We are taught to live by the norms for our gender, but when these norms are too rigid and contradict the truth of our being, we can and should violate them. We need not be afraid to be strong, but also nurturing; reflective, but also caring; resilient, but also open to the beauty of the universe. Our culture hands us a script for manhood and womanhood, but we are free to revise its lines.
I was told strong men don’t smile, so I smile often.
I was told real men focus on practical problems, not art, so I explored music and the arts.
I was told real men don’t show emotion, so I explored my emotions and the causes of suffering and got very much in touch with my feelings.
I was told real men hold tight, so I learned that sometimes it is okay to break down.
I was told that real men emotionally distance themselves from others, so I cultivated compassion.
I was told that men only care about sex, so I got to know women on a deeper, personal, emotional and intellectual level.
I was told that real men say little, so I developed an ability to be articulate.
I was told that responsible men accept what society passes down to them, so I broke with tradition and followed my own call to the truth.
Society tells us many things about what “real men” and “real women” do. Often, these norms only reinforce power hierarchies or have their roots in arbitrary and antiquated traditions. The question we must ask is not, what would a “real man” or a “real woman” do in this situation, but what are my heart, my conscience, my reason, and my experience calling me to do. The irony is that the ideal “real man” and “real woman” are not real at all; it is we who are the real men and real women and what constitutes real manhood and real womanhood are what we choose them to be with our every word and every action.