“Suck it up and be a man, will you!”
Growing up there was a rather fine line between what makes a man and what doesn’t. It was a fine line no man or boy was keen on crossing. The biggest stigma that many men face is not being allowed to express their emotions, to be rough and tough, and to work hard to be the breadwinner of their family in the future. Having rather open-minded and supportive parents, I was often seen crossing that line from time to time without really noticing it. It wasn’t because of my ignorance of how the world around me behaved about the topic. Rather, I chose not to believe in it and, instead, believe that everyone is their own person with their own differences. To me, EVERYONE was unique.
Just like men, women are also constricted by specific gender roles by society too. Fast forward into the 20th century, although more progress is definitely needed, women are slowly but surely breaking away from these oppressive gender roles embedded in the society. However, men all over the world are still limited to the traditional masculine norms. The stigma against men for being emotionally honest and sensitive is backed up by centuries of influence from society that men are rough, muscular, and strong. This stigma is further fueled by the male ego and fear of judgement from others.
Even though I was one of those lucky few who was raised in a supportive and loving household, no one could escape the horror of going to school. School is like a second home to many. It is, afterall, a place where most people develop their identity. In my case, I attended an all-boys school. Even though the years in school were one of the best years of my life, holding on to your male ego in school was a great challenge. If you were to break down in tears one day, everyone would just shoot you a look like something was wrong with you. For those who had more sensitive and vulnerable personalities, they’d be often poked fun for being different from what people would label as ‘a normal male’. Back in the days, I could sense the people around me holding back their emotions to spare themselves from being judged by others.
The oppression of emotions because of the fear of judgement is so real that many men tend to be perceived as possessing a pretty chill and calm composure. And that claim is probably right because the bottling of emotions have been completely normalised. On the flip side, when men get mad, you’d know it’s the real deal because of the constant months, or even years, of bottled up emotions leading up to one supermassive explosion. The violence that may accompany the explosion of bottled-up emotions adds to the perception that men shouldn’t be able to express themselves freely. However, it’s the complete opposite! This is where toxic masculinity strikes and leaves the mental health of men in shambles.
When compared to women, I believe that they’re able to express themselves more openly to their close girl friends, who also provide advice and support where needed, as compared to most men. As mentioned earlier, it’s harder for men to express their feelings, unlike most women, for fear of being judged, feeling out of place, and being called a sissy for wanting to talk about their emotions. It's really hard to talk about feelings from bro to bro no matter how strong the friendship is. At times, when men are brave enough to step forward about their problems to their bros, they’re ridiculed and the problem isn’t solved.
Our problems are turned into a joke and trivialised just to make the person feel better in that moment of vulnerability. The effect in the long run? A subconscious wall being built up to guard our emotions while our mental health deteriorates as the burden of toxic masculinity dawns on us. Regardless, bros will be bros and they’ll always be there for you, though we do need to move on from this stereotypical friendship among the bros. If you want a changed relationship among your guy friends, you need to do something about it. It’s definitely no easy feat in overcoming these traditional practices but it’s definitely worth a try. After all, you may end up having a healthier mental state and a group of buddies who really understand you.
We need to change our ways for the betterment of the male community. While making a change applies to you, regardless of whether you’re a guy or a girl, the change must start with us men!
Throwing away our ego is the first thing we need to do. We need to be the bigger person by being the first to open up and talk about our feelings. It’s difficult, yes. After all, lowering your defenses and making yourself vulnerable is risking being humiliated, but if you don’t start, no one will! Start off with your close group of friends and tell them your intentions of being more open. Showing them it’s okay to talk about their feelings and that a safe space among two people can exist brings you a step closer to completely breaking the stereotype.
Coupled with throwing away our ego, do your best to be a listening ear with no judgement and being a friend in need. If it’s difficult to break that wall protecting your bottled-up emotions, try establishing a common ground by bonding over activities. This will help spark a conversation and further develop a sense of closeness. You can even take it to a higher level by making them understand that fist bumps and cool handshakes are cool, but hugging might not be such a bad thing. Sooner or later you will begin to see them reciprocating with you and this new way of breaking free. Of course you may approach this in your own way too but don’t just stop at just your friends. Be that change in your family too. Together, we can normalise talks about emotions in men in our society.
At the end of the day, I’m but one man trying to be the voice of change. Being the President of Taylor’s University Student Council puts me in an ideal position to be the catalyst in this society. I want to understand every Taylorian, but I cannot do that if the male community doesn’t want to break down their walls. We have to do this together. As a team, let’s break the stigma and stop judging people for who they want to be.
To everyone, express yourself, be vulnerable, be sensitive, but, most importantly, break free to be better and be you.
Jonathan Jeremiah Edward is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Accounting and Finance at Taylor's University. He is the President for Taylor's University Student Council and the Vice President for the Rotaract club of Taylor's Lakeside Campus. He also enjoys a good challenging business case challenge every now and lives by the motto to live life to the fullest and to seize every opportunity.
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