What makes a man? The mythology surrounding this question still looms large. So much so that men often experience a hidden battle: whether their decisions should be self-determined or dictated by how masculine they will seem to others. Do I let my wife know how much something is bothering me or will that come across as not being in control? Do I speak my mind at work or does that risk being seen as too emotional? If I take a stand on a principle that bucks the boys’ club, will I lose status? Luckily, women can be strong advocates for change by encouraging men to evolve and expand beyond the stereotypes. Take a look at the 10 biggest falsehoods about men that, when debunked, can lead us to true masculinity.
Myth #1: Men Are Not Emotional
This may come as a surprise, but men are probably more emotional than women. How is this possible? Unlike femininity, masculinity doesn’t permit emoting on a regular basis, so men are like Victorian novels: placid on the outside, but concealing a deep emotional life within. Convincing a man that it is masculine to open up — in fact, it takes more cojones to do so — is a cause women should embrace. By encouraging men to reveal their true feelings, women are helping them release pent-up emotions, leading to a happier and healthier guy.
Myth #2: Sex Is What Matters the Most
Yes, sex is important to men. It’s one of the ways we access our imaginations. (At times, it might seem like the only way we do.) But one of the big secrets about men is how much they long for real solidarity with their partner. And sex, because it makes the imagination literal, is something we rely on to achieve that bonded feeling. Next time you see your mate’s desire for sex as chauvinistic, remember that he may be asking for proof that you and he are the team he fantasizes about.
Myth #3: A Man Is His Job
For most men, the pressures of work stem from two things: a desire to excel at something (a principle of manhood we were taught as boys) and a need to contribute to the well-being of our families. But duty is not the same as identity, and what one does is not the same as who one is. This is true for women, too; but, culturally, men are more defined by their professions, which can keep their passions — what really identifies them — invisible. Talking with men about their interests is a great way to get away from the conventional ways they are seen — even how they see themselves — which will help ensure a more unconventional (and improved) masculinity.
Myth #4: Males Are Limited Creatures
“Men are underdeveloped” is the most effective propaganda the male sex has created. Your belief in our limitations brings certain “rewards” (i.e. expectations are lowered; bad behavior is tolerated; apathy becomes a non-negotiable). Women, the usual victims of these limitations, most likely buy into the idea because it elevates them. The thing is, men are not limited; and if women decide to sacrifice a little superiority, they will gain better treatment by men. Just look at the vibrant imagination of any five-year-old boy or recall the way past boyfriends have courted you — we can be highly animated, curious, loving and devoted. Holding your guy to a higher standard may not get thanks right away, but it will actually liberate him to be a more expansive, and more real, man.
Myth #5: Men Hate to Commit
Masculinity is one of the most oppressive forces, as far as behavior goes, because it demands that men appear “tough” at all times — thereby avoiding any overt displays of love and affection, which can be detrimental to a relationship. How often have you witnessed a man shut down during a tender moment or make a joke to detour from it? The toll this eventually takes is enormous, depriving men of the riches of intimacy — one of which is completely giving over to a true and loving partnership. While men may appear to prize freedom and independence, in their heart of hearts they truly value loyalty. In standing by her man, a woman can fill a primal absence. And once he realizes you have his back, he will start to show his feelings in his own way — which may not be “traditional” romantic gestures, but they will be gestures nonetheless.
Myth #6: Guys Don’t Communicate
Men like to talk — have you ever tried asking us the best way to get somewhere? But we often censor ourselves based on how we think women might react to a deeper honesty. So, there are times we just don’t bother. This is unfortunate, because men’s internal lives are interesting and telling, and getting to know them by suspending judgment will encourage a man to be more open and more revealing to you.
Myth #7: A Woman’s Looks Are Everything
Non, nein, nope. A woman’s beauty is a thing to behold, and sometimes we can behold it at the wrong times (like when passing another woman on the sidewalk). But that’s just visual titillation. The stimulus that matters most reaches our hearts and minds. A woman with a laser-like intelligence, sharp sense of humor and a compassionate soul — now, that’s a centerfold.
Myth #8: Men Don’t Take Things Personally
This is certainly a myth we would like to believe about ourselves. Nothing fazes us: We’re breezy, easy, confident. Yeah, right. The fact is that men take many things personally — the light teasing about our paunch, the less-than-stellar bedroom performance, the snide colleague at work — but the principles of masculinity prevent our admitting them. The problem is, these things come out in ways that truly affect us. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, men commit suicide four times as often as women, and suicide currently ranks as the seventh leading cause of death for men. Watching for when a guy might be repressing reactions for the sake of masculine pride, and asking him to forgo that habit, is one way women can literally save a man’s life.
Myth #9: Guys Don’t Listen to Criticism
It’s hard to argue that this one is a myth. But the reason men can be diva-like when it comes to criticism is because said criticism is rarely delivered in a way we understand. Women tend to talk around the problem, but it’s okay to get in our faces every now and then and just say what’s on your mind. Sometimes, the greatest act of love is taking someone seriously enough to risk offending them. In a weird way, those tough conversations get at the truth and, in calling attention to our blind spots, are about helping us. It’s when couples no longer think it’s worth the trouble that they have to worry. So, next time, try some tough love: We can take it.
Myth #10: Boys and Girls Are So Different
Okay, so your son prefers horseplay and trucks, and your daughter likes dolls and playing dress-up. Who cares! The things that matter in life — whether your kids are ethical; whether they are kind to others; how they achieve self-fulfillment — are as important to recognize in adults as they are in children. Just as you wouldn’t indulge your son’s overconfidence because that seems “male,” don’t allow your husband to get away with things that hurt your feelings because “that’s how guys are.” The fact is, when it comes to men and women, our mythologies are — and should be — about living more authentic lives.