That Time I Accidentally Perpetuated Toxic Masculinity

Too many men are still raised to believe their feelings should be hidden away. How often do the most well-intentioned feminists accidentally support toxic masculine stereotypes?
man and woman snuggling on a bench

Dear Husband, 

I realized this morning that I owe you an apology. The other day when you expressed you were feeling stressed I told you not to feel stressed. 

I am sorry. 

When I tell you not to feel stressed I send a message that it’s not safe to feel things. I don’t want to send you that message. 

You are a human man living in a world that wants men to think feelings = shame. Our men are too often told to ‘man up’ and take it like a ‘man’.

Instead of sitting with you in your feelings and bearing witness to your truth, I told you not to feel stressed. I wanted to give you hope and share my optimism with you. I wanted you to know everything would be ok because I have faith that it will be. I asked you to numb yourself, and I’m sorry about that. 

Now I wonder how many other times I have unintentionally created an unsafe environment for you to feel in. 

We live in a society where men can spend a lifetime working and living side-by-side and never utter a true feeling or express their fear. We are told that fear is a weakness and vulnerability is bad. But to be vulnerable in our truth is the bravest thing we can do as humans. 

One of my biggest fears is that we will unwittingly teach our son that he isn’t allowed to feel either. 

I thought I was immune to this because our world says it’s more acceptable for women to cry and feel, so I knew at the very least our son would have a soft place to land and shed his tears. 

But I forgot that our boy will be a man one day, and he will learn how to be that by watching you. He will learn how to feel or not feel from his friends and the media and you. 

You have a hard job, being a man in this world. To add to your challenge, you work in an industry built upon macho bravado and traditional patriarchal values. Misogyny is rampant and women are degraded and looked down on for all the qualities that make them women: femininity, sensitivity, softness, and empathy. 

You spend most of your waking hours in a place that condemns real human connection and shuns vulnerability. The stoic message that feelings are not ok is woven tightly into the fabric of our industrial society. It must feel like an impossible feat to imagine coming home and taking off your armor. 

We are designed to feel, and cry, and hurt. And we are also designed as a vessel to be filled with love, and joy, and tenderness. We can’t numb the bad feelings without numbing the good ones too. If we choose to ignore the painful parts of life we will never fully feel what it is to be loved completely and be completely loved. 

When other people’s feelings make us uncomfortable it’s because we sense our own fear and insecurity, and we want that to go away. So we pull out the biggest gun we’ve got and aim our shame right at the person we’re supposed to love and support. I won’t do that to you again.

If your feelings ever make me feel defensive or uncomfortable I will take three deep breaths and know that fear is trying to make your feelings about me, when really, they are only yours to shape and own. They are your truth.  

The next time you express a feeling (and I hope you will), whether it’s a hard feeling or an easy feeling, I promise to sit with you in that moment without judgment or agenda. I will be vulnerable with you in that space so you are not alone, and hopefully, you will feel safe, and seen, and loved. 

Love, 

Wife

 

Cara Steinmann
Cara Steinmann is a content strategist and brand messaging consultant as well as a freelance wellness writer and co-founder of GloWell. She lives in California and enjoys surfing, climbing, mountain biking, and hiking.