This week’s topic is going to be a departure from my recording project. It will be a little vulnerable, slightly political, and it will tie into my music towards the end. It shouldn’t be anything offensive, but certainly a topic worth considering.
Today we’re going to think about how we might define masculinity. What does an ideal man look like? How does he act? How does he treat women? What is he passionate about? What are his strongest emotions? The answers to these questions will vary depending on each individual, but there are probably a lot of moral constants throughout most definitions. Unfortunately, I also believe that much of our culture has put what is acceptable for men into a very small box.
Think for a while about the key characteristics of this ideal man. Are these characteristics fundamentally different than what you would hope for in an ideal person? Then think for a while about how our culture defines masculinity. Different groups will define it differently, but there are a lot of constant themes. Think about how marketing is tailored differently towards men than women. Think carefully about how much of our culture revolves around the things that men like, or are “supposed” to like. Think about behavior or emotions that are common among women that are socially unacceptable in many circles of men. Think about what music you think would be weird for a man to be listening to. Now why is that weird? Think about topics of conversation that women engage in that might be unusual for a group of men to talk about. Is it okay for men to be extremely sensitive, or is thick-skinned a necessary trait? Is it okay for a man to expose his emotions to his wife, or to another man?
I wouldn’t call myself a feminine man, but I know I don’t fit the typical mold of American masculinity either. I’m highly sensitive, I like art and soft music, I like symbolism and abstract concepts, I cannot enjoy watching any sort of sports game at all, and I am usually comfortable sharing a lot of my emotions with other men I’m close to.
Furthermore, I don’t believe that any of these personality traits have anything to do whatsoever with sexuality, despite their gendered associations.
*Posted below the line of asterisks further down the page, I’m attaching a satirical (keyword, SATIRICAL) guide of Do’s and Do Not’s of what is acceptable and unacceptable for men in our culture. It makes this an especially long blog post, but this is an important topic to me.
I believe firmly that this pressure of being “masculine” in a particular way is toxic to our culture. It stifles emotional maturing, it allows men to remain comfortable in their obsessions by justifying addiction as normal, it perpetuates and normalizes unequal treatment of women, homophobia, and apathy, and it blocks relationships, conversation, and creativity.
To tie this back to music, up until about 2-3 years ago, I had a lot of trouble writing music and being confident in my style. My music is soft, emotional, and vulnerable, so I always worried what other men would think. What would my dad think? What would my military co-workers think? They’ll realize I’m not very ‘manly’ or something.
One of my most vulnerable-feeling songs to date is on my upcoming album. Strangely though, it’s an instrumental piece, so there’s not even any lyrics or singing to it to give it that clear and honest vulnerability. The song is called “Morning Waters” and the theme to it is joy– finding it, then experiencing it unabashedly. Towards the end of the piece, the music is the happiest and most energetic in the entire album. The music leading up to the high point has to navigate through a lot of weeds, so to speak, before we arrive there. While I was writing the piece, I kept thinking, “this does not sound masculine; this sounds like I’m dancing; I feel like I shouldn’t be this happy.”
For a time, I had considered excluding it from the album, but it was a piece that I was so happy and excited about, that I couldn’t let it go. At some point I realized that this was the voice of the masculinity complex speaking doubt into me. It was those middle-school rancher kids from my school in rural Texas telling me that I’m gay for any number of reasons.
Let me pause here to say that one of the things I appreciate about the LGBTQ community is their apparent lack of creative inhibition. There are a ton of great artists and musicians who are part of the LGBTQ community that have paved the way to new styles and ways of thinking. My theory (not an expert here, btw!) is that these folks have had to process who they are and began breaking down the gender barriers of who they’re “supposed” to be from an early age. Many of them, unfortunately, no longer have close ties with their families, and now there is no reason for them to act, think, and create in a specific way that’s bound to their gender or their families’ traditions. They are relatively free of these invisible social restraints that stifle creativity. I find that way of thinking incredibly inspirational.
I’m not saying that I had to tap into my feminine side in order to write the music I write. I tapped into myself, ignoring my inhibitions. Femininity is just as much of a man-made complex as masculinity… pun intended. My music describes part of who I am, and I don’t need the world to tell me what a man’s music should sound like. There is nothing wrong with expressing joy and happiness in full, even though I felt that creative oppression while I was writing.
I just want to encourage the other men out there that if there’s something that you enjoy that feels uncomfortable because it’s “not what men usually do,” to just do it. Act like who you were created to be and don’t worry about the social pressures… within reason 😉 If there’s something you don’t like but feel like you’re supposed to like, don’t be afraid to make it known. I tune out during every sports conversation I come across. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no need for you to wear shackles throughout your life pretending to be someone you’re not. Experience the things you love with full and unashamed joy.
