"Don’t be weak. Don’t be small. Don’t be poor. Don’t be emotional. Don’t be feminine. Don’t be aggressive. Don’t be unapproachable. Don’t be sexist. Don’t be patronizing. Don’t be entitled. Don’t be unemotional. Don’t be big. Don’t be loud.
You might notice a lot of contradictions here."
We're in a moment where what it means to be a man is shifting—and to some men, it feels like there are a lot of mixed messages floating around. As one man put it to us, "there’s a very unclear set of expectations as far as how a man should behave." But while we've heard a lot of talk about men in this moment, we've heard fewer conversations with men. So we asked you: what's the most confusing thing about being a man today?
A recent college graduate named Alex, 23, worries about women not seeing him as masculine enough and explains why he spends time in toxic corners of “the manosphere.” A kindergarten teacher named Jack, 33, says his students embrace gender fluidity in the classroom, but as a trans man, he has found himself running up against gender norms outside school. Dre, 47, a former drug dealer who’s now a business owner, thinks back on the life-and-death stakes of being seen as masculine when he was dealing and reflects on how his values have changed since. And Luke*, 71, describes what it means for him to be an “impotent older man” after finding his identity as a young man through lots of casual sex.
In their stories, and in those of the other men we spoke to for this episode, we heard confusion, ambivalence, resentment, and also optimism—a sense that in this moment of transition, there's more space for men to figure out what kind of men they actually want to be. Others feel unmoored without a new roadmap to follow. "I get this kind of paralysis," a listener named Duane told me, "Where you’re trying to be all these different things at the same time and unlearn past behaviors, and I know I’m not the only one that gets stuck there."
There’s a very unclear set of expectations as far as how a man should behave.
And we also wanted to bring more of you into the conversation—so we got together for an hour of live radio about manhood, now. CNN's W. Kamau Bell joined me, and together, we took your calls from across the country about shifting expectations for men right now, the ways you're reevaluating the role models you've had, and how we can all get better at having these conversations together:
Beyond our conversations with Death, Sex & Money listeners, we also wanted to get a sense of how men are thinking about being men right now on a broader scale. So in partnership with FiveThirtyEight and SurveyMonkey, we surveyed over 1600 American men about what they learned about being men, where they learned it from, and which lessons they’re rethinking in this moment.
You can see the full results of that survey data here, but here are a few statistics that stood out to us:
A majority of men said that they feel external pressure from society, and those numbers are especially high for younger men.
On top of feeling pressure from society, men also feel their own internal stresses, especially around issues of body image and money.
But even as they feel those stresses, many men deal with them alone. Nearly half said they frequently or sometimes feel lonely, more than 40% say they've never or rarely ask a friend for personal advice, and more than two-thirds of men say they've never been to see a therapist.
To read more findings from the survey, head over to FiveThirtyEight.
Click here to read a transcript of the episode.
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