The dirty “M” word – Masculine
I am 6’4, 240 lbs. Granted I have a bit of extra padding, but I’m also just a pretty big and strong dude. My favorite sports are rugby and judo. I like watching UFC and I play rough and tumble with my 3 boys every chance I get. I have, not infrequently, been referred to as masculine.
I don’t know when it happened, but for ages, any time someone referred to me as masculine, I felt ashamed, dirty. That went on for a looooooong time. When did that happen? I’m not sure. These days, if someone refers to me as masculine, I actually feel pretty good, but that took some work. Even still, the hairs on the back of my neck sometimes prickle. Why?
My search for why, started (and ended) with Wikipedia:
having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness.
… and there it is… to be masculine is to be strong and aggressive. In this day and age, that is a bad thing. Oh sure, the ladies want a Knight In Shining Armour to come and vanquish the evil doers… as long as he is caring, sensitive and kind… and wait, he can’t be too much of a Knight in Shining Armour, because women are independent strong creatures capable of fending for themselves…
What the hell.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not laying blame at the feet of women. I don’t even want to contemplate what women have to deal with in order to maintain an identity that is “feminine”, and yet still be strong and independent. Women fight, literally, an uphill battle. I just can’t presume to know feminine struggles because I’m too busy over here, being a man, trying to be masculine.
What struck me about the definition of masculinity is that to be masculine means to be aggressive. In our culture, aggressive is a bad word. At school, aggressive kids were bullies. I hit 6’2 at the age of 14, and was warned not to be too rough with others, even if it was play fighting, because that is too aggressive and, as a big guy, I should protect others. In university, many aspects of clinical psychology have an implicit message that aggressiveness is bad, a sign of pathology. Of course, aggressive actions can be massively harmful and are, for the most part, undesirable. However, when you get the message over and over again that aggression in any form, is bad, you’re headed for trouble. A quick logic check reveals that…
Masculine=Aggression Aggression=Bad MASCULINE=BAD
So, now I know why masculine is such a dirty word… at least for me. As I said at the top, I enjoy rugby, judo, UFC, playing rough. I love seeing bone-crunching hits while watching N.F.L. Underneath it all was a little gremlin that kept telling me I was a bad person for giving in to these “masculine” pleasures.
I know better now. My clinical work and my own inner work, has left me feeling comfortable and confident that having aggressive impulses is OK. More than OK, in the right circumstances it is expected and a healthy response. There are times when it can even be celebrated (Just to be clear, I am talking about finding appropriate outlets for aggressiveness. Reacting out of anger with the purposeful intention of causing real harm to another is unacceptable – I feel like if a lawyer was reading this piece, he/she would require me to put this caveat in).
I know that being aggressive is not the only thing there is to being masculine. For me, the association between being masculine and being aggressive was just the part that made it feel like it was not OK to be masculine for so long. Maybe you feel the same way? I don’t. If you do, maybe this post helped.
I also know that I can, at the same time, be a caring sensitive kind of guy. My family, my clients, depend on both parts.
So, are you ready to make peace with being masculine?
If you are a man seeking help with PTSD, anxiety, or depression, be sure to Check out T. O. N. E (Therapy Outside Normal Environments) – it is a program offered in Nova Scotia (and other locales) that will take you outside, literally your comfort zone and incorporates many active elements (wilderness, art, drama, and music) into the therapy.