Growing up, I witnessed a paradox whenever I would hang out at my friend’s house.

Her five-year-old brother was reprimanded for crying when he was hurt: “stop crying like a girl.”

Her fifteen-year-old brother was dismissed when he acted like a bully: “oh, boys will be boys.”

It was treated as a natural fact of life, like gravity: Boys must be strong enough to hide certain emotions, yet are simultaneously too weak to control their other emotions.

It took me a while to wrap my head around this contradiction. As I was figuring out how to navigate the world as a young woman, I learned about feminist theories. Things began to make more sense. That’s when I realized that as a feminist, I truly respect men. Often more than men respect themselves. Consider common ideas like:

“Men lash out when their masculinity is threatened.”

“Men can’t control themselves when a woman dresses provocatively.”

These cliches convey the stereotype that men are weak, fragile, defenseless against their primal urges. Where’s the respect?

Then at the same time, there’s the ubiquitous phrase:

“Boys don’t cry.”

A lot of men grew up thinking they are too tough to show sadness. Often they feel ashamed of expressing normal human vulnerability. Again, where’s the respect?

Are men victims of their testosterone? Are they actually helpless around short skirts? Are they really stronger than women because they tend to cry less? No, no and no.

We should all be held to the same standards of behavior. Women, men, and anyone whose outside the gender binary โ€” as humans, we share many more similarities than differences. We all are capable of restraining our unhealthy impulses. And we all feel fear, anger and sadness to some extent. Suppressing those emotions damages us in one way or another.

Feminism can give the impression that it’s only for women. “Fem” is right there in the name. However, the dictionary definition of feminism is: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.”

“Equality of the sexes.” That’s the ultimate goal.

Of course achieving that goal had to begin with women, since men have historically controlled women. Back in the 1800s, the Hindu monk and philosopher Swami Vivekananda said: “It is impossible to think about the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is impossible for a bird to fly on only one wing.”

In many countries women have made a lot of progress. So it’s time to start thinking about the inverse of Vivekananda’s quote. A movement for equality that does not uplift men along with women is like a bird trying to fly with one newly feathered wing, while the other wing still drags raggedly on the ground.

I got the idea to write this post when I read a New York Times article about an anti-machismo telephone hotline in Bogotรก Colombia. (Here’s the link, sorry it might have a paywall.) The hotline is designed to reduce violence against women. But it solely handles calls from men who are struggling from jealously and rage.

“The idea of the Calm Line, as it is called, is not just to prevent violence, but to address what many experts say is one of its root causes: machismo, the often ingrained belief that men must be dominant.”

When men are given an outlet to process their emotions, it can save women’s lives. Men must learn to navigate the complexities of emotions in a healthy way. For their own sake, and for the sake of every woman who has men in her life.

Right after I read the article about the hotline, I was happy to discover a short film called “Holding Still”. My blogger friend Caren wrote and edited this 22-minute documentary. It tells the story of former inmates of Folsom Prison (in Northern California) who have found a way to transform their past traumas from suffering into hopefulness.

You can read Caren’s post and also watch “Holding Still” on her blog Sidewalk Face. She says: “This film is part of a larger project to raise awareness about centering prayer and to try and increase the availability of this practice for incarcerated people. Centering prayer is nonsectarian and requires no set of beliefs. There is no dogma. It is similar to meditation and mindfulness.”

It is a beautiful documentary, and once you hear the stories of these men you will agree with me that the world needs more of these spaces for men.

Both the centering prayer group and the Calm Line are places where men are respected as emotional beings, capable of both feeling and restraining their emotions.

I think feminism can help create more opportunities like this. But what about men who feel emasculated by the label of feminism? In a big picture sense, we will only be ready to move past the gendered term when:

  1. “Equality of the sexes” is achieved worldwide and women are not longer treated inferior to men. So unfortunately, not any time in the near future…
  2. Society no longer discourages men from displaying “feminine” emotions, and in fact, we no longer see emotions as inherently masculine or feminine, but simply human.

Feminism doesn’t reject masculinity, rather it appreciates and balances both masculine and feminine traits (and everything in between). Feminists respect men by recognizing that just as men are not too weak to control their lust and anger, men do not become weak when they experience vulnerable emotions like tears.

If I ever have a son I would hope to teach him all these things. I don’t want to raise him with a paradox about what it means to be a man.

30 thoughts on “Uplifting men will help uplift women too

  1. I agree with much of what you say here. There’s a lot of social pressure on men to fit the male stereotype. It’s up to men to decide whether or not to step outside the stereotype and be more human, but it helps when women let us know it’s okay.

