There is a lot of old conditioning around the concept of masculinity. We have this very deeply embedded belief system that centers around aggression, pride, stoicism, sexuality, and competitiveness – among other things – as masculine traits, and suggests that men should not show any emotion or vulnerability. With June being men’s health month, Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen take a closer look at the concept of toxic masculinity and how one can be free from its shackles. Tune in to this episode and start giving yourself the permission to explore life, get rid of the mask of manliness, and to tune into yourself in a deeper way.
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Understanding Toxic Masculinity
Freeing Men From The Shackles Of Traditional Masculinity
June is Men’s Health Month. Did you know that, Jason?
I didn’t know that. I had no idea that there was anything even remotely dedicated to the subject of men’s health.
You know how it works with these monthly, weekly, daily themes.
They make shit up to sell stuff.
It could be, or to raise awareness.
“Here’s some testosterone booster.” I’m waiting for the barrage of testosterone booster ads to flood my Instagram feed like, “Can’t get it up? Are you not doing as many reps in the gym? Are you not getting morning wood? You need some five X triple-alpha male testosterone booster.” I already get those ads, but I feel like the uptick in those ads is going to go through the roof.In a culture that equates masculinity with physical power, some men and boys will feel like they are failing at being a man. Click To Tweet
This could be an interesting discussion from what I know, which is a little of Men’s Health Month. It seems to be centered around physical health. I wanted to dive into the mental health side of it. I was specifically inspired after seeing this book called The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making. It’s by an author named Jared Yates Sexton. I have not read the book yet, but I have read a little bit about it and I was drawn into this concept of toxic masculinity. That’s what I wanted to explore.
It’s a great topic because I have been reading some articles and we had mentioned this in some episodes about some pro athletes and specifically some basketball players because that’s my favorite sport discussing their mental health issues. In fact, I was reading an article by Kevin Love, who is one of the forwards for the Cleveland Cavaliers. We would love to have him on the show. You talk about dream guests and people. I would love to have Kevin here on the show with us. He had written an article in The Players’ Tribune. He was talking about COVID-19 and mental health because the NBA has been on hiatus when one of the players of the Utah Jazz tested positive and the league has been shutting down. In this follow up article, he was talking about not only that, but he’s been de facto the face of mental health for the NBA and pro sports.
He was talking about in terms of masculinity that there is still such a massive cultural stigma around. He has noticed with teammates and players in the NBA that there’s a stigma around weakness if you talk about the fact that you’re struggling with anxiety, depression or panic attacks. That was one of the things that he was going through was panic attacks. He’s experienced depression his whole life. He said that a lot of men are reticent to discuss it because of them being viewed as weak mentally. In a league where there was a lot of cutthroat competition, you want to be perceived as the alpha. That’s high stakes at that level of the NBA. Not only that though, but this fear of being perceived or labeled as weak is monetary fear.
General managers, owners and people who run the sports organizations, the individual teams, which are corporations, they are moneymaking companies. They are afraid that the people who would hire or assign them to a contract as a player would be concerned about their long-term value if they knew that they had clinical depression, panic attacks, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar or anything under the umbrella of mental health. I thought it was interesting that those are two things that for men, there’s still a lot of shame and stigma to discuss when we are feeling weak, when we are having a tough moment and when we need help.
There’s a lot of old conditioning and old toxic masculinity of like, “Suck it up and get back up. Don’t dare to cry. I’ll give you something to cry about.” There’s that old paradigm in my family. As much as I love my grandfather, Walter, I remember him saying things like, “Don’t show emotion and weakness.” Certainly, as I summarize this long rant, looking at Kevin Love and a lot of the athletes out there, there still is much that stigma of, “Don’t cry. Don’t show emotion and weakness.” Unfortunately, the stigma of mental health is tied to that.