Already a long post, but below is the satirical list I made of how men are supposed to act in our culture. Of course not every item on the list describes every type man, and it’s a rare man that would match this guide’s full description. But these are all things that I’ve experienced or felt from the pressure of other men throughout my life. Some of it is funny, some of it is sad. Several of the points are issues that I’m still working through as the influence of culture has caused deep wounds in me that I haven’t healed from. My joy day-to-day is still greatly restrained because of how I feel like I’m supposed to act as a man. Feel free to laugh, feel free to think of men in your life who follow some of these guidelines, and feel free to allow it to speak to what issues may be rooted in your own heart as well. (Just to clarify, I don’t condone using “gay” as an insult though it is used often here. It is insensitive, it was the word I was called often in middle school, and it caused me to be homophobic for nearly a decade. I use it here because these are the words that haunt us men day-to-day).
GUIDE TO BEING A MAN – The Do’s and Do Not’s
Do not admit fault. It’s never your fault.
Do not be anxious. That shows weakness, or a fear of failure.
Do not walk fast. You look anxious.
Do not let someone pass you on the interstate. It’s different than walking fast. It’s about winning.
Do not express your concern with yourself or your performance. That shows that you don’t know everything like you should.
Do not say nothing when a guy you’re hanging with comments on an attractive woman’s appearance. You could appear gay by not having an opinion. You should find a way to either agree with a creepy, “oh, yeah,” or disagree while indicating what you would like to change about her appearance.
Do not joyously express excitement. It shows what you care about, and caring is dumb. Apathy is the preferred response. The exception is when it’s for your favorite football team. Soccer doesn’t count. Do not get excited about soccer even though those Europeans call it football.
Do not ask for help or directions. It demonstrates weakness.
Do not ever be sad. Don’t talk about sad things. Replace sad thoughts with some sort of entertainment, with more work, porn, or another beer.
Do not make a joke that’s not funny. Especially puns. It’s too much of a risk to your reputation if it’s a dumb joke. Safe jokes are usually the crass and offensive ones, or the ones making fun of a designated punching bag, which could include a handful of political figures, celebrities, or the weirdo in your workplace.
Do not hang out with gay men. Clearly, you’re now one of those gay men. Therefore non-masculine.
Do not talk about your failures. Vulnerability is always a negative.
Do not ask a question in class. It’s shows that you don’t know everything. Even worse, it shows that you care about something other guys might not care about.
Do not sing out loud. It’s one of those emotional expressive things.
Do not whistle. It shows that there’s a song in your heart. That’s just gross.
Never cry. This is just absolute social suicide. They’ll definitely make fun of you the rest of your life.
Do not move your head around quickly in a public space or while on the road. Looking frantic indicates you’re not in control, draws unnecessary attention, and other men will probably think there’s something wrong with you.
Do not wear glasses. It broadcasts that something about you is imperfect.
Do not do these activities: Ballet, theater, yoga, meditation, badminton …
Do not complain about the coffee not being good. It has caffeine, therefore it’s functional. Swallow the bitter pill and stop your whining. Fancy taste is for hipsters.
In case this one wasn’t clear enough: Do not express emotion ever. Apathy and passivity are generally more admirable traits to other men.
Do not act like you care about what other men think. Even though in reality, everything you do revolves around what other men think.
Talk about fast vehicles, football, baseball, hockey, guns/hunting, UFC, wrestling, fishing, or your respective trade among fellow tradesmen. Politics are a maybe, feel out the situation first. Anything outside of those may start to get too abstract.
Tell stories that end with you being right and the other guy being an idiot.
Express your anger. This is the one acceptable emotion. It’s good to let out your emotions so that other people know what to do differently around you next time.
Maintain a calm demeanor. You never want to appear caught off guard, surprised, or easily amused.
Act continually suspicious. This creates fear in other men, therefore causing them to either perform better in the workplace, or dissuades any potential offenders from doing you wrong. Either way, it’s a catch-all that’s good to do all the time.
Talk about your successes. It proves your manhood to other people. Proving is important.
Ensure the music you listen to is distinctly masculine. Feminine music should make you uncomfortable because of all the unfamiliar emotions in it. If it doesn’t make you uncomfortable it’s probably slowly converting you into homosexual.
Maintain the same comfortable posture during a conversation. Especially if it’s a hard conversation. If you move, your body language communicates discomfort, therefore giving away your vulnerability, and vulnerability equals weakness.
Wear neutral, dark, or earthy colors. Bright colors are only acceptable in dangerous work zones. (don’t get me started on the lack of variety of men’s acceptable business attire)
Appear generally discontent. This will both deter unwanted attention, and discourage poor behavior or performance from occurring around you. Appearing happy doesn’t look tough enough and is often too inviting.
Stick to concrete subjects in conversation. Art, poetry, philosophy, theology, and things like that are often too abstract and require too much thought to maintain interest. Abstract stuff like this is only appropriate to talk about when it either sticks to a simple set of rules, or can be monetized.
Compete seriously. Everything can be a competition, so make everything a competition and try to win it. It could be a promotion, checkers, Mario Party, music, your religious knowledge, your lawn, your kids’ behavior, how attractive your SO is, and even casual conversation! It’s all there for you to win at. Remember, although it may be poor sportsmanship, you’ll still maintain your manliness if you get angry when you lose. But not if you get sad.