There are three words in the English language that men fear.
Be a man.
I could never list all the connotations those words have, but the situational emotion accompanying them is always fear, shame and or pain. I can think of no instance in which someone tells you to ‘be a man’, that something positive is happening, because the essence behind the gender role of being a man is that it is your obligation to suffer in silence, no matter the cost to yourself personally.
Those of us raised with male gender role are so inured in the idea of being a man that there is no middle ground to the concept. Males can’t almost be a man, and if you’re not one, what are you? You’re nothing.
This all-encompassing uncompromising approach to masculinity means all our actions, all our thoughts, are checked to ensure we behave in a way that reinforces the public perception that we are in fact rough, tough, fearless, provider, protector, “success objects”.
Everything’s always fine; we can overcome any obstacles, real, imagined, physical or emotional. You can at all times depend on us. Even if we’re dying inside.
My father was born in 1933 and lived through the Second World War and so the values and gender role that were drilled into me as he waited for the inevitable Third World War to begin, are somewhat more dated than those the average 36-year-old male might have had to deal with. These values/roles were simple—above all, family first. Second, ‘be a man’. From a survivalist’s point of view the male role is simple, provide for and protect the women and children that you are responsible for, and in the absence of others able or willing to take the responsibility, protect any other women and children who need it.
I grew up in an incredibly violent neighbourhood whose highlights included three murders; two of those people were kids my age, my school-mate Leanne who was raped then beaten to death with a hammer and my neighbour Bernie who was drowned by several of his classmates on a school camp.
‘Be a man’, provide and protect, had an entirely different category of reality for me that it might have if I had grown up elsewhere.
I have taken the role of provider/protector incredibly seriously and can off the top of my head think of at least three occasions (ages 8, 14, 21) that I’ve been punched in the face in the line of defending a female that was being attacked by a male. Some people might think that either I’m boasting or promoting myself as courageous, but neither could be farther from the truth.
I am programmed by survival-focused gender roles that tell me that I am obligated to behave this way. In none of these situations do I think, nor do I screw up my courage—I react based on the idea that I must act this way, I have no choice, because if I am to be a man, this is what I’m required to do.
Because if I’m not a man, if I don’t provide and protect… who would want me? Without my role, I have no societal value.
*I picked up my son from school a few days ago and as I was driving home I saw a man and woman arguing. They looked like cardboard cut outs of the people I used to see in my old neighbourhood, smashed, covered in tattoos, torn clothes. In my neighbourhood, this image of two people screaming at each other on the side of the road was common place. However, as I glanced at them, the man raised a hand…
That’s when my foot hit the brake. I didn’t think. I just reacted based on what my gender role told me to do.
Even if she’s a stranger.
As I slowed down the car and began to pull over, I did something I’ve never done before when faced with this situation. I conducted a reality check and discovered several things that as a younger man I seem to have missed.
I’m not Bruce Lee.
My body is destroyed. I have missing ligaments in my ankles, a bad knee, RSI in my wrists and a shoulder that has had a full reconstruction after more dislocations than I could count.
I’m fat and unfit as hell and if you’ve never been in a real fight let me tell you that there isn’t a workout in the world that burns as much energy as trying to stop someone from kicking your teeth through the back of your skull.
As my car came to a stop at the roundabout next to the couple, I looked at the man with the raised hand and then over my shoulder at my son. For a split second I saw two things.
My son watching me beat a man in front of him.
My son watching me get beat in front of him.
At that moment my son noticed me looking at him. Oblivious to what was happening in my mind he smiled at me and said, ‘I love you’, and for a moment I wondered what would happen to him if the second scenario I’d imagined occurred.
For reasons he will never understand, I didn’t answer. I turned away and put my head down, and after a moment I put my foot on the gas pedal and didn’t look back.
I don’t know if if I did the right thing. I don’t know if by talking about this, I’ve broken the perception of who I am.
All I do know is that today the part of me that held a confidence, a surety in my purpose, that part of me feels deeply empty. Inside that hollow space I can instead hear my inner voice echoing, repeating over and over again the same words.
Be a man.
*This story happened 3 months before I started EqualityAgnostic.com and the need to question what the purpose of the male gender is in a modern world, is part of the reason I started this site.
The world will always have bad people in it, so is the male gender role of ‘protector’ a necessary evil – or outdated and archaic? Do you realistically view women as equal (even when treating them as such), if you view them as requiring protection?