Stop trying to “man up” – a message not only to men but also to women

We are living in a society where there’re restraints, limitations and prejudices on what we should or shouldn’t do. They are beyond cultural differences. They are universal.

I’ve been teaching extra classes for young kids for quite a while, and I couldn’t help but notice the seperation between boys and girls in my classes. Some boys would call another boy “gay” if he chooses to sit with a female student, or if he isn’t as naughty and rebellious as them.

From early ages, we believe that men are supposed to be strong, and women are supposed to be weak.  And as the fight for equality comes in the picture, women attempt to be strong too. We are told that the image of a modernized woman is one that is strong, financially and emotionally independent. We are told that we can’t be weak, we shouldn’t cry or show our vulnerabilty.  In some sort of sense, women are told to be more “man” as well. Voila to gender equality!

This is a good thing, just sometimes it carries some dark sides with it that we need to be well aware of.

I’ve learnt something surprising about a relative of mine. She’s been going through a long period of depression and anxiety. She would smash things when she gets mad. She easily gets upset. She doubts everything and everyone.  She closes off herself to everyone around her. This was only known when someone living with her revealed it. I was shaken. Cos she was always that positive person on her Facebook, showing lovely pictures of herself and her surroundings, posting fun-filled statuses about her life. And though we talked to each other now and then, she hardly showed her weaknesses.

There’s this mother who lost her child trying to be happy and enjoy her life as if she completely overcame the tragedy. People thought she was fine. Everything turned out not to be what it seemed when they found her committing suicide in her own apartment. It was when she couldn’t take it any more. The cost of hiding emotions can be as expensive as a life.

Everything has a limit. Just like a balloon would break when being overly blown up.

Trying too hard to just be “man” is not only toxic to an individual, but also to relationships, and to families. Boys refuse to show affection to the love of their life for fear of being perceived as “feminine”. Husbands refuse to help their wives with household chores as they believe (and others believe) those things are “not for men”. And both boys and girls, men and women, refuse to share our feelings, refuse to tell others how much we’ve been hurt, refuse to say that we need help, just for the freaking damn sake of weakness.

For such a long time, we have forgotten a basic fact: we are not just confined men or women, we are humans. To me, that is equality. And as humans, it’s totally fine and necessary to be loving to others, to listen to others, to be totally honest with our feelings to others. It’s natural for humans to feel sadness, anger, depression, loneliness. So why do we stop people from showing them? Is it just a way to stop them from being human?

One little known truth about these signs of weaknesses (as you may define them), is that in order to overcome them, hiding is not the solution. The correct solution? You need to first recognise them, embrace them, and manage them to prevent their escalation. This can be done alone, but will even better when shared with someone else.

There’s no point in showing signs of strengths when in fact you’re feeling weakness.  Signs are merely the tip of the iceberg. What we need to deal with is the underneath. Be strong as you are and you need to be. Be independent when it makes you feel good about yourself. Be loving to others when you feel the love for them. Don’t do all of those things only because of what you want others to perceive you.

This is also backed by science. A review of scienctific literature reveals that “who learned that being a man meant no tears, no dependence and no vulnerability, have tremendous difficulty when confronted by the many intensely stressful challenges inherent in old age.”

The world still needs strong men and women, who are strong for the better of themselves and other people around them, not for the sake of showing strength.

These are my thoughts after listening to the below TED Talk by Justin Baldoni. It’s the first TED Talk that prompted me to write a blog post about it, and I find it relevant not only to men but also women. So, men and women, make sure you watch it. I’d love to hear your thoughts Xx

P/S: I chose the image of Obama shedding tears to feature this post because to me, that is the redefined masculinity: the capability to feel and express emotions.