I did a lot of reading on this. There’s a lot to be uncovered and I had to reign myself in because I could easily go down the research rabbit hole with a lot of these things. I wanted to start by sharing a definition of toxic masculinity. I found one from The Good Men Project, which defines it as a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured. While supposedly “feminine” traits, which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual are the means by which your status as a “man” can be taken away. Some of the articles that I’ve read about this have some different traits that we’ve come to associate with men, especially in the United States. Those could be quickness to anger, violence, pride, ignorance, self-protective, stoicism, dead-eyed, predatory staring, aggression, racism, misogyny, homophobia, manly in curiosity, insecurity, gruff demeanor, constant threats, boasting about his money and power and bullying of opponents among many things.
It sounds old school. What comes up for me with that secondary description is the nuclear era, the 1950s, a man of, “Don’t cry. Don’t show emotion. Don’t let on any vulnerabilities. Put your head down and work and go to the grindstone. Suck it up and make a living.” All of these phrases are outdated and archaic. I look at it as a nonintegrated approach to masculinity. When I say nonintegrated, it reminds me of a lot of conversations that I’ve had with my therapist, Gary. In a lot of those conversations, we talked about the polarity of masculine and feminine. Not necessarily even we’re talking about the physicality of a masculine or feminine body, but more of the energetics of, what does it mean to be masculine? What does it mean to be feminine? How there are these binary traits that somehow get assigned to masculine or feminine? That seemed to be fixed in a lot of people’s minds. In the masculine sense, there’s a drive, ambition, aggression, violent one-pointed focus sometimes, and competitive. Those are assigned as masculine traits. Whereas, you detailed the more feminine traits as emotive, soft, protective and open.
What I’ve begun to identify in myself through a lot of therapy and with my therapist, Gary, is that I feel like, not necessarily intentionally, but defaulted to some middle ground. The phrase that I used with him was energetically androgynous. He laughed and said, “That’s good.” I feel that I’m an incredibly sensitive man. I have been my entire life. Even as a little boy, I remember feeling all of these emotions and feeling deeply and shamed by a lot of the young men and boys that I grew up in school. Noticing that they were embodying that old school, toxic masculinity of fighting all the time and being aggressive and violent. I never wanted to get in fights. I never wanted to beat people up and push people around. I am having many mixed emotions around that. It’s something that even as an adult man, I’ve had to do a lot of unraveling around, “Does this mean I’m too a feminine? Does this mean I’m embodying too much feminine energy? Does this mean I’m gay? What does this mean?” As I got older, I was struggling with a lot of these thoughts and feelings.
One of the topics that come up in the book based on one of the articles and reviews of it that I read is about socialization and how there’s a lot of teaching gender expectations. For men, it’s much about weeding out any feminine characteristics, including things like sensitivity, curiosity, creativity, weakness and a desire to communicate past purposes of utility. The author points out that with socializing like this, “A man’s tools for solving personal problems are few.”
It leaves you stranded on an island of your own creation, in the sense of don’t ask for help, don’t show weakness, don’t admit you’re struggling or suffering. That’s why it always makes me scratch my chin, but not surprising when I talk to female friends that are like, “I want to go to therapy, but my boyfriend doesn’t want to go or my husband refuses. He says we can figure it out. We’re fine.” I’ve heard those stories ad infinitum throughout my entire life of certain men being resistant to admit that there’s a problem or something that needs to be fixed or healed rather. This single-pointed attitude of like, “We can figure it out. I don’t need anybody. I don’t need to pay for therapy.” The old school thing of, the guy cuts himself in the kitchen and he’s bleeding profusely. It’s funny because I’ve done this. Being a chef, I’ve cut myself an innumerable number of times. I’ve never taken myself into the emergency room. There has been a couple of cuts that I probably ought to have taken myself in retrospect, but it was that old school of like, “It will heal. It’s fine. I don’t need any stitches.”
That’s a symptom of what you’re describing of men, this prototypical toxic masculine mindset of, “I can do it on my own. I don’t need anybody else. I need to prove that I can do it and not ask for help and not ask for support.” That becomes dangerous though when we talk about physical health, but mental health that if a guy’s having chest pains, repeated aches or pains or is struggling with depression. That lonely man on his own island figuring it out does not work. In the ways that I’ve experienced in my life, specifically around my clinical depression, I didn’t want to admit that I was suffering that bad for years. I was ashamed to admit it. I was afraid of being perceived as weak. I also had that attitude of, “I can figure this out. I can eat healthier. I can go to meditate. I can do yoga. I don’t need therapy.” I say that from personal experience of having had to wrestle with a lot of this old paradigm masculinity. Had I shed that, let it go or had started to integrate maybe into more of the receptive feminine, I probably wouldn’t have struggled as long as I did, honestly.
