The long road of self-discovery, and one that I’m still travelling, has led me to the topic of masculinity.

A question I often ask myself is: why do I need to do all of this to make myself feel at ease with myself?

I think it comes down to two things:

  • inadequacy and insecurity,
  • how popular culture views and teaches men.

Firstly, why am I doing all of this?

I thought it was a greater calling, but now I’m thinking it’s derived from the feeling of inadequacy driving me to do something out of the ordinary. And even insecurity in how I view myself.

When you hear:

  • improved productivity leads to more accomplishment, more success and less inadequacy;
  • men suffer in silence and the only way to “make it” is by moving forward and becoming successful;
  • a man is nothing without his purpose and successes;
  • success starts with a relentless belief in himself (you can simply believe your success into existence);
  • men are burdened with the task of building themselves up, starting with nothing; and
  • men are valued for their money, success, and the number of women they attract; and
  • men need to disregard their emotions and pursue success no matter what.

Can you see where this is going? We can start to conclude our archetypal male ideal: He can only be a single way: brutish, competitive, stoic, to-suffer-in-silence, always driving forward, rich, muscular, physically strong, not caring for the weak, unempathetic, and attractive to many women. He must not deviate from this definition. This is masculinity.

It’s enticing. You want to believe in it. You become to believe in it. It becomes a central dogma in your life. If you follow it, your dreams will come true. The pain of inadequacy and insecurity will vanish.

But the problem is not all men - not all people - are the same. The mistake I’m making is trying to fit myself into this mould, becoming someone who I am not.

What ends up happening is that you are constantly fighting within yourself. It’s good sometimes because you want to change for the better, but at the same time, you will never become happy with who you become.

Current creators that I follow:

These YouTubers are not responsible for creating this traditional form of masculinity, they are merely protecting and amplifying it. All with good intentions, of course.

Ultimately, the traditional form of masculinity originates from popular culture.

Why is popular culture important? The primary purpose of blockbuster films, television and other media is entertainment you would think.

And entertainment is harmless, right?

However, a lot of education happens at the level of popular culture. Not education like sciences and mathematics, but about societal norms, and how we should act and perceive others.

Now, I want to introduce you to another YouTube channel, which is different from the above:

This channel’s host does an outstanding job discussing the nuances of masculinity and how it is portrayed in popular culture.

In these examples below he gives his analysis of the traditional form of masculinity.

In the situation of Harrison Ford movies, what struck me was the blatant disregard for consent in courtship. Despite the female character saying “no” multiple times, we are taught as men that “no” is simply a game and what she really means is “yes”, and that Ford’s character’s advances are viewed as masculine, sexy and something to cheer.

Even though this is entertainment, can you see how popular culture can shape our thinking in this example?

We are taught: that this is how men act. And for women, this is how men should act towards me.

The host has multiple videos discussing the characters in Star Wars. Arguably, one of the most influential franchises of our time.

He provides a critique of the “ways of the Jedi”. When Yoda offers his advice to Anakin Skywalker on the topic of fear of losing his mother and love for his wife, Padmé, Yoda constantly brings up that emotions like fear and love are bad. We construct the idea of the Jedi as someone who disregards emotions, when in fact, dealing with emotions is good.

Dealing with emotions is healthy. Disregarding emotions is harmful.

Being stoic is regarded as strong, brave and attractive, and this is what arms the toolbelt of most male protagonists in popular culture.

How The Last Jedi Defies Expectations About Male Heroes

Personally, I was a big fan of the first six Star Wars episodes and not so much the reboot. But the Popular Culture Detective offers insights into the rebooted episodes that changed my perspectives.

We finally see traditional masculinity challenged in the rebooted Star Wars films.

We see male characters in a different light. No longer are they the perfect embodiment of a masculine ideal echoed for decades. They are humans with flaws and at times being led by women.

Luke Skywalker is not a wise man but someone who has given up responsibility and cut themselves from the force. It took Rey to reconnect with the force again.

Finn, seemingly a hero, wants to run away from responsibility. Rose shows him that there is something greater than himself that is worth fighting for.

And Po is reckless and insubordinate. His heroic actions result in the deaths of many. He only learns what is real sacrifice by Holdo.

Now, there are two ways to react to this.

  1. see this as a threat to masculinity, and fight back;
  2. learn that masculinity is not in one form and comes in many flavours.

I’m with the latter.

I think there is a suppression of the expression.

If you go outside, away from the internet, you will see that people are different. People have different viewpoints, likes, dislikes, wants, needs, and desires. That is the same with masculinity.

Masculinity isn’t just leadership, power, sex, money, status and the tireless pursuit of optimising these metrics.

Masculinity comes in different flavours. Men can be afraid. Men can be nurturing. Men can be kind.

And that is what is being suppressed.

The traditional form of masculinity appears because I have this deep inadequacy in myself. I don’t know the origins. Is it my upbringing? Or is my ego driving my goals?

I can improve and pursue higher achievements, but it’s important to be happy in doing those things rather than focusing on the final destination.

When you finish climbing one mountain, you look for the next, so you might as well join the climb.

Finally, self-acceptance is key. There are things I enjoy or how I am that might go against the traditional masculine trope, but it’s important to distinguish if I’m happy with them: I love to code, write, film videos, and talk about my feelings. And there is nothing wrong with that.

It took a while for me to figure this out. And I wonder if I am alone? What do you think?