I cried for the first time in four years at my Grandad’s funeral this February. Yet, it only lasted for four seconds, when I stopped because I had to be “strong” for my grieving family, which is predominantly female. My mother just lost her father, my grandma, her devoted husband, and so it was up to me to be strong and there for them, help them through the awful bureaucracy that a death in the family entails.
My girlfriend is doing better than me financially during this pandemic, thanks in part to her family. Yet, prideful as I am, I still insist on trying to pay my way for our weekly food shops, or making sure I contribute in some way to make up for it, be it simple things such as ensuring every single bag is up those stairs in one trip, or doing all the chores in the house. It’s perfectly valid for her to come to me for help, but I can’t do the same, much to her chagrin.
When I was in high school, I remember vividly the issues schoolmates of mine would face for not being inherently into sport, left out even by the headmaster when considered for awardship and recognition, despite doing astonishingly amazing academically. It showed to me then how inherent toxic masculinity is in the simplest facets of our communities.
I’ve always been aware that I’m a more sensitive soul, particularly when compared to the macho man stereotype that’s been perpetuated for so long. Yet, I still find myself faltering when it comes to letting these stigmas go, purely because it feels morally right to uphold them. If I let my girlfriend pay for the shopping, I’m now a useless free-loader who has no worth. Bit of a slippery slope.
Toxic masculinity has played such a subtle yet destructive role in my life, shoe horning me into doing things I would not normally want to do - working longer hours, doing more tasks, shouldering responsibility, and feeling an ever-present need to being appreciated by others, struggling to find my own self-worth otherwise. Even typing this, I feel guilty for “splurging about my unimportant feelings” as if I have less value because I should be getting by okay, not once stopping to validate that, actually, yeah, it’s perfectly natural for me to feel all this and more.
Yet, ironically, it’s not my own experience with toxic masculinity that concerns me, no; it’s the concern that these biases that I’ve contended with will influence the young people I work with, and thus continuing this negative stigma for men. Even when trying to give myself time to feel things, I concern myself over others first, as if I’m meant to be some superhero.
It took me until I was 22 to visit my university’s counsellor, and speak at length about the issues I had been facing, and it was so incredibly enlightening. Revelations about so much were made, that I have ADHD, that my suicide attempt was not “cowardly”, and that my family falling apart was funnily enough, not my fault. While these things I knew already, simply actually airing them out and speaking about them made me realise how inherently negative an experience it can be bottling things up, even when you know how to handle it. We humans are social creatures, we talk, we confide, and we rely. Yet, as men, we do two of these far less than we should, and as we grow to become more dismissive of norms that have stood the test of time, we need to realise that letting ourselves feel, and letting others help, is when we’re really strong.