Gentle masculinity & belonging
31st July 2023
Soft and gentle are not words you often hear associated with men. Masculinity is more typically felt to mean being hard and tough. Pushy, angry and dominating and not letting your guard down. Society distils this testosterone into the winning formula for business success. Bang your fist, cut people off, put women down, and believe the mantra that "pressure creates diamonds". Man up. Grow a pair.
I believe this behaviour stems from fear of exclusion and ridicule. The anxiety that other men will reject us, that women will laugh at us if we're soft. This can lead some men to crush the dreams of those they love, including ourselves. Being soft doesn't mean being passive. Nurturing a personal boundary works as an assertive edge.
Gentle means that we can effectively move through rocks like a gentle stream to wash over rather than hold ground as a fragile block of ice.
I seek to unlearn the hardness that society expects of me as a man, to nurture my soft and gentle masculinity. I see the power that softness can have as a leader, parent, and man.
When I was five years old at school in Newcastle, I belonged to a group of friends. I don't remember when I was outside the group; I feel I always belonged to it. We built snowmen together in winter; in summer, they all came to our house for my birthday party.
But when we moved to Sutton Coldfield and I changed to a new primary school, I was treated as an outsider. I remember the boys saying in the playground that if I could run as fast as them, I could be part of the group. I remember trying to find the recorder class but getting lost. Moving again to Moseley in Birmingham a couple of years later, I remember my sister Rachel, and I huddled together in the school dinner queue, wearing the red uniforms of our former school, stared at by all the other children in blue.
In high school, I was excluded and bullied by a group of boys who wore special badges. I was a white Christian boy in a white Christian boy's school. I wasn't the only black kid in the year or the only boy in a wheelchair.
I wasn't excluded from the assembly like Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish boys. I wasn't the only girl in our Physics class (which they didn't teach at the girl's school next door). I wasn't exploring my identity or sexuality.
I had every privilege except belonging.
Tagged as: Culture
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