I have met many men in the 67 years of this life. Some have come into it for a moment or two, some for a little longer and a few have been around for most, if not all of my life. They have been of all ages, all sizes, all personalities and all so very different in the way they live and see the world around them.
Some of the men have been related to me, some have been friends and some more than just good friends. I have fallen in love with men, and them with me, and we often fell out of love together as well. We have laughed together, cried together and had adventures together but now I can see that through all these times I really didn’t understand what it was like to be a man.
What did it feel like to be a man in a world that expected him to be tough, macho and in control of his emotions: what made him ‘tick,’ what were his fears, his joys and was he really being the man he knew he could be?
I can also see that I had been well and truly programmed into believing the many ideals, beliefs and stereotypes that are attached to being a man. That he should be strong, the provider in a family, that he shouldn’t cry, that he would open doors for me, he would do the hard jobs but not the ones in the kitchen, he would be the fixer, the builder and the problem solver. He was the one on the white horse who would save me from the world and we would ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after – this ending was definitely not one to count on!
I knew from my own experience growing up that it was hard enough being a girl and then a woman in the world, at times feeling that I wasn’t being who I knew I truly was but who I was expected to be: I simply rolled with the expectations that society had of a woman, and therefore I should know how to be and how I should act to fulfil these ideals and beliefs. I wanted to fit in, be ‘normal,’ so I went along with the crowd.
So, was it the same for a man? What were the expectations he grew up with and did he have to change to meet them, or did he choose to stay with who he knew he naturally was and how did the world react when he did? Was he punished when he rocked the boat and did he keep on rocking or simply acquiesce to keep the peace?
So, let’s go back to the day a little boy is born. When you look at a new born baby girl and a baby boy laying side by side, except for a few obvious physical differences there is a deep sense of them being the same. They are very small, vulnerable, fragile, delicate beings having just arrived in this world at the start of this cycle of life. They sleep, they cry, they demand food and they need love and nurturing from those around them as they slowly grow.
But it doesn’t take too long before the expectations and beliefs of society begin to kick in… in some cases almost immediately when they are dressed in either pink or blue.
But who was it that first said:
- A boy should wear blue.
- Dressing him in pink is breaking every rule in the baby etiquette book, maybe even scarring him for life.
- His first stuffed toy needs to be blue and that as he grows the toys he begins to play with must include cars, trucks, trains and planes.
- It is so very wrong for a boy to play with dolls.
I would really love to meet the person/s who came up with these rigid ideas and ask them why colour code our precious children and place them into little boxes so early in their lives?
To me that makes no sense at all and surely fosters the separation of boys and girls from such an early age when they certainly don’t look at another as being different. As they grow, this belief that they are so very different may stay with them, manifesting in various extreme behaviours in adulthood such as misogyny and man hating – a really big step away from being colour coded I know, but a possible step if they continue to be raised in this separatist way.
I certainly don’t feel for a moment that the fabric of the world would fall apart if little boys were encouraged to retain their tenderness and their sensitivity, were allowed to be whom they truly are and it certainly wouldn’t fall apart if they wore pink. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the world would be a whole lot more harmonious than it is now if a man, from the time he was born, was supported to be who he naturally is and allowed to express that in his own unique way.
It definitely didn’t fall apart for my youngest son when I used to put his sister’s pink trousers on him when he was little. But it did confuse people who would automatically presume that he was a girl; curiously there was little, or no, confusion when I dressed my daughter in blue. Have you ever wondered about the depth of the programming so many of us have been exposed to, lived by and in very few cases rarely ever questioned?
And then of course there are the expectations that:
- Little boys will need to harden up on the journey to becoming a man
- Tears and displays of sensitivity are not encouraged, and
- The games that they will play will be full on body contact sports, the harder the better.
And I have also noticed that boys are often referred to as little men whereas I can’t remember anyone calling a little girl a little woman very often.
It was hard enough growing up to be a woman but observing the process of a boy growing up to a man in this world seemed so much harder. From where I see it, a little boy is just as precious as a little girl, just as sensitive, tender and just as delicate, so why is he expected to bury these innate qualities to become someone that he’s not, and what happens when he does? How much force does he have to call in to bury what he naturally is and what happens to his body and the state of his mental health as a result?
I remember blaming some of the men I was in relationship with for not being sensitive to my needs, for not running after me if I ran away, for not knowing when I needed a hug and so much more. It now makes sense that if they hadn’t been raised to know who they were beneath their macho behaviours, how on earth were they going to understand me as a woman? – I didn’t understand me!
So, no wonder relationships struggle under the weight of expectations when the parties involved (both the man and the woman) don’t understand who they are in the first place as they have been programmed from a very early age to be someone they are not.
If today someone placed a new born boy in my arms and I took on the responsibility of raising him, how would I do it?
I would honour him for the delicate and tender being that he naturally is and support him to retain the connection to this true essence.
I would allow him to express his feelings, show his sensitivity, encourage him to be honest and to respect all others as equals.
I would support him to be himself in a world which is set up for him to be anything but the true man he innately was born to be.
By Ingrid Ward, West Auckland, New Zealand