The Messages We Are Sending Our Young Men


Written by: John Glass

On my flight back from visiting with family I overheard a conversation between two women behind me. I was really eavesdropping. As an observer of human behavior I do that from time to time.

The conversation caught my interest because the two woman were discussing different men that they had been talking to. I heard one say, “He just needs to man up and be a real man.” That got my attention real quick. I actually laughed out loud in my seat when I heard that.

I thought, “A real man. What does that even mean?”

I identify as a man. I have man parts. I am real. So, what does it mean to be a “real man”

This is such an interesting statement. One that most people would not use to describe a woman, yet it is appropriate to describe a man.

It is such an ambiguous term. Each person defines a “real man” in a different way.

With my excellent eavesdropping skills I continued listening to the women’s conversation. As it continued I heard one woman say, “It is not like he was acting like a girl.”

That got the wheels in my head turning. Questions kept coming up. “What is a real man?” “What does she mean acting like a girl?” “Do real men avoid things that they deem as feminine?”

It seems to me that the idea of being a real man means we must avoid doing things that are deemed as stereotypical feminine.

I am of the opinion that men and women who subscribe to this thought also subscribe to the thought that a man needs to be squeezed into the “man box” that society has created for them.

The “man box” that tells us that there are segregated thoughts, feelings, and behaviors for men and women.

Examples are:

Men should be outdoors. They should camp, hunt, and fish. They drink whiskey and beer. Men don’t cook, they barbeque.

Women should be indoors. They should cook, clean, child rear, and shop. They drink sweet liquor drinks. They cook and bake, but they don’t barbeque.

The constant barrage of statements from media, family, friends, and ourselves is, “Men do this ….” and “Women do this….”

In my opinion, these statements might be some of the most damaging statements to the boys and girls; men and women of today.

We call little boys who express themselves emotional as being sensitive. As these boys grow up they are taught to repress this emotional, sensitive side of themselves. Because that is not what a real man is.

“Real men don’t cry.” Isn’t that the most famous thing we tell our little boys. Or “Don’t be a mama’s boy.” Like, there is something wrong with loving your mother. That this love means that you are less of a man.

I recall as a young boy myself having my peers tease me about sharing my feelings. Feelings are for girls and wusses.

Then, we wonder why as adult men, these boys, lack the emotional intelligence to engage in life. Lack the skills to talk with the opposite sex. Lack the skills to open up and create intimacy with others.

This bind that men are in can lead to displacement of anger, violence, hostility. Men are being forced into a position that doesn’t allow them to be human. To experience the array of feelings that humans experience.

It is time for change on what it means “to be a man.”

How can one person begin to make such a change in their own life. Many may think, “What can I do to make such a change? I am but one person.”

I have a story for you, “As you look upon a calm serene pond of water. You see that the water is glass like. There is no movement on the water. You pick up a small pebble. Place it in your hand feeling how little it weighs and how small it is. You take that pebble and throw out into the pond. As it splashes down you see all the ripples flowing from where the pebble meet the water. The ripples extend on and on as you watch them reach the shore. Eventually the pond water returns to its glass like appearance. Yet, it has changed. There is now one more pebble than there was before. Although you may go searching for that pebble in the vast amount of other rocks at the bottom of the pond you may never find the exact one. This pond has changed because of one pebble and one person and one action.”

The best way to be the change is to model the change to others. When you model the change, you will begin to change and others will begin to witness such a change.

I believe the first step is to stop using such damaging language as “man up”, “be a man”, “be a real man”, “men don’t cry”, “don’t be such a mama’s boy”, “don’t be so sensitive.” Begin to see the damage that such statements are doing to the boys and men in society.

Second step, allow the men in your life to feel, experience, and communicate their emotions, needs, wants, and pains. Help them with it if they are having difficulty. Remember men have generally been conditioned to not feel emotion, so talking about it will be challenging.

Third step, be the change you want to see. Become a role model to others. It can be infectious to the people around you.


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