"Healthy masculinity is displayed when a man is secure and confident enough in himself that he doesn't need a woman to be weak or less in order to compensate. This provides space for a woman to walk in healthy femininity, having no need to fight to prove herself capable and worthy to man. She is able to flourish due to the empowerment he gives her through his own strength and selflessness, allowing her to be her full self and not made small. He is not intimidated by her but is challenged by her and in return, is able to challenge her as well. He thrives in his masculinity knowing he is not dependent on her approval, yet is affirmed and encouraged by her desire for him to be the truest version of himself- authentic and honest."
This came to me, sort of out of the blue, after thinking about this topic for quite literally months. I consider myself to be a feminist, more so in the traditional definition of the term. I'm not a "man-hater" by any means. And I honestly loathe that I even need to provide that disclaimer before continuing, but assumptions get made otherwise. In short, I'm a feminist who fully believes that men and women need each other. Not just in close relationships, but in general. I also think that many of our social issues stem from an overall lack of health within our internal worlds. The "sickness" is often subtle, but it bleeds into all aspects of our lives, especially our interactions and perceptions of those around us, in personal or professional relationships. More than anything else it affects us directly. Our internal wellness causes an influence on others' inner wellness too. And a lack of self-awareness to take care of our internal worlds, continuing for a few generations, has produced where we are now.
We are a society of humans who are detached from ourselves and each other, lacking in empathy and compassion, emotionally absent and seeking affirmation through double taps on a screen. Mental illnesses are hiding behind the busy lives we're addicted to. Despite the blaring fact that suicide numbers, cases of anxiety and depression, as well as other serious mental illnesses are skyrocketing, the topic of mental health is still not addressed enough or as thoroughly as it desperately needs to be.
For example, there is quite literally a silent epidemic of suicide among men. Studies show that men commit suicide 3x more than women. But somehow it’s rarely talked about, and the stigma on mental health wellness is thicker than the heap of curly Jamaican hair on my head.
You may be wondering why I'm bringing this weighty subject up. Two reasons: 1. it's always worth talking about because it's such a prominent problem right now. 2. I believe it goes hand in hand with healthy masculinity.
Since I'm a woman, I obviously know nothing about being a man. But because I am a woman, I see how unhealthy femininity and unhealthy masculinity is cyclical: cause and effect, bouncing off each other and doing damage. In our culture today, there is an unspoken (sometimes spoken) perception of men... That if they are expressive in their emotions, they are less of a "manly man" and are more feminine. Crying for any reason is an invitation to be negatively judged. Being soft-spoken is equivalent to being "gay." Having an artistic side that isn't related to woodwork or music is "girly"... The list goes on. Yet, simultaneously there is another aspect of suppressed masculinity that says men are violently dangerous, utterly selfish, flat out stupid, and need to be under control (by women). I see this all over entertainment: movies, tv shows, books, and lyric content in songs. I think many men accept these labels and expectations society is thrusting upon them, perhaps because they are unaware or perhaps because that mindset has been handed down to them by their fathers or other influencing males in their lives.
Now look at femininity in our culture...Again, two sides of the coin. Side #1 tells women they are "too much". Too emotional, too controlling, too loud, demanding, high maintenance, expose too much of their bodies, attention seeking, and inherently ignorant. Side #2 (which I feel like is a poor attempt to counteract side #1) tells women to give their middle finger specifically to men because women are the superior gender. They are not merely as capable as men, but far more capable. They are not as smart as men, but smarter. Simply because they have a vagina. And by all means, you’d best use your sexuality and body to manipulate men in order to have the upper hand. Make sure he knows who's in charge. This both stems from and feeds off of the suppressed masculinity I mentioned before. As a woman, I know I have felt that I must fight hard in order to make my voice heard and what I have to say to be taken seriously. I've also felt that when I do so, it's too far: I'm too much and then rejected for one of two reasons. It's felt impossible to be direct, heard, and valued without being dismissed or worse, "making" a guy feel emasculated, therefore "causing" him to either shut down or be even louder to prove he is the man. I have many girl friends who have said similar things... Where is the balance? Can it be remedied?
I believe change starts with self-awareness and pursuing emotional and mental wellness. I have spent the past six years trying to tap into my internal world, connect with what I'm feeling, why, and if it's healthy. Well, six years off and on, and not as intentionally as I am trying to now. If you're unsure how to do that on your own, talk to a couple of people you trust. If you're feeling especially daring, ask them for feedback. But be prepared to be uncomfortable. It will be, and it's more than worthwhile. It may be that going to see a licensed therapist would be helpful, and there is zero shame in that. If society isn't going to remove the stigma on mental health, screw society and remove it yourself. Be aware of the way you talk to yourself... What is the tone of your self-talk? The world needs as much kindness as it can get, and so does your internal world. I'm not saying excuse yourself from confronting and dealing with conflict or pain, but don't beat yourself up. Acknowledge the issue and work through it. Embrace the messiness. Give yourself time and keep taking steps forward.
Beyond all this, is the concept of healthy masculinity and healthy femininity. I believe it's attainable and within our close grasp. I know that for myself, I have had to spend time figuring out what those definition even are to me...
What is healthy masculinity? What is healthy femininity? I think every person has their own little explanation, and I can't put words in anyone's mouth. But for me, it looks like both genders who live in the present, are emotionally aware of themselves and others, and embrace their full self- flaws and all- while seeking personal growth and healing of their inner worlds. It looks like both man and woman valuing themselves and those around them. I don't mean valuing life as in, posting on social media about how you're pro-life or for women's rights or whatever. I mean, actually living it out in a way that is tangible. Taking time to connect with those around you, with those who are different from you, listening and seeking their best interest. It looks like being empathetic and compassionate. It looks permission given to both man and woman, to themselves as individuals and each other, to be their truest self.