There are times when it can feel like being a man is difficult. We’re constantly presented with ideas of what it means to be a “real man”… and that usually includes things that we’re somehow lacking. For a lot of men, there’s a sense of emptiness or ennui, a belief that we’re missing something vital. It’s easy to “golden age” the days past when “being a man” was apparently simple and easy. In fact, it’s hard to go online without hearing constant tirades about how we’re in a “masculinity crisis” and how men – especially cis, white, hetero men – are no longer “real” men but some effete neuter. Yet, even knowing that the world revolves around you, it’s possible to still feel marginal, unhappy and ultimately unfulfilled.
It’s this sense of lack and loss that alt-right groups like the Proud Boys rely on. The glorification of a rough-and-ready form of masculinity is presented as a lost ideal – and it’s an appealing one when it seems like you’re coasting along with a vague sense of your own mediocrity.
At the same time, however, we also hear constant criticism of being a man. Society in general has begun to emphasize the damage that toxic masculinity – violence, unchecked aggression and sexual predation – can do. When it seems like everywhere you turn, there’s a new story about men’s bad behavior or a parade of hot takes about men being the worst, it can leave otherwise well-meaning men feeling put upon simply because of their gender. To make matters worse, that natural tendency to want to protest that you aren’t like that is bound to trigger an avalanche of #notallmen comments.
Wanting to be proud of being a man can feel somewhere between aligning yourself with MRAs and feeling like you need to apologize for your gender.
So how do you bridge this particular gap? When you’re stuck feeling damned for following the manhood script and damned for not, what can you do to be proud of being who you are? What are the masculine ideals that we can aspire to live up to? What positive things can a man do that he can point to, things that he can be proud of as a man?