The patriarchy teaches men that we need to banish the things that make us human just so we can live up to a toxic ideal, but there are far worse things than that.
A few weeks ago, after I published my first newsletter here on Substack, I was on the bus to the gym obsessing with the thought: “Is signing my note ‘xx Evan’ too weird?” And by that, the implied message I was pondering on but was too afraid to say was:
Was it too girly? Feminine? Too gay?
I know that my anxiety stems from deep-rooted misogyny taught by a largely patriarchal society. As men, we're supposed to idealize and aspire for stoicism, to be unswayed by emotions, to be cool even in the face of distressing situations. To be strong is to be unemotional. That is what it means to be a man.
When I was a kid, I had a tendency to carry grocery bags with my arms, limp-wristed as I helped my mom bring our food and toiletries from the store back to the car. I remember an incident when she called me out, “Don’t carry bags like that.” She didn’t really explain why except for: “Men don’t carry bags that way.”
There were other incidents she reprimanded me for, like the way I walked and I talked, as if she was exorcising my whole character, all because: “Men don’t do it like that.”
My mom had so many strict rules about what manhood should look and be like. She even called out my father for not living up to the rules of manhood: not being a good provider, not taking care of her as a good husband should. All of her criticisms against him were often framed within the context of this idealized Man: unfeeling, always strong, rigid, militaristic. A caricature, more than anything.
I understand now that her worldview rose from a society that has valorized the patriarchy, and while that does explain why she adamantly promotes it, it does not excuse the tremendous emotional turmoil she and her generation burdened on everybody else who fall short.
Admittedly I still struggle breaking free from this worldview, catching myself in certain moments when I’m too harsh on myself for failing to live up to the expectations of manhood. In a previous job, I got promoted to a level where I was largely surrounded by cisgender, heterosexual male peers (and mostly white, at that.) As a gay man in his mid-20s, my anxiety was off the roof, and I was often looking behind back, replaying e-mails, text messages, water cooler conversations—even the way I stood while I conversed with them—in my head. I fell for that now widely criticized TED Talk by Amy Cuddy, where she talked about how power poses can boost your confidence: I would look in the mirror and psyche myself into manifesting the confident alpha bro male version of me.
Sometimes, I picture myself meeting that young version of me. I imagine telling him there’s nothing wrong with carrying grocery bags with your arms, or for walking with limp wrists, or for not liking basketball, or for gushing over mahou shoujo animes. There’s nothing wrong with feeling, and admitting that you feel. There’s nothing wrong with caring, with letting the light come in and show that manhood is more than performing. There are far worse things than signing letters with “xx Evan”, like banishing the things that make you human just so you can live up to a toxic ideal.