“Yo. Be a man.”
How many times have we heard that said (or hurled) at someone else?
For some, this phrase means something positive, such as being responsible, a present and active father and good and loving partner. But for others, especially those who cannot live up to certain expectations, telling young boys and men “to be a man” can be harmful.
“Real men don’t cry.” “Stop being a sissy.” “ You’re a f-g!”
And while many of us know about the downsides of hypermasculinity, very rarely do we speak about it, given the lack of safe spaces to do so.
Enter the #BeAMan Twitter conversation on December 27.
The conversation was sparked from the trailer for the new documentary The Mask You Live In that debuted online. This film explores masculinity in America and the link between the pressures of performing it and other serious issues such as depression, other mental health issues and even violence.
Within a matter of hours, #BeAMan began trending on Twitter as folks from different races, genders and sexual orientations sounded off about the need to either broaden, redefine or dismantle it all together. Some shared their experiences and their opinions on how hypermasculinity and a limited view of masculinity negatively affects men and women.
Here are examples of some of the tweets:
@zellieimani wrote: #BeAMan is telling your sons to suppress certain human emotions and heighten other ones. A dangerous equation.
@williamcander wrote:#BeAMan & don't erase women's struggle w/ your actions. I am a man, but it doesn't make my struggle more important.
@RichieBrave wrote: Teach young men and boys that Feminism has nothing to do with hating men, but the freedom of women to make their own choices. #BeAman
@ShonQuiPense wrote: I ruined my life trying to #BeAMan by patriarchal standards. I am black. I am gay. I am feminine. I will never fit in. And that's ok.
@SpokeElle wrote: By teaching boys to #BeAMan we wind up with stoic adults who steer away from vulnerability at all costs.
This conversation was important on many other levels as well.
First, while social media can often times be a place for bullying, #BeAMan was an instance where social media provided a safe haven for an honest dialogue about a sensitive issue. But most important, I was in awe of the sheer amount of African-American men (straight, bisexual and gay) participating.
From what I saw, it’s obvious that many of our men and boys are clearly in serious pain. And honestly, why wouldn’t they be?
We live in a world that gives very conflicting messages about what it means to be a man. On one hand, one important way to be a man is to have money. But what happens when that isn’t always feasible (Think: Mass incarceration, poverty, poor education and high levels of unemployment in the Black community, to name a few of the obstacles to that goal.)? And so, then, what happens when the only way to feel “masculine” is by taking on hypermasculine traits such as aggression, physical strength and sexual aggression?
And when you add sexual orientation to the equation, this problem heightens. On one hand, we have straight men who are so threatened by Black LGBT folks that it incites violence and hate crimes. On the other hand, we have Black bisexual and gay men who feel emotionally beat down because they may not fit into these rigid standards of masculinity.
There's also the pressure for Black men to be emotionally mute because a "real man" doesn't cry. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that suicide of rates among Black men and boys have increased over 200 percent. Not to mention, Black men are least likely to seek mental health services than white men and Black women.
It’s also important to point out that hypermasculinity also impacts Black women as well. I have always believed that this pressure for men to fit into the hypermasculine archetype has only worsened sexism in our community. Because while we are teaching girls to be weak and submissive, we are teaching our boys that being a man means overpowering women and girls sexually and physically.
No, I'm not here for making excuses for abuse, homophobia and sexual assault in our community.
But we cannot keep denying that the pressure of masculinity doesn't have extreme consequences on our community, because it does. Black men and boys, regardless of sexual orientation, need safe spaces to heal and confront these issues in order for all of us to move forward. Hopefully that process will include continuing this #BeAMan conversation not only on Twitter, but also in our everyday lives.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: SW Productions/Getty Images)