You can tell an ant’s gender by putting it in water. If it sinks, it’s a girl ant. If it floats, it’s a buoyantThe internet – providing me with top quality trash humour
Let me start of by saying that in this post I’ll be talking about gender roles, more specifically my experience with growing up trying to conform to the ‘norms’ of masculinity. To my friends who identify outside of this, to those that do not identify with either, I hope you also get something out of this, because the biggest take I want you to get from this discussion is that there isn’t one specific mould you have to fit into. And if you create your own mould, you can change it whenever you damn well please.
But just for today, I’d like to address those who have felt the similar pressures around this culture of masculinity, because I feel it doesn’t get talked about enough. And while we remain silent on the matter, there are people out there identifying with these gender roles, trying to conform to the preconceived ideas of what makes a boy a “MAN”, when they need only be themselves. Need proof? Well, let me tell you where trying to conform to this culture got me.
It got me flat on my back, on the side-line of a rugby field, surrounded by my peers, coaches and the team medic. Because I’d just had a seizure, in front of everyone. And I remember every second of it.
As I’ve grown very, very, very old, it’s become apparently clear; there are so many different personality types out there. Some are more introverted, some more extroverted. Some of us pursue more intellectual endeavours, some of us prefer being active and sporty. Sometimes we grow to develop new personality traits, sometimes we lose old habits. Sometimes the shy little Ed Sheerans out there find their voice and share it with the world. Variety is what makes the world tick, it’s our differences that promote progression. We’d get absolutely nowhere if we all thought the same.
I am more than happy for the Pitts, Hardys and DiCaprios of the world to do their thing, and I am quite happy to do mine. Because, and it took me a long time to realise this, we’re not cut from the same cloth. From there I discovered, although this took me even longer, that this is a really good thing. Could you imagine how slow the progression of the human race would be if we all fit into that same mould?
Consider some of the greatest male minds of our era. Do you think the likes of Hawking, Turing or Jobs would have achieved what they did if they spent all of their time and energy trying to be a Wahlberg? Of course not. When we refuse to embrace our strengths, we limits ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, we need the Wahlbergs as much as we do the Turings of the world, what’s important is that we find our calling, we find what we are passionate about, and we embrace it.
So how does this fit into the culture of masculinity? How does this link to me having a seizure? Because the culture of masculinity put me on the field.
The whole culture of masculinity is outdated, by a long stretch. We’re still allowing ourselves to be influenced by the gender roles of our verrry distant ancestors (pictured left, extremely accurately). Big strong man do hunt, tiny little woman do cook. Big strong man change tire for tiny little woman. Big strong man play sport, tiny little woman cheer on sidelines. Big man no cry. It’s all bullshit, and I fell right for it.
I was fresh out of high school, in a new town, about to kick off my studies. I didn’t touch my first drink until I was 18, I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence, and then there was the whole “undiagnosed mental illness” business I was yet to attend to. But I was young, naïve, impressionable and was desperate to prove my worth in the eyes of my peers. So I found myself at a rugby club, and I instantly felt a part of something bigger than myself. It was a community, it was a family, and I was welcomed with open arms. Just a kid from Newcastle, looking for somewhere to belong. I was, and still am, grateful for how they accepted me into the club. I want to make it clear, I felt I belonged there, I just didn’t belong on the field.
I was lucky to get through my first season without any injuries, because I rarely was part of the play, standing out on the wing. But after a tremendous first season, when our club clean swept the competition, I got a little too big for my boots.
It was a preseason match when I caught the kick. I had some space, the coach would tell me I had speed to burn, so I put it to the test. I failed, and it woke me up. I found myself being dragged off the field by one of the big guys on the opposite team, until he tripped, his knee landing on the back of my neck. The contact was very quick, a split second, but that was enough.
A split second was all it took for the oxygen flow to my brain to be interrupted, causing a full body tremor from head to toe. I laid there on my side unable to control it, staring blankly ahead, watching my team-mates and club members rushing over to assist. Before I knew it, I was on my back, looking at the clouds, while the medic checked on me.
I played out that season, but was always concerned about my health when I played. I didn’t have the confidence to initiate contact the right way, I didn’t have the confidence to employ correct tackle technique. I was going to wind up hurting myself more severely if I kept it up. So I stopped, because I realised I’m just not cut out to be a rugby player, and there wasn’t a single thing wrong with that.
I allowed the culture of masculinity to influence me. I saw the “ideal” male types all over the media, on my social feeds, and I determined my worth from where I fit in there. I had to prove myself a big strong hunting man, when instead I could quite happily have filled the mantra of wise-cracking kid on the sidelines happy to be a part of the community and telling awful dad jokes. I’d like to think that the right person telling me this at the time would’ve made a difference, but my 21 year old ego frequently ignored logic and reason for the sake of a higher social status.
Having said this, let the Mental Health Messiah leave you with a challenge this week. This week, I encourage you to make an active effort to say yes to something that IS you, or say no to something that ISN’T you. This “that’s a boy’s thing” or “that’s a girl’s thing” bullshit is overplayed. It’s 2020, grow up. Want to hit the gym and lift heavy weights? Go for it! Or maybe that’s not you, maybe you want to learn to tap dance? Sounds great! Maybe you just want to find a nice, quiet spot and read a book? All are great uses of your time. They’re neither masculine, nor feminine, they’re just things people do.
In short, this week’s episode is brought to you by the letter B. For be yourself. For be a Hawking. For be a Turing. For be a Jobs. Dare to reject stereotypes and just do what you want to do. The lesson today is to do something that feels like you, no matter what it is.
When you’re out there making a change for the betterment on this planet and all that live in it, don’t be the one standing in your way.
Change your thoughts and you change your worldNorman Vincent Peale