When I was fifteen I worked at a place called “Chuck-E-Cheese,” a family-friendly amusement center and restaurant. The arcade-style games would spit out tickets depending on how well the participant played, and these tickets could be cashed in for toys and little baubles.
Once I was lingering near the prize shelves and I overheard this conversation between a little boy and his mother:
Mother: What do you want to get with your tickets?
Boy: I want a babydoll.
Mother: You can’t have a babydoll, those are for girls.
Boy: But I want a babydoll!
Mother: You can’t have a babydoll. You’re not a girl. Pick something else.
The boy was devastated. I’ll never forget the sadness in his eyes as he surveyed all the “boy” options. He didn’t want those. He wanted a babydoll. Why couldn’t he have one? For the same reason that people criticize things like man-buns and rompers. Good-old-fashioned American prejudice, with some sexism and homophobia mixed in generous measures.
There is a distinct protocol in American culture that asserts the boundaries of what it means to be a man. How many of these memes have we seen on social media?
For those of you who criticize others, whether openly or silently, based on their appearance, you might think that this is a perfectly normal response to the way a man wears his hair. In fact, you’ll probably say that it’s the best and most appropriate response. Criticize, demean, and degrade, that’s how we do it in the States. What’s more, you should definitely call them women, or transgendered, because women and transgendered people are inferior to the almighty man!
What a sick country we live in where people think this is ok.
After all, what man wants to be accused of being a female? Or even worse… gay! Gasp! To be called either one of those is to be called weak, passive, less than a man, a scrotumless milksop who will be instantly crushed under the might of the Alpha Male. As long as we teach this attitude to our children, there will be conflict, there will be unfounded animosity, and there will be harm done to innocent people. Harm doesn’t have to be just physical. It’s easy to harm someone just by criticizing them for being themselves. I’m getting to the age where my peer group have taken to criticizing “Millennials” for their choice of style and their lack of knowledge of the “good-old-days.” After all, this meme represents the ideal, right?
Message: Young men should be carrying guns, not emotions. They should be wearing helmets and flack jackets, not purple hairdos and colorful t-shirts. What happened to the expression “be a man”?
That’s what it really means to be a man! Cars, guns, and women!
And we wonder why our country is so divided, why there’s so much violence and in-fighting? We teach our children that the very essence of what it is to be male is to be violent and sexist, to degrade women and to react aggressively to things we don’t understand. People actually think this way, and teach their boys to think this way! “Aww, poor snowflake,” I hear you mock. “He needs a trigger warning! His feelings got hurt!” Here’s something that hurts even more, hurts people you know nothing about and haven’t taken the time to understand:
That’s the way to do it, threaten violence against someone for their hairstyle and choice of attire! That’s the American way! These disgusting “jokes” implicitly promote violence against gays and transexuals, a reality those social groups know all too well. But the threats escalate, more often than I can even comprehend, and end in actual violence. Violence because a man is holding the hand of someone he loves? Violence because someone is wearing a dress, someone you think should be wearing pants? This is irrational, it’s despicable, and it needs to end.
Every time you criticize a man for his personal style you’re guilty. You’re guilty of a egregious sin against humanity, against decency. How many trans women might be able to just live as they are, without having to “declare” a gender? How many lives could be lived happily, without fear of violence or degradation because they’re “different?” How many men could contribute to a better world because they weren’t told that they’re weird or unnatural? Your insults hurt. Your insults degrade. Your insults are petty and cowardly.
It’s been part of my life story to be an outsider to the more gentle-natured men, and especially to gay men. I had a gay friend tell me once that he was quite wary of me at first because I “looked like the kind of guy that used to beat him up in high school.” That made me so sad. He had to judge me based on how I look, not because of some idiotic prejudice or machismo but out of respect for his personal safety. But recently I met a man at work who would just talk to me about his boyfriend, about the fun costumes he would wear as a “furry,” about his life as a human. He didn’t judge me. We were both men. I happened to portray a more rugged male persona, and he happened to occupy a different position on the spectrum. But we both saw masculinity for what it truly is… an undefined, open, borderless celebration of being male!
If a guy wants to tie his hair up on top of his head… so what! If a guy wants to wear a romper… who cares! If a guy wants to wear a dress… go ahead! Why not? Is it because it threatens the sanctity of the family? Puhleez! Is it because it defies centuries of religious theology? Read your Bible again, friends, and use rational thought this time and not what’s pouring from the pulpits or periodicals. I admit that I’m guilty of judging other men based on what they wear, especially here in Europe, where the male style is far more refined and polished than the rugged masculinity I gravitate toward. I need to stop doing that (especially after this blog post haha). But it’s tough to stop. I’m not used to dudes wearing v-neck shirts and primping in the storefront windows and wearing jeans with bedazzled bottoms.
In a way, the more overt gender-defying men are the ones to whom I easily give a nod of encouragement. But the popular European style is testing me. It’s still that awful learned-behavior that surfaces every now and again. (And by the way, just because I keep it inside doesn’t mean it’s ok.) Honestly, if I have to look deep inside myself and be totally straight about it (pun intended), my ego is somewhat threatened by these European fellows. I feel like I look like a mess, a crunchy head-banging slob who isn’t nearly as put together as they are. But I don’t want to be the European guy. I’m not that guy. I’m me, a weightlifting metalhead who happens to feel deeply and isn’t afraid to be a big softy when he wants/needs to be.
Still, I have my moments where I cross certain lines. I have long hair and earrings. I’m a guy. Remember the days when long hair and earrings automatically meant that you either wished you were a woman or were just being overtly gay? I’m used to being judged for that, and I’ve worn those effects with pride for decades. But even with long hair and earrings, people think I’m scary, or prone to violence. They automatically assume that I like horror movies and guns. But guess what – I watch Strongman competitions on Youtube with a stuffed animal by my side. I cried at my own wedding. I’m a mixture of soft and hard, of light and dark, and I’ve worked very hard to free myself from the boundaries of manliness that American culture taught me. It was agonizing. I want to be both sensitive and tough. That’s who I am.
So I say, just let people be people. Let them be themselves. Please, let’s end this war on masculinity and just embrace people for who they are. Why wouldn’t you want that? Stop pounding your chests and start opening your hearts. There are no boundaries to being a man. Free yourself, free your little boys, and free other men. The sooner we eradicate the boundaries the sooner we’ll see a better world.