In between an episode of The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, I caught two minutes of The Voice. The contestant said she had chosen “Girl on Fire” as her song, because she’s a strong woman. While she didn’t explain what that means to her, words like intelligent, independent, and unwavering came to mind. Here’s an interesting list. A strong woman is a thoroughly positive view of who a woman can be. If being a strong woman sounds so positive, why doesn’t a strong man feel the same?
Caricatures of Men
Stereotypes reduce a person down to a shell of who they really are. I think there are two stereotypes that have simplified men into lesser human beings, and we’ve started to buy into them.
The Oversimplified Sitcom Man
This man is largely defined by his likes and dislikes. You might have a serious beard game, and if you don’t have a beard, you use a straight razor. You need hobbies, like football, cars, and working out. Craft beer is super manly, so make sure you’re into that. You take risks, like riding motorcycles or rock climbing. Maybe because it’s exciting, but also because you’re sort of a simpleton. To be honest, you’re probably a little lazy, and a little sexist. That’s why you expect your wife to make you a sandwich instead of making it yourself. In fact, without your wife, you’d probably be wearing the same dirty clothes everyday and eating pizza that has sat on the counter for a week. Men are perpetual adolescents. Since you never really grew up, you’re really not that good at being a dad.
The Unemotional and Power Hungry Man
You’re a workaholic. Providing for your family has become totally twisted into a mission for power. You’re tough. Not because you really are, but because you’re seriously overcompensating for your insecurities. You don’t cry or get sad, and seeing someone cry or get sad actually upsets you. You don’t really know why though, because you’ve never reflected on the emotions you have or where they come from. You’re probably controlling, especially of women. You’ve grown up in a society where men are privileged, so you’re not even aware that you’re a misogynist. It’s a man’s world, and you’re guilty of perpetuating the patriarchal world we live in.
What Is the Rallying Cry for Men?
Some of these stereotypes have crept into our beliefs about who we are as men, and it’s important that we reject whatever it is that might keep us from being the men we are meant to be.
It’s not about being controlling. You might be the physically stronger sex 99% of the time, but that doesn’t mean your physical strength gets to be used to control women. Maybe you can open that stubborn jar of pickles, but that doesn’t mean you get to boss your wife around. You don’t get to speak down to women at work or make inappropriate comments. Absolutely, under no circumstance, do you get to force yourself physically on someone or use a position of power to sexually assault someone. (That was gender neutral in case George Takei or Kevin Spacey ever read this.)
It’s not about being right. Your opinions and ideas aren’t better than a woman’s simply because you’re a man. They might be, but that should be based on merits, not because you’re a guy. In the event that you are right, you don’t get to be a condescending jerk for being right. And if you’re wrong, you don’t need to make a derogatory joke to cover up your insecurities.
A “ “ Man Is…
I don’t think being a “strong man” is the right motto for us. It works for women because it perfectly contrasts with women being viewed as the weaker sex, and the fact that women have suffered at the hands of powerful men. Being a strong woman means standing up to bad men and overcoming obstacles. Being a “strong man” or a “manly man” evokes all the wrong emotions. Here are some of the character traits that I think we as men can strive for.
Be a man that doesn’t leave. When a relationship gets difficult, don’t respond by leaving, and especially in marriage. Relationships go through ups and downs, and if you leave every time there is a down, you don’t get to experience the ups. If we want to be men that women can rely on, then we actually have to be around. That doesn’t mean you put up with any abuse, but it means you make a commitment to someone, and you stand by that commitment, through thick and thin. When you have kids and you’re hit with the hard reality that you’re still crazy selfish, don’t take your ball and leave. Sticking around and putting the needs of your family above your own isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
Be a man that is there emotionally. This scares a lot of men. Being emotionally available doesn’t mean you turn soft and mushy. It means you realize that being in a relationship requires you to be honest. It’s OK to feel things. If your wife seems routinely uninterested in sex, it’s OK to tell her that it makes you feel worthless. If work is stressing you out, it’s OK to tell a friend how much it sucks right now. Holding in how you feel might seem like the strong thing to do, but sweeping those feelings under the rug doesn’t make them go away. If we can’t develop a healthy way to process our emotions, then we start to pass this habit of suppression on to our sons. We need to raise boys who aren’t afraid to feel things. It doesn’t make them weak. It makes them healthy.
Be a man that is confident. You can be proud of who you are without being an egomaniac. There’s an amazing thing that happens when you can balance confidence and humbleness. Your family deserves a man that speaks up about what he believes. It doesn’t mean you’ll always be right, but you care enough to make your voice heard, and you’re humble enough to admit when you’re wrong. In fact, I bet it’s super attractive to a woman when a man can say they were wrong without moping around and fishing for sympathy. Stand tall, work hard, love your family, and move through life with your head held high. Strive everyday to be a better man than you were the day before. Not for any recognition, but because you want to be the best husband, dad, and friend possible.
So What Kind of Men Should We Be?
If being a “strong” man isn’t the right rallying cry for men, then what is it? I’ve literally been looking for the right word for over a week. I’ve been stuck at this very part trying to find the exact word to describe the men we should be, and I keep coming up empty. Every word I’ve thought of only partially describes the positive potential that men have. Finally it hit me.
I want to live life and love others in a way that goes against what society says. I want to ruin all the stereotypes people believe about men. Men should strive to be the best they can be. That passion and determination can change who we are, and it can change the lives of people around us. I want to be an exceptional man.
At work, I want to be the best teacher I can possibly be, and make an impact in the lives of my students and coworkers. At home, I want to be a husband that sacrifices for my wife, and a dad that actively raises my kids. At church, I want to give of my time and resources to strengthen the body of Christ. On Twitter…oh wait, Twitter is a dumpster fire…stay away.
Whatever your sphere of influence, and regardless of what society says, you can be a great man. You are not defined by your past, or by the actions of others. Be a man, influence your world, and be proud of who you are. Don’t settle for ordinary. Be exceptional.