In one of the articles I was reading, which I believe came from Tolerance.org, one line that I felt resonated with me said that, “In a culture that equates masculinity with physical power, some men and boys will feel like they are failing at being a man.”Our culture doesn't give much room for men to experiment with themselves. Click To Tweet
What I’ve thought about is not the subjugation of the feminine to live up to an ideal in our society, but the subjugation of everyone to live up to an ideal. This paradigm of the superhero growing up. You had Superman, Batman, and all of these ultra-masculine superheroes with six-packs and big rippling muscles and the ability to jump over buildings, fly through the air and throw cars around. It was this idea that this non-subtle reinforcement of, “If you want to protect the people you love and be celebrated. If you want to be more powerful than anyone and defeat the bad guys and save whatever the world, you’ve got to be this Adonis and Herculean figure of rippling muscles and stoic masculinity and no emotions and swoop in to save the day.” That paradigm, that archetype has existed for Millennia. You think about the damsel in distress and the white knight on his steed coming in to save the woman and everyone, doing that through violence, power and killing people.
This is not a new concept of the ultra-muscular, powerful strength and violence wielding man coming to “save the day.” You feel the sense of inadequacy as a man if you’re not this big muscular, violent, stoic person. That’s the archetype that we saw in Greek and Roman mythology, the comic books we read. There were a few examples other than maybe Star Wars. Someone like Luke Skywalker was not this giant muscular being. There was violence in that saga, but most of the archetypes that I remember receiving as a child and a young man were much in that vein, Whitney, of a guy doing it on its own. He’s this big rippling, strong, violent person. That’s how you protect and save people and if you’re not that, then you must be weak and useless. It’s introduced at a young age for little boys. The other side of it is, women in those archetypes being the ones needing, saving like, “I need a man to come to save me. I need a husband, protector, and someone with lots of money.” That imprinting and conditioning for men and women start young.
Like anything in our society is where we’re learning from the figures in our lives, whether their parents, teachers, friends or a combination of all of the above. Some of the articles that I was reading got in-depth about studies that have been done on men that have grown up without father figures. I know that’s a big thing for you, Jason. A lot of different perspectives on how having a father in your life can impact you as a man and how you act like a child and how you develop throughout your life. Having different father figures, whether they’re the person that your actual biological father or a father figure in your life. For you, you have Michael, your mentor, and also who’s in essence become a father figure for you. I know that’s shaped a lot of your life.
It’s interesting you bring this up because I’ve thought about both sides of the coin in terms of me not growing up with my father, Andres, around. The one side of that coin and the one side of that perspective is that he became a violent, aggressive, unstable mentally human being where he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Ultimately, the disillusion of my relationship with my mother was due to the fact that she didn’t feel safe having him in our family unit anymore. I could go on about some horrifying stories. There were a lot of painful harrowing situations that I remember as a child with him. It got to the point where he became erratic, unstable and addicted that we simply couldn’t have him around. Unfortunately, that became his undoing and he died from his addictions truly and poisoning himself.
The one side of the coin is looking at that as a beneficial thing because had he remained in our family unit in the house, I would have been likely continually exposed to alcoholism, drug abuse, anger and physical violence toward me and my mother, which was already happening. On the one side of the coin, it’s like, “How would I have turned out as a man having that level of imprinting of violence, abuse, and addiction all the time?” On the other side of that coin, because I didn’t have a solid father figure growing up, a lot of the archetypical initiations that a young man could go through and have someone to lean on to discuss these coming of age type of situations. I didn’t have anyone there. There were a lot of situations I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my mom about such as sexuality, violence, or competition. A lot of these things I mentioned, these aspects of aggression, violence in sports, competition and sexuality, there were things I didn’t feel comfortable bringing to my mom and I felt a little bit lost.
