Why Men Respect Me: A Story of my Masculinity

I’m not afraid to be myself, but I never really knew what that meant. I have been going and over and over this question over the past few weeks since my boss had each employee evaluate everyone else. Each person who wrote about me used the same line. “Ben isn’t afraid to be who he is.” What does it mean? Being who you are isn’t something that people should be afraid of doing. But it is. I could write this blog and rant about how nobody understands me and how there is more to me than you could ever know, but that’s annoying and dramatic. I want to analyze one group of people that seem to say this. The people who say this the most are usually other men.

I have always found the topic of masculinity interesting. I struggled with it, I ran away from it, I tried to define it, and I always felt like it was something I could never conquer. What is masculinity, even? What’s the difference between masculine and feminine?  I can see that there are different pressures around each, I see that there are different expectations around each. But in terms of qualities a person can possess, what the hell is the difference?

We see a strong man as someone who knows what he wants and goes for it. We see a strong man as someone who is in control, someone who has power and someone who is successful. But isn’t that the same way we see strong women? I understand the history of what it means to be a man. It has been drilled into me. “Study. Make a lot of money. Be able to do mental math.” Is there any reason a woman shouldn’t be able to do the same?

I feel that we use weak words for women and we use strong words for men. Are we not smart enough to see that there isn’t a difference between the qualities of a strong man and a strong woman?

When I was in my sophomore year of college, we sat down with a group of about 40 of my male co-workers. We went around in a circle and described to the group the first time that we finally felt like a man. I was in the middle of the group, so I heard about half of my co-workers describe to us why they felt they are now a man. I had no answer. I could think of a few things. When I moved out, when I got my first job, when I registered to vote, all those things. But that doesn’t make sense because a woman can literally do everything I just listed. Is a man the opposite of a woman?

The qualities that are driven into boys and girls are ridiculous, but everyone knows them. Pink and Blue. Baseball and Ballet. It’s all there. I did think of myself as a manly little kid. My dad let me take over a part of the yard and I built my version of a patio on top of it. I could do backflips on the trampoline and I never had a problem. Until junior High.

That’s when everyone decided that all the boys (and girls, obviously) had to be the same. Now there were a few categories I could fit into: I could play sports, I could play video games, I could be a skater boy, or I could be a depressed musician. No way!

I quit soccer because I got too many bloody noses. And I quit tee ball because it was too hot and I couldn’t. My siblings fought over video games so much that I hated them. I only rode my roller blades to deliver the newspapers to my neighborhood. I tried the musician thing, too much pressure. I did what probably took the most effort and I “wasn’t afraid to be myself.”

In Katy Perry’s E! True Hollywood Story, it seems that almost all she can talk about are the 7 years that she had nothing. Getting her car impounded. Couch Surfing. Rejection, time after time. But now she’s a huge star. And now she’s known for her success because she stuck it out. She had to try different things. New recording deals. New partners. New Boyfriends. New everything. Always. Testing the waters, and getting hurt. But she did it, and now she’s here.

That’s how I feel. I went through a lot to become the guy who “isn’t afraid to be who he is.” It didn’t just happen. I, in no way, fit in with the typical boys in junior high and high school. There was too much to know and I didn’t have it. I didn’t care about any sports, I didn’t know how to do anything, and I didn’t walk around treating girls like shit. I remember someone asking me why I didn’t have any guy friends and I said: “because guys are assholes.” And they were! But everyone went with it. We all acted like this was who I was supposed to be. I had friends. Like, don’t get me wrong, I was at least a 5in the popularity scale (1-10). But I was in the school band, I was in the guitar club and mine was from walmart. I just didn’t get it. Nobody did. But when everyone went with it anyways, I just didn’t.

I remember the first time I felt like I was an original person was when I ran for Sophomore Class President at my high school. I was the only one who ran. Unopposed. But I can’t even tell you how hard I campaigned. Walking around with stickers, flyers, everything available to me. “Pick up your pen and vote for Ben!” “Make your sophomore year Hawes-some” and “Real men vote for Ben!”

But that last one was very uncomfortable for me. Because I didn’t think it was true. They were all still going with the flow. Playing the sports that everyone else played and listening to the music that everyone else listening to. Right here, on my couch in my apartment, at 3:40 pm on a Sunday afternoon, I would say that I really do believe that a real man would have voted for me. And I’ll tell you why.

As I have gotten older, (faster, better, stronger, etc.) I have really become comfortable with everything about myself. I am who I am, and you’re right, I’m not afraid of it.

my 17th birthdayI never had friends who were guys. I do now. And I have come to find that these are the people who respect me the most. They respect me because “I’m not afraid to be who I am.” They understand that it’s hard to be someone who is crazy about Miley Cyrus, goes around passing out flyers of my face, and posting hilarious Facebook statuses. They know that it does, in fact, take someone who isn't afraid.

I always felt that I couldn’t relate to men. It was because I was putting all the same expectations on them as everyone else was. We have to stop that. In the same way that girls struggle, boys struggle. But a man isn’t supposed to show that he is struggling. And that’s where we are wrong.

I have really come to feel for other men. Men have emotions, fears, hopes, and dreams, and they are supposed to hide them all in order to show their “masculinity.” A lot of women put this pressure on men. A lot of men put this pressure on men. Every rule in the heterosexual dating game puts pressure on a man to hide who he is. Opening a door for a woman. Paying for the meal. Making the first move. Having her home at a certain time.

Women can get their own selves home on time. They don’t need me. Women do not need a man to pay for their meal every single time. We need to move even more towards equality, and these rules shut off any opportunity for a man to show who he is. Putting all this value on masculinity is stupid. Masculinity means something different now. Nobody cares if you know the last sports score. Unless you do. Nobody cares if you built your own patio. Unless it’s what you’re passionate about. All of these pressures that are put on men allow them to be nothing more than up to par. Nobody can shine. We have to be allowed to show emotion. We have to be allowed to dream. I am allowed to dream.

Men have come to respect me. Because I don’t give a shit about all of these rules. I will not allow people to pressure me to drink a beer I don’t like. If I want to do something, I’ll do it. I don’t talk about sports because of I “hate sports” and “I would rather watch every episode of the Kardashians 25 times before I sit here and watch one man play catch with another.” I know what I want, and I know what to do to get it. I don’t take bullshit and I don’t care if that hurts you.  I know what it takes to get what I want. I know who I am. And I’m not afraid of it. That is why I am the most masculine person I know. Because I break out of the expectation. And That’s why men respect me.