    I like the photo. It looks like Barker Dam at Joshua Tree National Park, which is a place I’ve hiked at quite a few times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Well said. Theres nothing wrong with a man being stoic if that’s his personality, but it’s unfair when stoicism is expected…and often the pressure is coming from women the most…
      Anyways yes, I took the photo long time ago and it was at J Tree but I don’t remember the exact location. I’m sure you’re right about it being Barker Dam. I hope to visit there again soon, it’s such an amazing place.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for sharing the short film Lizi! I couldnโ€™t agree more with your thoughts here. There is so much suffering when pain canโ€™t be processed. So many of the men in our film ended up in prison because of trauma. They experienced trauma and then they caused trauma. It is really uplifting to see that through access to a meditation practice, they are able to heal this trauma and become aligned with kindness, respect, joy, self control and hope.

    I think this film is special because the only people speaking about this transformative process are the men themselves. There are no experts explaining things. These are men who have done substantial time at Folsom Prison, talking about confronting their deepest wounds with their fellow inmates. Some of the men were filmed after they were released and some of the filming was done at Folsom Prison. Our filming making team would not have had this access without Ray Leonardini who has facilitated the group for over a decade. Mary Trunk is the amazing Director.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Caren, thank you for writing this beautiful comment that adds important information to my post๐Ÿ˜
      Yes part of what makes this film so touching is exactly what you said: it’s the men talking about their own experiences, in their own words. You and the team did such a great job with the interviews. It all felt so natural. How true that many of these men ended up in prison because they experienced trauma and then caused trauma. Truly it is a cycle of suffering that must be broken…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! That’s really nice to hear. The concepts aren’t new, but I enjoyed the challenge of writing about something that’s abstract yet so intertwined with our daily existence. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Thank you Ab!! It seems to me that any good perspective/philosophy of humanity will try to incorporate every human on the planet. So even if feminism started for women, it should include men too. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  3. wonderful post, Lizi. I agree that it is sometimes hard for a man to adopt less than a machismo attitude, since that is what society often expects him to be like. Anything that can help change such an attitude is a good thing…

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    1. Thank you so much Jim. Yes, I fully agree that it’s hard for men in our society, often it seems like a Catch-22 scenario: a machismo attitude is seen as a problem but then a lack of machismo is often looked down upon on as well! Stereotypes are no fun for anyone…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Such a great post on the topic, especially when it can be a hairy thing to talk about sometimes. And I’ve always seen Sidewalk Face’s (or Caren’s) work on here, but I now know more thanks to your link to the documentary. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Wow, love your post. As a strong woman, we have to fight for woman’s rights as well as men’s denied sensibility. It is true. Without men, feminism will only lead us to a dysfunctional world. Feminism has to include men in it. All societies evolved from matriarchal tribes. I think it is possible to have a good relationship…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Standing ovation
    What a profound and powerful article! These paradoxes created and endorsed by us humans must be some of the biggest mysteries of the universe.
    Uplifting men does not mean oppressing women. This is often a wrong notion promoted by toxic feminists. You cleared that up so well.
    Gender is in many ways socially constructed and Iโ€™m very glad our society is moving towards accepting everything as โ€œhumanโ€ rather than feminine or masculine.
    If you have a son, he will be a very lucky little boy to be taught the right things ๐Ÿ’ช Job well done on this brilliant post. Totally sold! ๐Ÿ‘

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so happy to see you back on wordpress SamSahana! Hope classes is going well for you!
      And thank you for your kind words. It felt difficult to write about a topic as complex as gender roles: femininity/ masculinity/ society… whew. These ideas seem so abstract to me, yet they’re a core part of all our daily lives. It feels like unraveling big knots and trying to look at the string itself instead of the tangled mess.๐Ÿ˜…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is such an excellent article on an incredibly important topic. Supporting men in the expression of emotion would in fact make such a large difference in the experiences in society. Thank you for the resources.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Well said. I have three very strong women in my house – my wife and two daughters. My wife is a true partner, and my hope is that I’ve demonstrated for my two daughters over the years that the opposite of strength is not necessarily weakness but empathy, or better yet, that there one cannot truly be strong without expressing sadness, grief, need and so on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading my post and leaving such a nice comment. ๐Ÿ™‚
      I agree that we cannot truly be strong without expressing emotions. Indeed, I worry about anyone who bottles up all their feelings from fear of being derided.
      It sounds like you are a great role model for healthy masculinity and I’m sure your wife and daughters really appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say great blog!

    Like

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