Virtual Defining Masculinity Series
The Meaning of Manhood
Seth Snoap, Men As Allies Coordinator
As a kid, I was always told to “man up” or to “act like a man”; but looking back, what did those statements really mean? Most men are forced to piece together their definition of manhood from their surroundings, including movies, shows, celebrities, friends, brothers, and parents. All of these influences can lead to a confusing, conflicting vision of what a man should be.
For example, look at most movies or television shows. A large portion of the male characters are balls of muscle who are angry at the world, or they’re cool, calm, calculated killers. This leads men to a confusing definition of what a “true man” should look like. This falsified version of a man consists of showing very little emotion (other than anger), never backing down from a fight, being a leader, not allowing people see you afraid, being successful and rich, having lot of sex (specifically with women), and not showing weakness whatsoever.
As young men growing up, we soon realize that this version of manhood is one that society values. We learn that the more qualities and behaviors we can show that line up with what is valued in society, the more validated our manhood is. Over the years, that type of manhood is validated and reinforced so much that we begin to box ourselves in, creating what we call the “Man Box”. We begin to construct a rigid expectation of what manhood should be, and everyone who doesn’t fit into that box is humiliated, harassed, or shunned, eventually creating a need to prove that you fit into the Man Box.
Let me ask you this: what if we broke out of the “Man Box”? What if we allowed men to be who they are rather than forcing them to conform to these rigid expectations? What if we allowed men to cry or show emotion regularly, let them love who they love, and changed what a successful man looks like? What if we put emphasis on being caring, compassionate, and empathetic rather than being selfish, stoic, and never asking for help? It’s time we began having honest conversations with men about manhood as we take an in-depth look at what we value in men as a society. Collectively, we need to begin to value the things that truly matter rather than the unhealthy traits. So, let us ask ourselves and the ones around us: “What does manhood really mean?”