What does it mean to be ‘a man’?
Does it mean that you’ve got to be strong, tall, fearless, or have muscles bigger than your head? These are the questions that affect many young men in today’s society, including myself.
For a long time, I felt as though I was different, and that I wasn’t a ‘real man’. I was raised by a single mother, didn’t have much confidence talking to girls I liked, wasn’t brilliant at sport, was more ‘artsy’ as I loved music and drama.
In school, you get labelled as soon as you walk through the door. There are the ‘cool’ kids, the ‘mean’ girls, the ‘nerds’ and many more. Although I never found out which of the many labels I got stuck with (I was probably just ‘that lad who sings’, if I’m being honest), I always felt like I was looked down upon by some of the other males in my school, for not being one of the sporty, popular lads. I was never bullied or anything like that, but I felt a bit isolated because there wasn’t anyone like me.
In today’s society, men between the ages of 18 and 45 feel the most pressured to ‘man up’ and refrain from showing any signs of ‘weakness’. This, in many cases, leads to them either harming themselves, or taking their own lives. The reality is, it’s okay to have bad days. It’s okay to admit that you’re struggling mentally. It’s okay to be you. That was the main thing that I took from my time at university.
I started being not ‘the man’ that I thought people wanted me to be, but ‘the man’ I wanted to be. So, I took what I liked about myself and ran with it. I decided to be myself, unapologetically, and it’s something I would recommend to anyone reading this, no matter who you are. There’s no point in hiding yourself as there’s nobody quite like you. We’re all unique and, instead of being pressured by social norms to be ‘the same’, we should celebrate our uniqueness and the uniqueness of others around us.
Because, what does it actually mean to be ‘a man’? for me, being ‘a man’ means being accepting of yourself, and treating others with kindness and respect. In my opinion, being a true ‘man’ is reflected in the way you treat those around you. Celebrating difference, encouraging others to do what makes them happy, and building their esteem up, rather than pushing it down.
My Grandad always told me “treat others as you would want to be treated and you’ll go far”. That’s something that has always stuck with me. I truly believe that if we learn to accept each other for who we are, toxic masculinity, as a concept, would be reduced. This is vital, especially since nobody knows how long they have left to live. All men are ‘the man’.
By Stephen Armstrong