Myths of manhood

The Bigger Picture: Last March, I wrote an article celebrating women, and promised the same attention to men in the near future…

The Bigger Picture:Last March, I wrote an article celebrating women, and promised the same attention to men in the near future. With Father's Day just around the corner, this article seems timely, writes Shalini Sinha.

As was the last one, I wanted this piece to flow inherently from the heart.

However, while I care a lot about men and have thought deeply about their situation, theirs isn't my experience. Thus, I have referred to a man close in my life who is thoughtful about men. These are his insights joined with my love.

It is true, men currently have control over most of the world's resources and decisions. As a group, they have systematic control. However, there is a very genuine struggle behind this, having real consequences for men. Men disproportionately die earlier, end up in prisons, are on the front lines of military combat and experience isolation. Because men also have access to the powers of society, understanding and addressing this struggle is key in ending the injustices of our current world.

From a very young age, boys are asked to "prove" their "manhood". They can't ever relax and be themselves (whatever that might look like for them). There is a constant pre-occupation with an image of how a "real man" behaves, and boys are forced to fit this.

The idea is that real men don't have feelings, they solve the world's problems, do things by themselves, and while they are expected to be in relationships, they don't need them. Although these factors are supposed to prove men are strong, they stand in contradiction to human nature.

Humans not only feel deeply but also survive, grow, gain strength and think better through their connections. Being forced into this leaves men struggling with their health, self, relationships and feelings.

It is natural, indeed essential, for human beings to be close to one other. This includes men and boys. Yet, for boys, closeness is discouraged. Young boys who are seen as close to their mothers are often called sissy or mama's boy - both of which not only undermine their sense of identity but aim to isolate them. Closeness to their fathers is often based on situations of competition, and physical closeness between boys is discouraged because of homophobia.

All this is done so that men, as a group, will be able to fight and (if needed) kill other people. If the economy or nation is threatened, men are expected to defend it with their lives. Violence - the experience and threat - are real aspects of men's lives.

Men must be continuously able and ready to defend themselves and others from attack - kill or be killed. This affects their relationships.

As a result of the enforced isolation and dehumanisation, sex is one of the only ways men have left to try to get closeness. As a result, it has often become a compulsion. However, pursuing sex - as a strategy - hasn't really worked for men. If it had, they would be less isolated by now.

As closeness is discouraged, so are men discouraged from looking at their emotions, which makes it hard for them to express them. Often when men show emotion, they are made to feel that there is something wrong with them - it's a sign of weakness and not what real men do. And so, it's not that men don't have feelings, but that they can't always identify what they're feeling.

Men not only learn to foster numbness, but also to continuously look for ways to shift their attention from feelings - by doing things or solving problems.

This has very real consequences for their health and relationships. For instance, men are less likely to address fears about their physical health, engage in personal development, talk to their children about feelings, or ask their partners to help them with a struggle.

However, men by nature are warm, loving, affectionate, compassionate, co-operative, creative, sensitive, graceful and kind. And society is knocking all of these attributes out of them - in the name of manhood.

In fact, men get the message to disassociate these characteristics from what's considered male. If a man does display any of them, they are described as his feminine side.

As a result, most men display these characteristics only in private, and for heterosexual men, only in the company of women.

Women recognise this at some level, and so is born their desire to save men and be the only one with whom he can be himself.

Women see this level of sharing by men as quite intimate, which is true given that men are not allowed to show it elsewhere. And so it becomes one of the ways women try to "secure a bond" with a man.

Freedom and justice for all includes welcoming the closeness and feelings of men in public, and ending homophobia.

All human beings, whether straight or gay, are sensitive, loving and affectionate in nature.

It will take courage and some risk to encourage this from each other.

As always, at the beginning, only a few will lead in modelling and defending this humanity in our communities.