This originally appeared on The Scale: The Pursuit Of Balance In Life. Republished here with permission.
There was a huge response to a recent article in ‘The National Post’ by writer Christie Blatchford regarding the men of Toronto. It was a call for Toronto to stop being a ‘City of Sissies’.
In response, I am going to share two things with you: a moment and a secret.
First, I am going to share a moment.
This is a moment in my everyday life that I personally dread. Not a moment like fearing my safety when walking down a strange, moonlit street, facing a boss and his sexual harassment-laced advances, a trip to the dentist or a strange man following me into the elevator.
I dread when my car acts up or needs attention. Some light goes on, or there is a rattling sound or grinding noise, which means walking into the auto shop.
There isn’t a moment where I feel more insufficient or I am made to feel more pathetic than when I need to do something car-related. Growing up I didn’t have the kind of father that was forever under the hood, asking me to pass the wrench and explain how the engine works. I literally could write on one sheet of paper the entire conversations I ever had with my father. The Strong and Silent type: My father, my example of a man.
Admittedly, I should take on my deficiency of automotive knowledge and learn more about the vehicle I use everyday (I just know how to drive, change the oil and gas up). Whenever I walk into any auto shop, however, is my moment of dread.
The moment the man behind the counter raises his eyes up from typing on the computer with hands adorned in grease and calluses…
Hands toughened from years of working with them
Hands manually manly
Hands hardened and thickened
Hands that don’t feel a thing
…the moment he quickly realizes my depth of automotive know-how is thinner than the worn out treads on my tires, I see a smirk. I see eyes rolling, or a subtle shake of the head. The soft groan under his breath is a mighty roar questioning my manhood, echoing in the empty cavity where my esteem once stood. This pressure, this feeling may seem trivial, but it is real, it is potent and it needs to be discussed.
Secondly, I am going to break the man code of silence and share a secret.
There is an invisible gun held to the head of every man and boy you know.
At any given moment, at every moment of everyday, familiar cold steel presses against the head of every man’s soul. Unseen hands take turns cocking it, pressing it against the temple. The hands belong to people you know and never knew, those you despise and those you will always love.
It is a loaded gun that we as men don’t point out, don’t signal for help with, certainly don’t discuss and don’t internally acknowledge even exists. It has been pushed into our temple since birth.
The gun is society’s impossible, elusive state of manhood.
The bullets are Vulnerability, Inadequacy and Emotion.
The fact it is invisible should not lead to us dismiss its reality. The imprint from the muzzle of this cold steel is permanently pressed into the soul and is everywhere you look. The pressure to act and be a real man is there in the school hallway, your place of worship, along the grocery aisle, next to the water cooler at work, in the jokes from the guys at the gym, sitting at the dinner table, in the music you listen to and the clothes on you back.
I am not trying to compare this everyday external and internal pressure to the realties women face in everyday scenarios. This isn’t about establishing a hierarchy of pain, but acknowledging that this issue affects us all.
What I am suggesting is that we can no longer ignore or minimize the searing impact that taunting and reinforcing ‘Man Up’ philosophy has on men.
Every one of us was meant to embrace our whole, full humanity. Yet, enforced ideas of what being a man is leaves every boy and man wrestling to supress themselves. We are raised to value an unattainable standard, and devalue anything ‘less than’, which is any aspect of our humanity labelled ‘feminine’. Men are left feeling they are not given permission (from others or from our own self) to discover our handcuffed array of emotions. Denying or forced to deny sides of our self, we are the walking dead, numb and emotionally illiterate. This leaves us numb to the very fact of the gun pressing on our soul. The sound of the resulting trauma inflected on the world is muted by a silencer, but the impact resonates like an endless echo of gunfire on women and men worldwide.
The result is fathers who have been home everyday of their children’s lives yet could not be more distant. The result is men who would rather die than go see the doctor, and so they die. The result is boys being called ‘faggots’ or Christie Blatchford’s preferred term: ‘Sissies’.The result is heterosexual boys face homophobic bullying because they don’t fit the narrow mold. The result is men and young men trapped in endless cycles of substance addition to suppress what they aren’t emotionally able to deal with. The result is young men who won’t back down, no matter what. The result is men who are ready to die over a pair of shoes which they value more than their very own lives. The result is men with disabilities made to feel a heightened level of inadequacy. The result is guys who rather approach women with aggression and violent bravado because they cannot compute vulnerability. The result is severe impacts and financial costs to our Healthcare systems. The result is LBGT communities facing a denial of their right to existence, nevermind equity. The result is women in Canada and across the world subject to devaluation, discrimination and subsequently all forms of violence.
Many men are raised to be the wrong kind of strong and don’t seek or ask for help. If we are not raising men to value their health, and in turn value themselves, how then can we expect men to extend respect to the earth, to fellow sisters and ever fellow brothers?
The gun is pressed so tightly against the souls of men, yet we are in denial as a society. People like Christie Blatchford continue to cock the hammer & would have you believe a return to this idea of manhood is the cure. It is simply the reinforcement of the poison that is destroying our existence.
The day Blatchford’s article spread across Toronto was the same day Ultimate Fighting Championship landed in town. UFC is a display of brute force and ‘manliness’ within a cage. Sports can be a space where brute dominance, physical ability and unyielding aggression are wed in an unhallowed trinity. The world of sport can also give way to joyous scenes of men in unconcealed celebration. There is always that ironic moment where the steel arena gives way to overwhelming human emotion….men fashioned as modern-day warriors in full embrace or wash in pure exposed sorrow, hugging one another, standing in tears of joy or defeat. You will even see UFC fighters hug trainers and even opponents after a bout. Apparently even UFC fighters aren’t manly enough for Blatchford’s ideal state of manliness.
Masculinity has more sides than the Octagon.
When I think of mixed martial arts fighters, I think of the discipline and how they train. The Makiwara is a padded post used as a tool for striking endlessly in martial arts training. Using the Makiwara allows you to find your way around addressing resistance to your energy & your force. You learn to train your body to generate power and be most effective when facing resistance. The misconception is that the goal is to make your fist numb and hardened therefore, powerful weapons.
I think of hands like those at the auto shop, hands that are trained to be tough but left numb. I have soft hands and a soft heart, I decided to stop apologizing for it and regretting it.
I am a man.
It is time to stand up and provoke the freedom to be a full, whole complete human being. Find the Freedom to Be Who You Are. I give hugs, Christie, full all out hugs. I am a man.
They say the size of your actual heart is the size of your clenched fist. To open your heart is to open the clenched fist.
Jeff is a volunteer workshop facilitator for the White Ribbon Campaign, the world’s largest effort to engage men in ending violence against women, and founded a chapter at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada working to further a gender-inclusive environment. Jeff’s awareness-raising initiatives to create inclusive spaces for people of all walks of life have earned him numerous human rights & equity awards. Jeff was the event director of TEDxRyersonUWomen, the only TEDxWomen event in Toronto, and is co-director and curator of the annual discussion-focused ‘What Makes a Man’ White Ribbon Conference at Ryerson. He has organized & spoken at numerous events across Toronto and facilitated many sessions and workshops with the National Film Board of Canada, University of Toronto, the annual ‘YWCA Common Ground’ Conference and across Taiwan including at the ‘Garden of Hope Empower Women’ Conference in Taipei, Taiwan. At the 2010 TEDxRyersonU conference at Jeff delivered the TEDx talk ‘Words Speak Louder Than Actions’ discussing gender equity & gender roles, the impact you make as well as the impact words have on our everyday lives.