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Challenging Masculine Norms

As an "older" millennial, I've come to realize that vitality fades with age, and you can't eat French fries every day. More importantly, I've witnessed significant social changes, one of the most profound being the evolving expectation for men to express their emotions verbally to their partners, friends, family, and even pets.

Reflecting on my upbringing, I realized that the men in my life rarely, if ever, talked about their feelings. This sparked my curiosity, so I asked my male friends if they had similar experiences with the older men in their lives. Unsurprisingly, they all said "no." None of them recalled their fathers, uncles, or other male figures expressing emotions openly. This consistent response highlights a generational pattern: men have historically been discouraged from sharing their feelings, which continues to affect our ability to express emotions today.

Fast forward to 2024. Today, we live in a world where our partners and communities urge us to express our feelings. Therapists advocate for it: "Just tell them how you feel." However, this becomes problematic when we actually do it. In her book "The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love," bell hooks explores this dilemma. She argues that while society encourages men to be more emotionally open, it simultaneously struggles to accept and process these emotions when they are expressed.

Traditional masculinity norms have long dictated that men should be stoic providers, devoid of visible emotional vulnerability. When men break this mold and share their feelings, they often encounter resistance or discomfort from those around them. This reaction isn't limited to romantic partners; it extends to family members, friends, and even broader social circles. The communities that encourage emotional expression are frequently unprepared to support it, leaving men in a difficult position.

It seems that no woman truly wants to hear how a man feels. Men, like women, seek safety and a space to express their emotions, but society is not yet mature enough to handle raw male emotions without negative consequences. Historically, masculinity has been devoid of emotions. Men provide safety, food, and build things; they don't cry or discuss how certain words or actions make them feel sad or emasculated.

This dynamic is deeply ingrained in our culture. From a young age, boys are often taught to "man up" and suppress their feelings. Expressions of vulnerability are frequently met with ridicule or dismissal, reinforcing the idea that emotions are a sign of weakness. This conditioning carries into adulthood, creating a significant emotional barrier between men and their ability to openly express their feelings.

However, it's not only men who are affected by this. Women, too, are conditioned by the same societal norms. They grow up in a world where male stoicism is the norm, and emotional expression from men is rare and often unwelcome. As a result, many women find it difficult to know how to respond when men do open up. They might feel uncomfortable or uncertain, as male vulnerability challenges their ingrained expectations of masculinity.

We're in a developmental stage where we're asking people to do something they aren't yet comfortable with. Society is transitioning, grappling with new expectations for men to be emotionally open, while still clinging to outdated norms of stoic masculinity. This transition period is marked by discomfort and resistance, as both men and women navigate the unfamiliar terrain of male vulnerability.

This discomfort isn't just limited to interactions with women. Men, too, can struggle to accept emotional vulnerability in other men. The societal expectation for men to be tough and unemotional is pervasive, affecting how they relate to each other. This lack of emotional literacy among both men and women means that when men do express their emotions, it can lead to confusion, discomfort, and even backlash.

Brace yourselves, because now I'm going to emote, and I want you to take a moment to feel how you react.

I feel like the world, especially women, don't want to hear a man's emotions. There's no space for it. It can make some women perceive men as weak, make others feel threatened, and leave many unsure of how to respond to a man expressing emotions unrelated to traditionally "male" topics like sports. The world expects us to remain stoic, so we must stay in this lane a bit longer—at least until Gen Z and future generations create the space truly needed for change.

We are in a transitional phase. The expectation for men to express emotions is growing, but the societal infrastructure to support this change is still developing. It will take time and effort from all of us to create a world where men can freely express their emotions without fear of judgment or misunderstanding. Until then, let's continue the conversation and push for the change we want to see.



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