Gentle masculinity & belonging
30th April 2021
oft and gentle are not words that you often hear being associated with men. Masculinity is more typically felt to mean being hard and tough. Pushy, angry and dominating. Not letting your guard down. Society distills this testosterone into the winning formula for business success. Bang your fist, cut people off, put women down, 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 the people we love, including ourselves. Being soft doesn’t mean being passive. Nurturing a personal boundary works as an assertive edge. Gentle means that we can be effective to move through rocks like a gentle stream, to wash over, rather than hold ground as a fragile block of ice.
I am seeking to unlearn the hardness that society expects of me as a man, to nurture my soft and gentle masculinity. I am seeing the power that softness can have, as a leader, as a parent, as a man.
When I was five years old at school in Newcastle, I belonged to a group of friends. I don’t remember a point at which I was outside the group; I feel I always belonged to it. We built snowmen together in winter, and 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 in the playground, the boys saying that if I could run as fast as them, then 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.
At 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 boys school. I wasn’t the only black kid in the year, or the only boy in a wheelchair. I wasn’t excluded from 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 girls school next door). I wasn’t exploring my identity or sexuality. I had every privilege except belonging.
rian Ballantyne, Author of “Confessions of a Working Father” https://www.linkedin.com/in/brian-ballantyne-336754/
Share this post: