The dangerous myth of the “real man”

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

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In light of the recent comments made by known serial assaulter Floyd Mayweather about sexual assault and harassment just being part of the way “real men” talk, I think it’s important to unpack a little bit of his messaging. Because it isn’t shared by a small number of people. It is shared by many, many men, and many women in addition to that.

Part one: the assaults and harassment

Obviously, align yourself with this idea if you are a misogynistic piece of garbage. It does seem to be the kind of thing that group of people would find accurate. The rest of us understand that this language and these actions are harmful, illegal, and wrong. Assaulting women as an assertion technique just makes you a law-breaking asshole. Nothing more.

But also…

Part two: the real man

We need to rid ourselves of the general idea that there is such a thing as a “real man.” This idea is toxic.

Many people that use their brains will agree that part one of his message was wrong. Part two though brings more cloudiness. I see how this idea of a “real man” is often used to describe positive traits. It’s “real men” cry. Or “real men” fight rape culture. Maybe “real men” paint their nails with their daughters. It’s certainly “real men” wear dresses with their sons.

Even well-intentioned, it can be harmful. Not that we tell men that it is useful and valuable to do those things, but that we set out rules and regulations for being a real man.

What we tend to do is box people up when we first meet them. Based on the hair on their face, the clothes on their body, whether they are carrying a purse or not, or the style of their hair, our minds (or the minds of most of us) tell us to “treat them like a man” or “treat them like a woman.”

The way we force people to be a “real man” can lead to significant pressure and anxiety and is the can become one factor in depression and suicide for many men. We do this all the time with trans men, forcing them to try to meet the rigid physical and emotional standards we have set for “real men.”

It is the classic trap of masculinity—that there is any right way to be a man. There is not.

Being aware of doing this is a huge step in moving away from doing it. Because someone’s hair or clothes or purse or beard doesn’t determine their “realness” as a man. We kind of forget that if that person identifies as a man, then they are a man.

One can be a good man, a bad man, a quiet man, a loud man etc., but none of this makes someone a “real man.”

So we need to be careful even when we are looking to challenge people and their misogynistic views. Pressure them to drop their shitty rape culture defined view of masculinity.

So challenge the things you don’t like seeing other men do. Challenge them to be better men, not to be a “real man.”

Some other material on men and masculinity

Here are a few videos that speak way better than I can to the views we have on masculinity, in particular how toxic these views can be on men.

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