It was this idea of being on a lonely island, thinking, “I’ve got to figure this out for myself.” I don’t think that I had a proper initiation into aspects of courage, taking risks, managing my anger, my confusion and my pain in different ways. I didn’t have that masculine guidance until I met my mentor, Michael, who has been more of a father to me than any other person in my life. We discuss it. He knows that I view him as a father. I see him more as my dad than I did my father. He leads with an element of trust, faith, compassion, generosity, strength and those things that I never had as imprints from a dad growing up. In some ways, Whitney, I feel like I’m blossoming into aspects of my masculinity later in life because I’m having specific initiations and guidance that I didn’t have when I was younger. It’s interesting to see how that’s playing out on my timeline much later in life.
What’s also interesting, Jason, is I’ve perceived your story with your dad as you as a child, thinking that he was abandoning you, but then it sounded like your mom made the choice to ask him to leave. I’m wondering like, is that both true? Is it a matter of perception as a child versus an adult? Has something shifted in you where you’re positioning it that way?
It’s a perspective shift from childhood to adulthood. As a child, I didn’t have all that information. I wasn’t privy to the intricacies of their intimate relationship. I didn’t understand the level of drug abuse or dysfunction, the aspects of his personality, and his mental health. As a young 3, 4-year-old, I had no idea those things were going on. My compartmentalization mentally was, “I must not be good enough.” It was this strange belief system I adopted. From what I know and the stories they told me, mom and dad were happy, balanced and had a great relationship. I came here and it’s all going to shit. That’s because as a child I didn’t have the backstory and all the information as I grew up and was able to talk to my mom about it and saw my father in prison and talk to him. That’s a whole another slew of stories. I’ve got to piece together like, “It wasn’t about me not being good enough. It wasn’t about my presence as a child creating a fracture in their relationship. It was that he was already battling addiction and abuse.” To be honest, a lot of the abandonment issues and pain that he had received by his father leaving the family that he never resolved psychologically.
Once I started as an adult to piece these things together, I thought, “He was simply taking the unresolved, unhealed wounds of his lineage from his father and his grandfather.” God knows how far back of that toxic masculinity and me understanding how the relationship with his father played out. My dad didn’t have the tools spiritually or psychologically to heal himself and probably didn’t care to seek those out, the perpetuation of violence, adultery, pain and the abuse continued. Once I realized that, I thought this wasn’t about abandonment at all. This was about having compassion for a father of mine who had deep, unhealed wounds, demons that he tried to conquer through drugs, alcohol, adultery, gambling and making lots of money and being famous. He was trying to fill this deep, festering wound inside his soul that he didn’t know any other way to fix. That’s when I started to have compassion for him. I started to let go of the deep hatred, anger and resentment I felt for my father that I was carrying for many years. Once I started to shift into a level of compassion with the wounding and the pain that he had gone through as a child with his dad and his grandfather and all those things he experienced, it’s no wonder that he acted the way he did. Through that compassion and forgiveness, I was able to do a lot of letting go.
Did you visit your dad in prison?
Yes. I didn’t see my father for 12 or 14 years. I saw my dad sometime in the mid or late ’80s. I can’t quite remember. I didn’t see my father through the ’90s at all. I got a notification that he was back in Michigan because my dad was living in California at the time as an actor and doing things. A family friend said, “Your dad is in prison.” I was like, “What?” He said, “Do you want to write to him and maybe go see him?” This was in 2001. I hadn’t seen my dad since the ’80s. I wrote my dad a letter and he wrote back. We arranged a meeting where I went to go visit him in prison. He was there because he was on his 3rd or 4th DUI and they threw him behind bars. They’re like, “You’re done. You’re going to be in here for a while.” I don’t remember the exact amount of time, but he was in there for at least a year after all these DUIs he had. I visited him. I was 23 at the time. I wanted to go with the intention of getting some answers.
