by Josh Campbell (20), university student, New Zealand
REAL MEN DON’T CRY – OR DO THEY?
All I can remember from my childhood years – when I think back to them – is forever getting a strong message that if I am to grow up to be a real man
- I must be tough.
- I must be hard.
- I must be rough.
But the most hurtful and deeply felt ones of all were that
- I was not allowed to be ‘soft’.
- I was not allowed to be ‘cherishing’, ‘nurturing’, ‘feminine’ in any way.
- That feeling things was not OK because men, that is real men, don’t have ‘feelings’.
What I was sensing from others (particularly from other men) as I was growing up, was that feelings are for ‘wusses’. They are for soft people who can’t live in this world and that real strength comes from what you can do physically, never from what you can feel. This type of strength may come through being physically mighty and being able to lift and push the body, or it may come from lots of hard work through your academic life to be super smart and bright at what you can do. Whatever way it comes, it is still the same message: ‘You are a Machine… you do not have feelings’.
This meant that things like being able to cry, or showing hurt or any ‘soft’ emotion was totally overruled by this immediate reflection of being a ‘wuss’ or a ‘pussy’.
Real men don’t cry – They don’t shed tears when life gets tough or things are too hard. Real men are asked to push hard. To push on and force themselves to the next level regardless of the feelings that they may have. They are asked to totally ignore their own bodies because real men can ‘handle the pain’.
MY SCHOOL YARD MEMORY – GETTING THE MESSAGE THAT NO SUGAR CUBES OR WUSSES WERE ALLOWED
I remember being at school one day when it was wet. We were having a whole school assembly that day which they had scheduled to be outside because they had thought it was not going to rain that day. It was OK at first when we were outside because the rain hadn’t started at that stage. However, I do remember it was cold.
Well, it began to rain and we were asked to sit through it because we “were not sugar cubes” and we “could handle a bit of pain”. The rain was only light so it was not too bad, but when I was sitting there in the cold in my summer uniform, it was painful. Not painful because ‘I couldn’t handle it’. No, I could handle it. I lived through the experience and survived! But at what expense?
It was painful because I knew in every cell in my body that what I was being asked to do was not loving for me. It was not honouring of me because every feeling in my body was telling me this was not right and I was being asked to override it because otherwise I would have been a ‘wuss’ or in this case, a ‘sugar cube’, if I hadn’t.
I could feel that other people were also feeling the same thing: that this was not honouring of the truth that they were feeling inside them. I could feel that others were overriding their feelings. Some were even so good at it that they did not appear fazed at all by the rain and cold conditions. I felt alone. I felt that my voice was only speaking for me and not for everyone and that I would have been seen as a sook for not handling the conditions if I said anything to anyone. This was because I felt small and isolated as everyone else was choosing against honouring or even acknowledging what they were feeling inside them. If I had said anything about how I was feeling to anyone I would have been the ‘wuss’ of the school. Speaking up about how they are feeling is not something a real man would do, is it?
HARDENING AS MEN AND WOMEN – ARE WE AFRAID OF BEING A WUSS?
We get this reflection every day from both men and from women. I know a lot of people [‘real’ men and women] who I meet on the streets, in the shops, at the university – they are hardened by life, unfortunately. Most are studying farming at the university but it does not really matter what they are studying, they have all had to go through a process of hardening to not be labelled the wuss in life.
But what does this mean, to be the wuss in life? We are not at school any more so we are not going to be labelled as the ‘sugar cube’ in front of our peers, or as the ‘wuss of the school’. So why keep the hardening going? Why continue to be the machine with no feelings instead of honouring our feelings?
What if the hardening and bullishness we felt at school has never actually stopped since we left school and we have instead adapted to a way of life that is constantly avoiding being labelled “the wuss in life”? Maybe we have got so used to it that this seems to most to be the norm in life. I know from experience that in many workplaces the so called ‘office politics’ and the ‘office silliness’ that goes on is actually like what I felt at school. The true fun and play-full-ness that many of us have had with our peers as youngsters before it was seen as ‘wussy’ behaviour is not experienced, much less lived, every day in these office environments.
We get ingrained with this mentality from young. Both men and women feel the same pressures at school. After all, in my case, there were both girls and boys at this assembly so it was not just a masculine thing… women too were being asked to override their feelings. They would have also been labelled as ‘sugar cubes’ or ‘wusses’ if they had stood up for what they were feeling.
Women and men feel this pressure in different ways, but it is still asking them to do the same thing… to override their feelings. Men feel this pressure often more directly. We are asked to be ‘strong’ in life by ignoring what we know in our hearts to be true.
Men are seen as childish and labelled as irresponsible and as ‘boys’ if they don’t harden up and grow up in life. What if being ‘real men’ is not really growing up at all but is really a process of honouring and deepening your connection with your feelings? To not be hard. To not be tough. But rather to be the gentleness and tenderness as a man that as a child he always knew he could be?
What if being a real man is not wussy at all…
What if being a real man was actually really empowering because the real strength of a man was never found in what he could lift or pull physically in life, but rather from the love that comes from within him by knowing who he is, from what he feels inside him?