The concept of “sucking it up” and “being a man” didn’t just fall from the sky. They are axioms that have been passed down from generation to generation. They evolved naturally as a response to the community’s needs and expectations.
Men who have been around the block a few times know one thing:
“We’re all weak. We all have faults and vulnerabilities. Deep down we’re all scared kids just trying to make it in the world. Yes, your girlfriend/wife/kids are free to emote and share these fears and vulnerabilities. The world will praise them for doing so. For you, the man... this isn’t the case. People will poke and prod and sometimes beg you to open up and share your innermost feelings and weakness and fear. After doing so, they will reject you or relegate you to inferior status. This is true of your friends, your coworkers, your boss, and your romantic partner.”
Some semblance of the above has probably been shared with you at one point or another, usually in a much simpler form:
- Be a man.
- Man up.
- Deal with it.
- Suck it up.
- Get up. Don’t let them see you weak.
- Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.
The current political/emotional climate claims that the above is a manifestation of a larger issue known as “toxic masculinity”. Those opposed to such displays feel that we must do all we can to stomp out such evil. Once we do that, we’ll have no more war, no more sexual assault, and men will be free to cry like babies with no repercussion.
Yeah… no. Sounds great in theory. Will never work in practice. It ignores reality.
The term “toxic masculinity” is misleading. It implies that these “suck it up” traits are somehow an evil, poisonous manifestations of human behavior that we must act agressively to remove.
Quite the contrary. If we remove “man up” and stoicism from our definition of masculinity, what is left? At that point, what defines a “man” other than the bits dangling between his legs?
We didn’t randomly come up with these “acting weak is dangerous” concepts on our own. This isn’t a grand scheme devised by males to hold power over others and make life more difficult for our fellow men (that makes no sense). Instead, it’s a reaction to a subversive and sometimes overt set of societal rules that we note again and again and again in our daily lives. We have listened, digested and reacted accordingly.
Men act this way because society has told us to do so. Otherwise, we wouldn’t go through the trouble. We wouldn’t hold in our emotions and have more heart attacks and stress-related ailments. We wouldn’t commit suicide at such high rates. We would seek out more help from our loved ones. We would emote. We would “let it all out” when the mood hits us.
But, we can’t.
Oh sure, we can take the outcome-independent approach, thumb our nose at convention and say, “I don’t care what happens… I’m going to be who I am and to hell with everyone” and cave to our momentary weakness, but we have to be honest with ourselives. We will pay the price in some way. Most of us have learned this at some point or another in our lives.
Many of us try to momentarily let our guard down. For example, we men tend to emotionally soften when with our wives. We talk about our aching bodies. We complain about stupid little things in our day-to-day lives. We complain about work. We look for motherly sympathy and love when we get sick. We cry.
The wife sees the weakness. She recoils. She may do her best to disguise her feelings, but the discomfort is palpable.
You could survive a workplace injury with 50 stitches across your face, a severed finger and three broken vertebrae and she would say to her friends, “I had gave birth with no epidural and never once whined like this. Wow. He is so annoying.” You could have the flu and a 103 temperature and your wife would snear and say “What’s wrong with you?” when you answer her questions in a less than cheerful manner (this happened to me all the time in marriage #1).
This is why women came up with the term “man flu”. Not because men are whinier than women (c’mon, seriously?), but because women just flat out can’t stand it when their man is weak and incapacitated. Her ability to empathize is overpowered by her acute disdain for you at that moment.
Don’t think that this is an anti-woman post. Not at all. Your job of retaining the “strong man” persona extends beyond the home.
Just try being weak in the workplace. Watch as Brad gets the promotion you worked so hard to earn. The only reason you can gather why Brad was picked was because he was outgoing, cool under pressure, and good looking. You would be correct. Your consistent 70 hour work weeks, excellent project management and unblemished performance reviews were no match for the time you got overwhelmed and choked up in the break room in front of your coworkers. That one moment put a permanent stain on your image, and subsequently your career. You’re “That guy that cried that one time.”
Your boss may not be able to verbalize it, but there’s something about you that’s just not leadership material.
Try being weak in sports. Be the guy who always gets up limping after falling down on the basketball court (we all know that guy). Be the guy who gets upset when he makes a silly mistake and hangs his head and pouts for the next 20 minutes. You’ll be on the bench where you belong. Who cares if you are the best shooter on the team and hit 90% of your free throws. You’re a wuss. It’s annoying and everyone woudl prefer you didn’t play.
Weakness brings about hostility, anxiety and sometimes anger from those around you. When you show vulnerability, people will POKE at you (test you) until you finally role over and expose your belly. Bullies know this. They test and test. If you continue caving in to them, the bullying escalates. It’s not until you break one of their noses that they finally back off.
Your wife will always be one of the biggest pokers/testers. “Shit tests” is what some men call them. Little jabs here and there. She will poke. And poke. And poke. You will finally snap and say, “Hey, can you fucking cut it out please?!”. This will be met with disbelief. “Wow, you’re sensitive. Stop being such a baby.” Translation: “You should’ve told me to stop 18 pokes ago, you big wuss. Seeing you so affected by my words is a turnoff. Call me an asshole or ignore me, but don’t tell me your feelings are hurt.”
Not having the sex life you feel you “deserve”? You could do what most men do in that situation…. and cave in to emotion. Talk to her. Appeal to both her rational and romantic side. Show her how much your lack of intimacy affects your well-being. Show her how hurt you are.
When you realize how important maintaining strength is for a man in any relationship, doing the pitiful sob-story routine with your “low libido” wife is the absolute worst thing you can do.
“But… that’s what we MEAN by TOXIC MASCULINITY! This kind of stuff needs to stop! Men are DYING because of this mindset! Men should be able to emote with no fear of negative fallout.”
Ok. While we’re at it, we should also and tell men that it’s wrong for them to be attracted to young women. We should also tell women to stop being attracted to fit and rich men, for kids to not like candy and for dogs to stop hating cats so much.
It’s not going to happen. It’s human nature. We reward the strong men and avoid/punish the weak. Sometimes we have to stand up and help and protect the weak. That is noble. But, let’s be honest, the person you are helping… are they good “leader” material? The kind of person you want helping you achieve your goals? A source of happiness? No. The moment you extend your hand, they are reduced to the lower echelons of the heirarchy.
As older and more experienced men will tell you, the ones that are the most vocal about wanting to see your “vulnerable” side are the ones that will punish you the worst. “I know I said I wanted him to open up to me… but not THAT much. Jesus.”
So, we just suck it up and deal with the internal struggle and suffer? Not necessarily.
I’m a huge proponent of the teachings of Stoicism.
… as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting this moment as it presents itself, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.
Live in reality. Don’t be easily washed away in the emotion of the moment. Find the positive aspects of the reality you are in.
I’m reminded of the Tom Hanks movie “Bridge of Spies”. One of the main characters was Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy. Nothing rattled Abel, not even after being discovered. He just remained calm and went along with whatever was happening at the moment. An incredulous Tom Hanks finally asked Abel, “Aren’t you worried?” Rudolf’s response: “Would it help?”
Find help if you need to… but do so carefully. This is what a close male friend, your parents, a sibling or your dog are for. Do not burden your boss, your wife, your coworkers or your casual aquaintances with your day-to-day problems. Doing so paints you in a negative light and slowly chips away at your positive masculinity.
The world has little use for a weak man. Take solace in your role as the rational figure who doesn’t succumb to emotion.