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Be A Man: The Standards of the Accepted Male Image

Updated on December 29, 2016
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Jamal is a graduate from Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.

As human beings, men can also feel the pressures to conform, despite often times having most of the power.
As human beings, men can also feel the pressures to conform, despite often times having most of the power. | Source

“He’s a pussy.”

That’s what you would say if you really want to cripple a man’s ego, because it hits on so many levels, though you may never see it. It is a verbal castration.

.There’s a lot of pressure on women to meet standards of others. Whether it’s matching the expectations of men as lovers and co-workers, or matching the standards of their roles in society and being women in general, the weights put a lot of stress on their stability. That being said though, in many ways it can go the other way around as well.

Given the many injustices that women fight against and the strong male-headship in so many aspects of society, the stress on men being human is often over looked. It’s easy and understandable since to a large degree we, as well as history, have created the circumstances for it.

Cave paintings from the Mediterranean.  Hunters in these images are often assumed to be male.
Cave paintings from the Mediterranean. Hunters in these images are often assumed to be male. | Source

Writings on The Wall

Since humans could record their stories, men have often been depicted at the forefront of social development. The argument can be made that this stems from the hunter-gatherer stage of our evolution where by nature of simple biology, it was males who took on the more rigorous work of survival. That would include hunting, building, and any strength-oriented task. The women, because their own biology made them the child-bearers, were by logic were responsible for the children and the continuation of their society. This would include child rearing and tasks pertaining to the maintenance of the community.

That is the indications we get from wall paintings from our pre-history, so it would make sense that these roles and the expectations that came with them would evolve along with humanity. Until recently, the assumption was that this was the natural evolution for all human societies. Some exceptions would be noted like the Greek Amazons, but as my cousin would say, they’re exactly that: exceptions, not the rule. What this created was an unconscious training regimen that is drilled into us from birth. The colors they’re most often exposed to are strong, vibrant colors like red, orange, and black.

Boys will get the toys of war and do the physical activities of sports and construction. By nature of the work, pain is inflicted and we are taught to expect that and to suck it up. War takes this conditioning to extremes. The 300 franchise best describes this I think with its depictions of the Greek city-state of Sparta, a society of warriors. Even historically, it is documented that from a young age boys were trained to endure pain. You don’t however see women in this conditioning though. The pain they’re trained to endure is child-bearing, which many would say is just as bad.

Another historical example is samurai culture. Everyone knows the stereotype of disgraced samurai gutting themselves in the act of ritual suicide, seppuku. Yet what is not as often explained or described is that this was as much about proving one’s toughness as well as not dealing with disgrace. The act involved cutting the belly from one side to the other and then bringing it up. The movies’ depiction of this act is far to clean, even the ones in Japan. All this is an evolution of that training boys receive as children of what to expect for the roles they are to take on in society.

What makes this pressure difficult for many modern men is that while there are certain biological standards that define us, they don’t take away from the core fact that we are still human. We have emotions, emotions other than anger and lust, which are often put forward first as manly requirements. We feel pain and fear. We do have feelings and they can be hurt or injured, and we are subject to sadness and grief. Ask any man who has lost a child. Yet these other feelings we are not allowed to have. We can’t show these feelings because they our interpreted in our society as the one feeling that is not allowed: weakness.

A guy who complains too much and is indecisive is seen as a ‘pussy’. Men who are easily manipulated, defeated, or controlled are called ‘bitches’: ironically equating those features with projected female expectations. These issues can cause problems in men because it denies them a healthy way of dealing with their other feelings so they can move forward. Of course, its been said just ‘suck it up’, in order to move forward, but while a guy can work through issues that way, the wound still remains.

This has often been a reason for men becoming alcoholics, as well as committing suicide. An overwhelming sense of failure takes hold of us and how we see ourselves and our self-worth. I would say that the fear of failure is the biggest fear we have, whether that’s in the workplace, sex, or lifestyle

Though a fictional adaptation of history, Spartans were notorius for brutalizing there children to become the best warriors of Greece, whether rumor or no
Though a fictional adaptation of history, Spartans were notorius for brutalizing there children to become the best warriors of Greece, whether rumor or no

Those Who Build Walls

Expectations for men come from two different angles. The first source is natural peer pressure, other men. They can be our friends or family. As much as society trains us, we also train each other about what it is to be a man through reward and consequence. Reward would be winning the praise of our fellows and the adoration of girls. The consequence though would be the rejection and isolation from those same people and in the case of gay men, even society at large. This is painful on the core level because it is human nature to want to be accepted by somebody or group. We are a social species by nature, and unlike say wolves and tigers, who can be just as adapt to thrive singularly as well as in groups, humans struggle with it more so.

This need however is perceived as a weakness because of its dependence on others. When I feel this come on, it is quite common for me to go through a short bout of self-chastisement and maybe hatred for ‘not being strong enough’: because men are strong right? We are supposed to be strong.

The other vector that puts pressure on male standards funny enough comes from women. Now this too is connected to social training, but behaves somewhat differently. Women, or I should say now, ‘traditional’ women, who accept their own training end up wanting their men to be strong, successful, and leaders. The book, Pride and Prejudice and its endless theatrical interpretations use this as the context for its characters in late 18th century Britain.

