wall.
Your friends have long since stopped caring, ignoring all the warning signs, some may reach out but you’re too far gone for kind words or formal gestures. You’re desperate and angry. You become fully desensitized and ignore your emotions, seeing them as obstacles. You are now a man “at war” with himself, the motto of this war is “take no prisoners”. You snuff out feelings, you do this once and it makes things easier and then again, and again, and again, you’re on your way down that desolate road. It becomes a comical routine, your patheticness is a joke even to yourself. You’ve lost all sense of reality, you’re walking down that road of quiet desperation . Every man that’s been told to “man up” knows what I’m talking about. Every man that doesn’t get lucky or ask for help in time ends up in the same place, in the gutter. Alone, cold and forgotten. Homeless both in reality and spiritually.
The old male roles are dying if not dead. They continue to subsist in obscurity, as an after-thought or a punch-line to a joke that provokes uneasy laughter. Young men continue on in the empty space left by these non-roles, without guidance or any solid concept or understanding of themselves or their masculine identity. Education doesn’t worry about boys, they’ve always been fine on their own, right? Boys and young men have a much different kind of education, a negative education. They are not told that their normal selves are good, fine and valuable, that being energetic, spontaneous and loud is a good thing, no, they are simply told what they can’t do. Sit down, shut up, stop interrupting, if you can’t control yourself we’re going to see the principal, we’ll call your parents, we’re going to ridicule you. And so they grow up literally clueless, looking to social cues, formal structures and hyper-male caricatures for help. We all know these clueless young men, we all know how bleak a future they have, we ignore it, they ignore it, video games are always fun, right? What a heartbreaking story of normal everyday occurrence. Our sons, our brothers, our fathers pretending everything is fine, no one ever asks them “Are you Ok?”
Summary: Masculinity is a deeply misunderstood concept, almost as if on purpose. Misunderstood by society as a whole, but also by women and, most offensively, by the men themselves. Everyone participates in this “good man” myth, completely unaware that there is no concept of a good man today, masculinity is an unknown which we can use and abuse as we see fit. Can you go a day without hearing something in the news about violence or war? Everyone knows those are male things, right?
The bottom line is everyone has a choice in how they treat boys and men, everyone can decide whether they should be treated as human beings or if they can “take it like a man”. No one proposes what masculinity could be, no one seeks to glorify or worship it, no one speaks of the hidden potential of our young men today, no one dares to give it it’s proper place in society. Male identity is a negative today, ridiculed, feared and marginalized.
What do men do in this climate? They do the only thing they can do, ignore all of it, live their owns lives, try to get by somehow, they “man up”.