“I learned how to be a good man through examples set by good women."
I never took the time to think about it or even realized it until a few people pointed it out to me this week, but the majority of my friends are women.
It’s kind of funny, but I don’t think it’s weird at all. If anything, it makes sense.
I grew up in an environment populated by wonderful women: my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, my cousins, my friends, my teachers, my neighbors, my bus driver, my video store clerk, my favorite cartoon superheroes, my entire microcosm of existence.
I will say there are times when I find myself struggling to identify and relate with other men, and it could possibly pertain to the culture of toxic masculinity that hung over my childhood like a gloomy cloud.
An uncle once told me, “Real men shed blood before they shed tears."
It never dawned on me how senselessly damaging that statement was until the lingering effects of it grew too much for me to handle in my adult life. I used to never cry. Not even at my own father’s funeral. I internalized and buried all of my emotions, because I was taught that “strength” for a man was to not display any semblance of emotion. It was a “female trait.” It was weakness. While I am grateful for all of the male role models in my life, I cannot comfortably say that I appreciated all of the pro-patriarchal sentiments that were expressed during such an impressionable and critical time of my development as a young man. When all I really needed was support and validation, I received judgement and scorn instead. It made me insecure and unsure of how I should behave and conduct myself around other people. It made me resentful.
On the surface, my childhood was idyllic. I played outside every day and ran amuck with my friends on our bikes until the sun came down, but as I grew older, I truly became increasingly exhausted of getting sucked into these one-upping style pissing fiestas with my male friends. It always escalated into an obnoxious competition to see who could be the bigger asshole; the yelling, the shameless objectification of women, and the unhealthy overcompensation of having to constantly prove our machismo through testosterone-fueled idiocy.
Why not prove sensitivity and tact instead?
This is not a self-hating man hating on other men. This is a man acknowledging the slippery slope that is toxic masculinity, because it hurts men and young boys too. We are all hurting and some of us don’t even realize it. We should not be proud of the fact that we cower from our feelings or the feelings of others. The best men in my life exuded quiet confidence, promoted intellectualism, and listened more and explained less. The best men in my life didn’t parade their sexual conquests around like trophies or engage in violent confrontations due to petty disagreements. The men in my life never had to shout, “I AM A MAN”, to prove that he was indeed a man.
I make a conscious effort to not romanticize and idealize women either, because I understand that it can be damaging for them as well. Human beings are complex creatures and we need to respect them in a nuanced manner that does not simplify their entire existence into a lazy blanket generalization. However, I cannot deny their influence in shaping my own personhood. I am a more well-rounded artist thanks to my best friend. I modeled my relentless work ethic after my mother. I learned to love unconditionally and to treat strangers with kindness through my grandmother. I was able to cry again. I valued emotional intelligence over unwarranted competitiveness. I discovered the healing powers of activism. Thanks to a handful of influential and thoughtful women, l was able to afford the privilege and pleasure of these transformative and liberating experiences.
"To the matriarchal figures and the female sheroes in my life, I owe you more than you will ever know."