masked masculinity- what it means to be “masculine”

“Don’t be a wussy”… “Man up” … “Real men don’t cry”…

As a man, I hear those words ever too often. 

Be courageous, strong, and powerful – macho-, even when I don’t feel so. Why? Because those are the qualities men are entailed to have. Those are the attributes that make men “masculine”. 

I believe, however, the entire premise of what today’s society perceives masculinity to be is intrinsically flawed- and even dangerous. 

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) recorded that in 2018, there were 48,344 instances of suicide in America. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention further recorded that, in 2018, of all the instances of suicide, men died by suicide 3.56x more often than women. Meaning, of the 48,344 cases, 34,765 were males suicides- roughly 72%.

Not only is the relativity of gendered suicides a statistical absurdity, but it’s also a societal crisis; the root cause of which, I believe, is the unrealistic standard placed on men to be “masculine”.

Humans are incredibly complex beings, both psychologically and emotionally. Our conscious and unconscious behaviors, our childhood traumas, and our social desires intertwine inextricably in ways that make our emotional needs both sophisticated and delicate. The modality of modern-day masculinity, however, has asserted itself as a dichotomy between weakness, emotion, and fear. Fearlessness and toughness trump authenticity and genuineness. Strength over weakness. 

The social standard of masculinity commands men to be strong, composed, and restrained- even when they feel anxious, sad, lonely, or frightened. Men consequently create an impersonal and detached persona of who they should be, hiding their insecurities and becoming emotionless, to avoid shame, criticism, or being regarded as unmasculine. Men shun their true feelings, acting as if they don’t exist, in an effort to prove to society that they uphold the qualities required for being masculine. Thus, from a young age, men become bankrupt of opportunities to express themselves emotionally.

Today, we bear the consequences of placing men in this emotional box. Feelings of rejection, exclusion, and loneliness are inevitable when men are forced to hide behind an image of someone who isn’t them- a façade of masculinity… 

True masculinity, I believe, is different. 

Vulnerability must not be replaced with courage, but healthily expressed alongside it. In my Orthodox-Jewish, Persian home, my father taught me from a young age what he believes masculinity to be. Not the amount of muscles a man has or the power he holds, but his ability to listen and care for his spouse, to create and support a family, and to sacrifice so much for their well-being. Being masculine means treating others with respect, integrity, and compassion, even when others don’t deserve it. Being masculine is building true and passionate relationships. Being masculine means opening up to friends and family about the insecurities and vulnerabilities a man has. Being masculine means expressing yourself in ways that are true to you; disregarding the expectations of everyone around you. 

These are the qualities that I believe make a man truly masculine.

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