I went with this idea in my head of, “I’m going to ask my dad how things went down in our family. Why did he leave? What happened? Why he did what he did?” We spent about 90 minutes together that day. I remember asking him important questions, things that I wanted answers to. One specific moment that was eye-opening and heartbreaking to me, which was, I looked at him on glass things with a hole and you’re on the phone and all those things, like in the movies. I said, “Pop, why did you choose the life you did? Why the alcohol, women, drugs, and all the craziness? Why did you choose this life for yourself?” I wanted an authentic answer from him. The answer I wanted to be was, “I had these demons and I had all this pain from my dad and I didn’t know how to heal it. I was fucked up.” I wanted something real. He laughed and looked at me and he went, “I’m a wild man, son.” My heart was shattered.Free yourself from the shackles of what it traditionally means to act like a so-called man. Click To Tweet
I was disappointed because I didn’t perceive during that whole 90-minute connection with him in that prison that anything he had to say was coming from his soul. He was out of touch with his pain and with the root of his suffering. If I look back on his behavior over the course of his life, it’s no wonder he did what he did because he never allowed himself to get to the root of that suffering and heal it. In essence, what other decisions could he have made other than to be addicted, alcoholic and be abusive and all the things that he did? This was a human who was in deep suffering. I don’t even think I was aware of the depth of it or even how to heal it. When I saw him in prison, I was like, “I don’t think this guy’s going to pull himself out.” There was this impression of, “I don’t know that he’s going to pull himself out of this. I don’t know that he’s ever going to get the healing he needs. I don’t know that he’s ever going to recover from this amount of pain, abuse and suffering that he’s been through.” That was hard for me to see and experience.
I don’t think you’ve ever shared that with me before. I have a completely different relationship with my father, but I’ve also never been to prison. I imagine going there, having this mission, being in that environment. Also, being around a man that you don’t know super well but you’re connected to and then wanting something from him that you don’t feel like he can provide it. I know you too, how much you want things and how intentional you are. It did feel like a letdown for you. It leads me to something that I found interesting in my research. One of the articles I came across was in-depth and it’s from this website called Fatherly.com and this is all from there. A lot of my notes came from multiple sources. It was this article as well as some of the others that pulled a lot of data from clinicians and social scientists. All the fascinating research that had been done and a few things, bullet points that I put there that relate back to what you’re saying. I found this was a big a-ha moment for me. I’m curious what you think about this, Jason.
In this article, it said, “The only consistent truth about masculinity has been these men have always feared having taken it away. Many men view masculinity as a currency that can be earned and stolen rather than a fixed trait that they lash out if they’re not externally validated because men are more valued in society. They have to watch their step in order not to lose that position to women. There’s a less social status attached to the feminine. Women may enjoy more freedom to be fluid than men.” There was also a lot of research that was done around, what types of men engage in dangerously toxic behavior? They found that it was mainly young men because they were worried about their gender status. Communities with a higher density of underprivileged young men without access to validation tend to be a high crime community in which manhood is expressed through substance abuse, homophobia, sexism, harassment, extreme risk-taking and violence. A lot of research has found that toxic masculinity is more a sign of lack of self-worth and self-respect. Underneath all that instability and anger is a wounded little boy who has never taught to value his authentic and genuine experience of himself.
That hits home hard for multiple reasons in the sense of someone sensitive, artistic, creative or feels a lot in many family units to have that literally or figuratively beaten out of them as a little boy. I went back to the initiations, Whitney, if you talk about gang behavior, violence and dangerous behavior. Joe Rogan on his podcast once was talking about American teenage boys and said that, “They were the most dangerous out of control group of humans.” I would agree and I’ll say the lack of death/courage initiations in our society, it makes complete sense to me that these behaviors are common in American society. When I say death/courage behaviors, if you look at a lot of our ancient societies or tribal cultures, all of them, there was a young man in his early teens to be taken by the elder men out into the woods and the wilderness, brought in these death rituals of in some cultures taking psychedelic plants. In some cultures, leaving them out in the woods alone and forcing them to hunt on their own and find their way back to the village.
