The below exercise is designed to examine the gendered expectations we learn to live with and negotiate in our everyday lives (Brooke Friedman, 1998). As we grow up in our communities, both men and women are introduced to a set of expectations and ideas as to what ‘makes a man’ and how a man ‘should’ be and behave in the world. Whether we buy into particular expectations and ideas, they shape our world, how we and others act and behave, how we make sense of ourselves and others, the ways in which we express ourselves in different contexts, and how we feel about that. Many men may not have had an opportunity to pause and consider how ideas as to what ‘makes a man’ and how a man should be and behave in the world has been and is shaping of their lives.
Pause for a moment to consider and reflect on what you learnt growing up about what makes up a man.
Part of building a picture of how a man is meant to be and act involves also noting and documenting how a man is not mean to be or act. It can be useful therefore to note:
There is no right or wrong answer here. In naming these gender expectations there is no need to hold back — by noting them it does not mean you agree with these ideas. The purpose of the exercise is to name expectations of how a man is expected to act, look, and be. In doing so we are identifying the stereotypes, and naming the expectations, that men experience in the non-politically correct world that many men live.
It is useful when working with older men to specifically name what was considered ‘manly’ or how a man ‘should be’ in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s. This is a time when older men’s ideas about masculinity would have been formulated. Looking at what expectations, norms, and rules operated back then, and making this visible in the present, can be particularly useful. It is their knowledge and understanding of back then that would inform their actions and choices during those times, not what they know in the present. It’s quite common for men to pass judgement on themselves, on their past actions and choices, forgetting that it was a different time and place; a time and place when he did not have access to his current knowledge, understanding, and resources.
You can enter your thoughts below. Once you have submitted your response, continue to the next section, Masculine norms.