This post is not in any way, trying to undermine the struggles that women face. Instead, I hope to bring to light some struggles that men go through. We all know that women have ridiculous expectations set on them from the day they are born, especially within Middle Eastern culture. The expectation is to be timid and humble women who look like supermodels on Instagram but yet have their careers in line and are modest. But not too modest where they’re not feminine anymore. Men struggle also. And I know saying that may come off as trying to undermine feminism but in no way am I trying to do that; women have and still experience oppression, that’s a fact. But we can hold space for both that men too have their struggles. That is a hard concept to accept because there is so much oppression from males and Caucasian males mainly. But the battle of men is toxic masculinity. And believe it or not, ladies, you have a hand in it.
We define toxic masculinity by the following: that as men, we can’t express emotion openly; we have to be “tough all the time”; that anything other than that makes us “feminine” or weak or soft. The main fear of vulnerability to us as men is not to appear to be weak. Brene Brown mentions in her TED Talk how she only studied vulnerability in women first, but then a man came to a book signing and called her out. Brown shares, “a man looked at me after a book signing and said, “I love what say about shame. I’m curious why you didn’t mention men.” And I said, “I don’t study men.” And he said, “That’s convenient.” And I said, “Why?” And he said, “Because you say to reach out, tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see those books you just signed for my wife and my three daughters?” I said, “Yeah.” “They’d rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the s*** beat out of us. And don’t tell me it’s from the guys and the coaches and the dads. Because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else.”
Now, if you’re a woman reading this, you may say, “what are you talking about? I wish men were more vulnerable and showed their emotion.” Excuse the expression, but that’s a load of crap. Women, in reality, only want us men to pretend to be vulnerable. Brown goes onto say in her book, “We (women) ask them (men) to be vulnerable, we beg them to let us in, and we plead with them to tell us when they’re afraid, but the truth is that most women can’t stomach it. In those moments when real vulnerability happens in men, most of us recoil with fear, and that fear manifests as everything from disappointment to disgust. And men are very smart. They know the risks, and they see the look in our (women’s) eyes when we’re thinking, C’mon! Pull it together—man up.” Men do this to each other as well.
If you think this is far-fetched, think of some of the conversations you have had with your brother, boyfriend, fiance, or husband. If this doesn’t apply to you, then kudos. But if this realization is making you feel some way, then it’s time to evaluate what your expectations of men are. Emotions are not limited to a specific sex or gender. Saying that one sex is “more emotional” is downright lousy psychology and yes, even terrible theology.
During Good Friday, we chant the hymn “O Only-Begotten Son” (Omonogenis). This hymn is impressive in so many ways. It’s musically beautiful but is also rich in theology and spirituality. The specific line that was on my mind during Pashca this year was, “Holy Mighty, Who by weakness showed forth what is greater than power.” When the world tells us, men, to be strong and tough and not express emotion, we see the opposite with Christ. The Bible records many times where Christ expressed feelings; in fact, the shortest verse is “Jesus wept.” He displayed joy (John 15:10-11), exhaustion (Matthew 14:13, Mark 6:31, Luke 5:16, John 6:15), anger (Matthew 23), disgust John 2:13-17), sorrow (John 11), compassion (Matthew 9:20-22, Matthew 20:34, John 8:1-11, and many more), frustration (Matthew 17:14-20), agony (Luke 22:42-44), and empathy (John 4:1-11). During Pascha, we meditate on how Christ suffered for our sake. Although He is God, He did not consider using “toughness” to defend Himself. Christ taught the opposite; He taught us to love our enemies and forgive, not “khaleek ragel” or “be a man.” That doesn’t mean He was “soft”; however, on the contrary, it showed His strength. In Christ’s rejection, accusal, betrayal, loneliness, and physical pain, He showed His strength not by being “tough” or “macho” but by showing love, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. It takes a strong man to forgive someone after being wronged or disrespected. But because society purports this idea, it creates insecurity in men. A man who is insecure in his identity will feel the need to assert force. We see that was the issue the Jews had with Christ! They expected an earthly messiah that would come to liberate them from Roman oppression, someone who is a fearless warrior. However, Christ appeals to something greater. Emotions are part of who we are, and Christ reveals this.
Men, we need to be better. But the only way that can happen is if we have the space for that, which is what we need from you, women and society. So the next time a man is vulnerable, stop, and listen because we are just as human as you at the end of the day.