Violence ≠ Masculinity
Physical Strength < Strength of Character
I was physically assaulted on my way home from work last night. A crowd of rowdy teenagers were goofing off and as I took my usual route home, they started taunting me and throwing rocks at me (thankfully with poor aim). One boy started to follow me and kept shouting, harmless till he ran at me and knocked me to the ground. He immediately ran off, celebrated by his "friends," indicating that his goal was not to hurt me (which he could have done far worse), but rather to prove himself to the other teens.
What hurts the most about the incident is the reminder that boys from so many backgrounds (including my own) are taught from a young age - both verbally and visually - that they achieve manhood through violence, domination, and physical prowess. Our culture emphasizes strength of body when it should be emphasizing strength of character.
This emphasis must change.
We need to teach boys that wisdom, self-control, patience, emotional honesty, loyalty, gentleness, and perseverance are the true marks of a man. It is all of our responsibility to teach this, because our current culture of "masculinity" propagates not only violence, but rape.
Our bodies are crucial components of our identities. Think about all of the comments you've received about your physical appearance since you were young, and how those words and attitudes have shaped you - whether positive, negative, or neutral. Now imagine if everyone had told you instead that your worth doesn't depend on your beauty or strength or physical appearance of any kind, but rather that you have innate and unique worth because you are the person that you are, and every other person has worth because of who they are.
I apologize to everyone to whom I have said careless or hurtful things regarding your body or appearance. Furthermore, I know that women and non-binary people have had at least as many negative experiences with culture's treatment of bodies, and though I cannot speak to all of those as personally, I want to acknowledge and apologize for your mistreatment.
Above all, I want to encourage all of us to treat each other with love and respect. If/when you hear people harassing each other about appearances (or anything, really), remind them that there's more to each person than meets the eye. And when talking about someone's body or physicality, remember that words have power, and be sensitive. And when your body has been talked about, remember that words have the power that we give to them, and so you can strip negative words about you of their power and walk on in the full knowledge that you are beautifully and wonderfully made.
Tonight for a concert I dressed in drag for the first time ever. I'd be lying if I said the thought of wearing a dress and makeup didn't make me a little nervous at first. I grew up in a town that celebrated physical strength, sports, hunting, manual labor, aggression, emotional stoicism, and big trucks as "masculine." So naturally a scrawny, nerdy, artsy, emotionally-attuned countertenor was frequently labelled "feminine." I don't think anyone actually meant to hurt me with this label. Honestly, the label didn't hurt much at all. What hurt was when people suggested I should be more "masculine" or that they thought I wanted to be.
But today, like every other day, I claim that I am a man,
no matter what size my muscles are,
no matter how high I sing,
no matter how emotionally expressive I am,
no matter how I walk or talk or dress,
no matter who I am physically or romantically attracted to,
no matter how I fit or don't fit your idea of what a man "should" be.
I don't need to fit anyone's mold of what it means to be a man, because every man is different. What matters is that I am working to be the best I can be and encouraging others to be the best they can be, because we are beautifully and wonderfully made.