These rituals of engendering faith, self-reliance and courage and facing death at a young age and through lack of initiation and trials from elder men that do love us and do care for us. They want us to build that muscle of facing death and fostering courage. We have gun violence, going 150 miles an hour in a car on the freeway. We have extreme sports. We have kids getting into fights and killing each other. To me, it’s the lack of initiation and genuinely caring older men in the society providing mentorship to these young men. It’s no wonder these things are happening. They don’t have an outlet to explore their courage and explore the edges of their aggression in a safe way. If you don’t have that outlet in a safe container, then you have all these things we’re talking about. There are also hormones and testosterone. I talked about this in an episode, going 130 or 150 miles an hour on a motorcycle. Why? It was like, “I wonder if I can do this and not die.” I remember thinking that in my mind, “I wonder if I can go this fast on a motorcycle and not die.” Why is that? I had no initiation. I had no male figures in my life helping me build my courage, my self-worth and helping me find the edges of those things. When you don’t have that, you find some destructive and dangerous ways to explore it on your own.
From this research comes back around to a power struggle, how our society, especially in the United States emphasizes power. For me, even as a woman, this plays out for most people in this country. It feels like a lot of people are scrambling for power like, “How can I have more money that will make me more powerful? How can I have dominance in my relationship or my family unit? How could I be the more powerful sibling? How could I be a more powerful romantic partner? How can I be a powerful parent? How can I be the most recognized person in my community?” You see this play out on social media. It ultimately is about status because it feels like many people are fighting to be the most powerful and the highest on the tier. We placed much emphasis on that in society. That does explain a lot of the aggression and with that underlining pressure to become powerful.
A lot of it is the self-made person and doing things on your own and every man for himself type of mentality versus a community mentality about working together. I can only imagine that when you’re growing up, if that’s the main thing that you’re focused on, you’re going to want to be more aggressive and be constantly seeking out validation. As it said, if you’re not getting validation because you don’t find it in common outlets. Let’s say you don’t feel recognized by your family, you don’t feel intelligent at school or you don’t have people that know how to even express validation for you. I can see how that would lead to a lot of this toxic masculinity, the abuse, harassment, violence and the risk-taking. I don’t know if it’s a matter of not learning it. It does come down to not feeling validated, not feeling in control and wanting power by any means that you can get it.
If we look at this binary gender role system that we’ve all been indoctrinated into, and I’ll say indoctrinated because you can embody whatever energetic properties you want. You can be whatever sexuality or sexual preference you want. There’s as a sidebar but also related, there are a lot of controversial and differing viewpoints around gender nonbinary. People are like, “It’s either male or female. There’s no spectrum.” I believe there’s a spectrum for a lot of reasons. There are spiritual, mental, and sexual reasons but lumping people into 1 of 2 boxes and binary thinking, in general, is causing a lot of problems for human society. That’s my opinion. You have this choice or that choice. Pick one. I don’t like it. There’s a lot of nuance and subtlety in terms of our identities, sexualities and our emotional dynamics with people.
On that note, there still is a reinforcement on the binary side. As a man, there’s this idea of the accumulation of wealth, resources and material things like cars, guns, houses, security systems, tools and man stuff. That’s how you prove your worth. That means, “I can provide for my partner and my children. I can protect them. I can make sure that we are impervious to illness, disease, violence, marauders and God knows what.” It’s an archaic system of, “If you don’t meet these standards as a man, then you are worthless.” That causes a lot of that belief system. It causes a lot of mental health issues for men in this world not just America and for women too. Here are the standards of success or worthiness for your gender. If you don’t meet these criteria or these standards, therefore you are worthless. On a fundamental level, that belief system that continues to get reinforced and the fact that there are any standards at all is bad for our collective mental health men and women.
It keeps playing back to external validation. I also feel that line in that article that said, “There’s a less social status attached to the feminine, women may enjoy more freedom to be fluid than men.” To your point, Jason, maybe there’s some resentment or something. We’re talking about society’s value. Culturally, there’s a lot of evidence that men are still more valued. That’s hard for me to wrap my mind around as a woman because I don’t believe it. I’m a huge believer in equality, but for a lot of people, they may view it that way that men are more valuable, powerful or have a higher social status. I thought it was fascinating that along with that, women may be given more freedom that they have less pressure on them to be that feminine energy and to go from hard to soft. All of these different ways that women can experiment with themselves. I do think that our culture doesn’t give as much room for men to do those things. It feels like if you are feminine, then you are pushed into this box of being homosexual. As you said, there’s the shame but what if men want to be more fluid on the spectrum but feel like they don’t have permission or that they won’t get the external validation that they want badly?
