For me, masculinity has always been an interesting concept. I grew up in a military family surrounded by what some might consider ideologies of “traditional” masculinity. My father was stoic and expected achievement. Our lives were heavily ordered, and he served as the primary breadwinner, while my mother was a source of emotional support and nurturing.
I did not live in a military school by any means, but there were set expectations for how I behaved in public, how I tended to my responsibilities and swift repercussions for mischief. Which was a problem because, boy oh boy, did I love engaging in mischief.
From breaking my bone to dismantling items to see their inner workings to drawing on items not meant to be colored, I broke the rules frequently, and I broke them well. Where, for other boys in my class, it was not uncommon to hear “oh, boys will be boys,” for me, this refrain did not come as much. For a long time, I wondered why but now I realize a little more. The reason I was never given leniency, is because of my actions, in a sense, were not inherently masculine. Creativity, the expression of visible emotion, challenging teachers, not about rules but about what we were learning. I broke the rules but in a different way than my peers.
Reflecting on this, I was always curious about why sometimes, my decisions stood out, why adults bothered me, why I stood out from my peers and why I received more pushback against my behaviors, especially the more artistic ones.
Growing up, I did not have the answers for this. As an adult, as much as I have worked in the arena of masculinity, supporting male survivors of sexual assault and seeking to understand how men can move the needle on this issue, I still don’t have all the answers.
For every statement I make, hundreds of others could challenge these sentiments. Whether data-driven, anecdotal, or cultural, there is no lack of resources on masculinity that skews one way or the other. I am not here to define for you what it means to be a man.
Because that is not my place.
One of the biggest things we see about masculinity is that it is often dictated by our cultures. The campus you call home, the organizations you are a part of, the geographic location of your campus, and even your original home. All of these features dictate how you define masculinity.
Your environment, both past, and present factor into how we view this topic. For example, in Denver, my current home, I am fairly in the norm with a beard, tattoos, a motorcycle, and other Denverite-based features. Now, put me in another place in our country, and my masculinity might come across as flamboyant or outright in opposition to your definition of this.
This is okay. Masculinity is a sliding scale where the values we place in this term, the way we define it, and what we consider to be masculine are constantly shifting. Sure, across the United States there are more traditional hallmarks of masculinity: strength, ambition, fiscal success, physical appearance, etc. But, on a more micro level, these always shift.
For some, loyalty to tradition is a very masculine value. For me, I am more fluid in that I believe we should question everything.
Who is right? Well, neither one of us. We need to be careful when defining masculinity that we are not pushing our values on others, but at the same time, expressing these values in the proper way.
However, you define masculinity; it is likely not a bad thing.
The danger comes when we are so inflexible in our masculinity, that we express these values at the expense of others. Or worse, we are unwilling to consider other values in any way shape or form.
Definitions of masculinity vary, when we stick too firmly to these definitions, however, or practice them without thinking of the harm they might cause to others, we border on the territory of hyper to toxic masculinity, creating a dangerous predicament. The over investment and expression of any value with a clear disregard for circumstances can quickly transform any virtue into a vice.
The key lies in understanding this.
Learning how to be accepting of the values of others.
And having conversations on masculinity.
Ironically enough, one value men often have not been taught that is a traditionally masculine value, is the capability to talk and express vulnerability.
The thing I have found, doing programs on sexual assault prevention, sex positivity, and general masculinity across the country, however, is that men want to talk. We want to talk about masculinity. We want to have conversations on the topic. We want to explore these ideas and figure out what it means to us.
There is no lack of desire to talk about masculinity, from all different student populations, how we do this, however, requires that we create the proper space, use the right tools, and create objectives, so once we leave these conversations, our students and peers feel equipped to continue on their own.
If we do not do this, chances are students will find their ways to discuss masculinity, which while inherently not unhealthy, can be potentially lacking an outcome without direction.
By creating intentional spaces where our peers, classmates, and students can engage in talks on this topic, we are not just offering our campuses an added value. We are providing the space for a conversation that our men want and need. And we are creating paradigm shifts that our society requires.
To learn more about Tim and his masculinity keynote, visit: campuspeak.com/mousseau