What It Means To 'Be A Man' In Today's World

by John Haltiwanger

Be a man.

Every single male in the world has heard these three words in some form or another: "Don't be a p*ssy"; "grow a pair"; "man up."

We hear these words when we don't live up to prescribed notions of masculinity. After all, men are supposed to be tough.

And by tough we mean stoic, invulnerable and violent when necessary. We're not allowed to exhibit emotions. Crying is out of the question.

This mentality is doing more damage to humanity than most of us likely realize.

People confuse masculinity with sex, but it's not a solid argument. A person's sex is natural. It's a product of his or her innate biological characteristics.

Gender roles, however, or masculinity and femininity, are a set of guidelines we've imposed upon men and women as a consequence of culture and history.

We've created and perpetuated a masculine ideal preventing men from being true to themselves.

And we haven't just stopped there: Traditional perceptions of masculinity have continued to foster the idea male dominance is the "natural order" of the world. As a result, gender roles are holding both men and women back.

Gender roles are holding society back.

Most men refuse to talk about their emotions; it's no secret. They hold in feelings of loneliness, pain and sorrow for so long, they evolve into rage and depression. All of this is a product of the way we view masculinity, and it begins during boyhood.

It all goes back to the way we're told to "be a man," and "boys don't cry; man up." From the moment we can talk, we're taught our natural emotions are a form of weakness.

Hence, gender roles are holding out young men back, and preventing them from reaching their full potential.

Boys are twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with a learning disorder or ADHD. They're more likely to act out in class, and are 30 percent more likely than girls to drop out school.

Tragically, they grow up into men who are also more likely to binge drink and around four times more likely than females to commit suicide.

If this is the cost of what it means to "be a man," we're paying too high a price.

There's a pervading sense of powerlessness among men, and it's a consequence of their inability to express themselves.

Most men would likely not admit to this, and perhaps aren't even cognizant of it. Yet, these are precisely the sentiments forcing men to seek other means of feeling powerful.

It's why many men are prone to violence, particularly against "easy" targets, such as women and children.

As feminist icon Gloria Steinem aptly stated at the International Conference on Masculinities on March 5:

Dominance... is a drug. It's addictive.

Violence can make a person feel superior to others, but in reality, it's damaging to both the perpetrators and victims.

The way we define gender roles is also holding women back in countless ways. This is precisely why gender equality is so important.

And it's not only the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do, in terms of both economics and sustainability.

Women are vital to the growth and progress of this world. At present, they aren't equal partners in its development.

Women across the globe face violence on a daily basis, as well as massive obstacles to receiving an education. Women also don't receive equal pay for equal work, and this isn't just true in developing countries, it's also the case in the United States.

Not to mention, domestic violence, rape and genital mutilation are daily realities for women all over the world.

We also don't have enough female leaders. This is true in both business and politics.

According to the Center for American Progress, "the world average for the percentage of women in national parliaments is 21 percent." In the United States, it's just 18 percent.

Therefore, it goes without saying both men and women could do a lot more to break down the barriers created by gender roles.

In the process, they'll create a more egalitarian, safe, sustainable and productive world.

We have the capacity to change and make things better for everyone.

Last night, at the International Conference on Masculinities, spearheaded by the Center for Study of Men and Masculinity, some of the world's most prominent thinkers highlighted the ways in which we can further the fight for gender equality.

The conference was centered around the notion the first step toward healing both men and women is engaging in an equal conversation. In discussions surrounding gender, we cannot afford to exclude anyone.

Sheryl Sandberg was one of the keynote speakers at the conference. In addition to being an inspiration as a female business leader, Sandberg is the founder of Lean In, an organization committed to supporting the rights and ambitions of women.

During her speech, Sandberg aptly stated equality is not a zero-sum game, but one that makes things better for everyone.

She also made the important point this vital discussion is not centered around the impression men have it "easy." The entire point is masculinity, and the way we view it, is hurting men and preventing them from growing as people.

With that said, Sandberg also noted if men truly desire equality, they need to make a greater effort to assist women both at home and work.

It's important fathers play an active role in the lives of their children, while also assisting in day-to-day chores in the home. There are certainly men who already do this, but we have to admit it's not necessarily the standard.

As Sandberg put it,

Don't buy flowers; do the laundry.

Likewise, Gloria Steinem, who spoke not long after Sandberg, eloquently stated:

There is no such thing as masculine and feminine skills; there are human skills.

Today, it's unfortunate being a man too often means adhering to standards fostering oppression, inequality depression, violence and ignorance.

In an ideal world, all men would identify as feminists. Feminism, by definition, is fundamentally about equality.

It's the idea we shouldn't make presumptions about a person or place limits on him or her based on his or her sex. Most importantly, it means gender wouldn't be an impediment to progress.

If we were to truly adopt this mentality, being a man would have nothing to do with traditional notions of masculinity.

Rather, to be man would simply mean to be human, and to treat everyone else, regardless of sex, race, religion, age or sexual orientation, as such.

And what a wonderful world that would be.

Citations: Violence against women (WHO), Female genital mutilation (WHO), 30 Shocking Domestic Violence Statistics That Remind Us Its An Epidemic (Huffington Post), This Is The Truth About Womens Education Around The Globe (Huffington Post), What do we mean by sex and gender (WHO), ercentage of Youths Aged 5 17 Years Ever Diagnosed as Having a Learning Disability and or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD (CDC), Understanding and Raising Boys (PBS), ADHD (CDC), Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Mens Health (CDC), Why Do More Men Commit Suicide (Bloomberg View), Gender Equality and Economic Growth (Chatham House), Fact Sheet The Womens Leadership Gap (Center for American Progress), Sexual Violence (CDC)