Women were literally trained not to look for love in future husbands, or even having causal sexual relations with men whom they were not marrying. The ideal man was someone who was well off, respectable, and would provide them with children: great sex not required. The consequences for failing was destitution, poverty, and being marked by their peers as not being real women.

Much of this happens today. There are still many women who want the comfortable lifestyle. It has been said that in the last election that half the people who voted for Donald Trump were women in large part for this reason. Money is a common cause of divorce, and though great sex is acceptable now, it is still seen as the sign of a strong man.

What this does to men is almost heighten the need to succeed, in order to come off as appealing to potential partners: marriage not required. We behave like peacocks, displaying our tail feathers in order to attract mates, only in our case, those ‘feathers’ are our careers, charisma, or sexual performance.

There has been an argument made that some men who are misogynist became that way because of rejection issues from women. They were made to feel unworthy somehow and they take out the frustration by hating the perceived cause of it.

Now this is not to say that there should some sort of public message about protecting men’s rights or feelings or some shit like that. Nor is this about justifying hating women or that the issues that women face is somehow made less significant by this side of the coin. As with most things in life and nature, all things connect in some way, much as we may want to compartmentalize them.

Lamar from Revenge of the Nerds was a text book example of how we saw gay men.  The flamboyance and femininity was seen as contradictory to strength
Lamar from Revenge of the Nerds was a text book example of how we saw gay men. The flamboyance and femininity was seen as contradictory to strength

The Game Has Changed

In the last twenty years these definitions of men have been challenged by progressive, liberal politics. I am not saying that in a bad way, but in the context of the move of history. Women have become more vocal and demanding more respect and justice in fields of work. Part of that push has been the breaking from traditional values and in turn, this affects male standards as well.

Many women may now feel that they don’t need a man to become successful or that they need to have kids. And even if they are single moms, they don’t necessarily need a man to be a successful parent. For men, this does remove some of the pressure, but also replaces it with another. Women are still human, so naturally there is still sexual desire and a primal need for companionship, even if momentary. So the idea of the strong man still lives on, it’s just been turned into something more recreational or accessorized.

On top of that, women have been creating something of a catch-22 for their potential partners. On the one hand, they try to make it clear that they want the strong, outward confidence. Bad boys do this well, whose devil-may-care attitudes and bad behavior is sometimes seen as confidence, regardless of consequence. At the same time, many of them have been vocalizing that they want their men to be soft and tender as well. The stereotypical ‘listen to my problems’ concept falls into this. I have heard many men complain that this confuses them in that they feel they can’t do both. It’s either strong, reserved type or the emotional, nice guy who appears to lack confidence. A dilemma that has many of them and some women as well concluding that women in general are just bat-shit crazy.

More openly gay men in society have also changed added new facets to male standards. Up until the 1960’s, being gay was seen as an absolute failure of manliness as well as unnatural. Besides not being seen as a normal social behavior, it broke the natural, biological rules where our standards for the sexes evolved from. After the 60’s and up until the end of the century, it was more accepted that gay men existed, but were often caricatured with feminine built, voice, and movements: alive, but still a failure.

Today, being gay is no longer seen as that kind of stereotype and its accepted they can look like your next door neighbor. Maybe they are. This turns the traditional male standards completely on its head though because a large part of them revolved around the opposite sex. Increased acceptance has done something to liberate them from those standards, though there is still the struggle with the consequences. Yet it will undoubtedly create new standards that will be unique to them.

Beyond the Stereotype?

Though facing massive changes and challenges in the new century, pressure on men still remains. Acceptance, sex, and even appearance are all still struggles that we feel pressed to meet. If you want proof of this dichotomy, you need only look at action movies. While male action heroes are not the strong, silent-type anymore and they do show more emotions, they are now six-packed beasts. The only action hero I have seen who looks anything remotely normal is Bruce Banner from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and even then he transforms into a ripped monster.

I do wonder if society can cure itself of the injustices and bad influences trying to control women and do the same for men at the same time. Many are afraid that men have become too feminized. Perhaps they’re version involves not a balance but the leaning heavily to the man’s favor for sake of showing confidence or ego. The one thing that can be said though is that the two are intertwined and have been from the beginning and often produce not so good results behind the confidence and success.

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    • dashingscorpio profile image

      dashingscorpio 8 months ago

      There are many people out there who delight in manipulating men or women to value (their opinion) over their own for themselves.

      "A (real man) would.....etc" is usually used by someone looking to control or get a man to do what (they) want him to do.

      I've seen situations of (women hitting men) who then walk away being called a "pussy" by those women. And yet if a man hits a woman back he's torn apart by society. Finding someone who loves you for you is the key.

      Know yourself, Love yourself, Trust yourself. Be yourself!

      It's been said: "The greatest love of all is learning to love yourself."

      To truly be "free" one has to learn to stop caring what others think!

      "Women were literally trained not to look for love in future husbands, or even having causal sexual relations with men whom they were not marrying. " In all actuality the sexual revolution has encouraged women to approach sex in the same way as men. Better birth control methods and legalized abortions have also made it possible for women to do so.

      Lastly better job opportunities and higher salaries for (women) has changed their priority list of requirements when it comes to choosing a mate and spouse. According to statistics (women) initiate 66% or 2/3rds of all divorce filings in the U.S.