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Utne Reader Editor in Chief Christian Williams on finding common ground politically, spiritually and culturally.

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The Trouble with Tough Guys

2/26/2013 2:30:37 PM

Tags: Masculinity, Mental Health

tough guys

When I was growing up the boys in my neighborhood relished every opportunity to prove how “manly” we were. We shot fireworks at one another for fun, raced (and crashed) our bikes with reckless abandon, and played football in rocky lots. It’s almost as if we invited injury and looked forward to the chance to show off to the girls in the neighborhood that we could take the pain. We knew “real men” didn’t cry, no matter how much it hurt. Man, were we stupid.

Fortunately, I outgrew that adolescent bloodlust, but I’m still not immune to the trappings of traditional manliness. Hubris is my adulthood Achilles’ heel; I don’t normally read instructions and often find it more appealing to get lost than ask for directions. Somewhere along the line, stubbornness became baked into my psyche. How did that happen?

Take a look at the male icons of Western culture and you’ll see a pattern: tough and rugged like Clint Eastwood, charming and fearless like James Bond, overconfident and womanizing like Don Draper. Consciously or not, boys in this culture identify these traits as “manly,” and the result is a continuous cycle of boys becoming men who strive to show no weakness, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional. You might assume that tendency is just a natural male characteristic, but the truth is men aren’t wired that way—it’s something we learn.

Take mental health among men, for instance. For a man who’s been taught by his father and the culture he lives in that burying your feelings is the manly thing to do, stress becomes something you ignore and depression something you just learn to live with. It goes without saying that the end result of this emotional neglect isn’t usually a good one for the man or the people around him. Everyone has a breaking point, and some are more violent than others. To make matters worse, if a man does summon the courage to ask for help, our current mental health system is woefully underfunded and understaffed to provide adequate treatment.

The good news, though, is that more people are starting to recognize and rectify these damaging and potentially dangerous myths about masculinity. The call for better male role models signals the emergence of a mentor/mentee approach that’s sorely needed in our society today. Equally valuable are the lessons about masculinity we can learn from those experiencing it from a transgender perspective. Altogether, there’s hope that we’re breaking down yet another wall of ignorance.

Speaking of curing ignorance, you may have noticed something different on the top of the website; specifically, the tagline right beneath the Utne Reader logo.

The purpose of the tagline as we see it is to pique a reader’s interest into what we’re really about. While the previous tagline “The Best of the Alternative Press” did a great job identifying where the articles within came from, it didn’t do much to explain why we think they’re important enough for you to read. In this age of climate change, income inequality, and corporate influence on every facet of our lives, we think it’s necessary to emphasize the active role all of us need to play if we hope to leave this world better than we found it.

We recognize our duty to that end is to provide readers with the most interesting, surprising, cutting-edge, and thought-provoking information we can find on the issues that matter to you most (and some you didn’t even know about yet). You may not always agree with what you read, but we’re confident we’ll at least get you thinking and formulating your own opinions. It’s our mission to cure ignorance, and we figured we may as well say it loud and proud. We hope you like it, but more importantly, we hope you’ll join us.

Image courtesy , licensed under Creative Commons 

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4/4/2014 10:18:35 AM
“...down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid." Firecrackers and bicycles aside, been down many mean streets?

Georgio Piasano
3/19/2013 8:26:36 PM
Michael, I heartily agree! Men and women DO process differently. Period. I do not care how much "nurture" talk there is, in the end, our brains are wired differently from nature. You can put a man in a dress but sooner or later he's still going to stand up to relieve himself. That is all there is to it. Read the book: "Wild at Heart" by John Eldredge. Very thought provoking and informative look at nature versus nurture and the battle between the two. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_at_Heart_(book)

Georgio Piasano
3/19/2013 8:20:26 PM
Alec! Why the anger? Why the personal attack on Michael? Good grief, you must be a liberal.

Alec Player
3/4/2013 4:41:32 PM
I would say you have no freakin' clue what you're talking about Michael. I know challenging cultural indoctrination can be scary, but outright ignorance isn't manly, it's weak. Male behavior in our culture is not based on nature, it's merely cultural. Anyone who has bothered to actually study multiple cultures can tell you that. What is manly to you is girly in other cultures. Yeah that's right, your macho "I don't need to feel" crap is makes you a sissy to other men elsewhere. It just shows your weakness and fear, not your strength.

3/4/2013 3:14:11 PM
There is a difference between men and women. All "struggle" but men tend to deal with it in different ways. It is only partially nurture, a great deal is nature. There have been how many serial killers who were female? One, as far as I know. Let's not confuse access to realistic mental health care with an attempt to turn men into metro-sexual girly men. Changing male role models from the John Wayne model to Barney will drive men away from help. The touchy feely crap does not appeal, but the manly logic of "deal with it- and here is how to do that" just might.

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