I feel like there are many mixed messages though, even in that Pantheon. Who comes to mind immediately as you were describing that of being on a spectrum of fluidity who is also a man? It was Prince. He’s one of my favorite recording artists of all time. There was an element of mystery, danger and sexual ferocity. Not only was he one of the most incredible musicians and songwriters ever. I was reading stories about Prince when he came out and he was wearing the leopard print thongs on stage and dressing flamboyantly. I feel carrying the imagery and the ethos of glam rock of what David Bowie, T. Rex, the New York Dolls and a lot of the glam rock bands from the ’70s. I feel like Prince was melding that with soul music, R&B and pop. He was the bridge between glam and carrying that into hardcore pop, R&B music. It was masterful what he did. I don’t want to use any slurs, but people were like, “Who is this? What is he? Is he gay?” The conversation shifting. There was an interview with Snoop Dogg talking about after Prince died, reflecting this. When Prince came out, they’re like, “What is this guy about? Is he bisexual? Is he gay?” They started noticing all the women that Prince would get.
Some of the most, gorgeous, successful women in the world are like, “Prince is dope.” It was this idea that once Prince demonstrated his worth and value by having a bunch of beautiful women on his arms, they were like, “Prince is the man. He’s not gay.” It was this subtle thing of like, “You proved you’re not gay. You have all these beautiful women that you’re sleeping with. You get our validation.” People were not okay with Prince until it was like, “He’s had a row. He’s flamboyant.” We’ve talked about this in an episode of building up certain celebrities with fame and notoriety, but then also looking for reasons to tear them down at the same time unless they meet our standards of behavior. I look at Prince and it’s like, “I don’t care what Prince’s sexuality was or who he was sleeping with. The guy was an incredible musician. His music touched my soul.” For some people it was like, “We need to figure out what is he about before we approve of him.” It’s confusing and weird.We exchange our autonomy, our free thinking, and our personal agency in exchange for trying to live up to a title or a label. Click To Tweet
As somebody put in one of the articles, I love this, “Freeing yourself from the shackles of what it traditionally means to act like a so-called man.” How did you figure that out for yourself? How are you continuing to do that? What do you think that you would like to let go of? What are you working through?
What I’m working on is this idea that my worth as a man is tied to what is happening in my career and how much success I have and how much money I’m making. That is easily the biggest challenge that I’m still wrestling with, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic of work being slow and career taking a downturn and things slowing down. I have been facing this old belief system, this deeply embedded belief system that, “If I’m not constantly working, making money, and in motion in terms of my creative output or generating income, then I am failing.” That’s the biggest thing, Whitney. It’s not much in terms of my emotional sensitivity or my flamboyance. I’m more comfortable than I’ve ever been with my level of emotional sensitivity and flamboyance and still getting questions like, “Are you gay?” It’s none of those things I wrestle with. What I wrestle with is this old paradigm of my productivity and my value being associated with how much money I’m making and how successful I am in my career. That’s the dragon that I’m staring down in terms of my masculinity and it’s hard.
It’s that external validation.
It’s not just the external validation. It’s deeply embedded in my mind that, “As a man, if I’m not providing and making a lot of money and success in my career, I’m a piece of crap. I don’t have any value in our society.” That is still a deep belief system I’m battling.
How are you navigating that?
For me, if I can acknowledge the fact that I contribute to the world and to the lives of people around me, not just the people I love and care for, but the world in general. If I’m not being productive in the sense of making money or as much money as I want, let’s be more honest about that, or not having the career success that I have had. Some of the things that I’ve been doing, like in my newsletter, I gave away a bunch of cookbooks, courses and stuff for free. It was like, “If you are at home and you need mental health resources and you need recipes, here’s some stuff to help you out.” You would think, “Why didn’t you charge for that? That would be a way for you to feel more valuable and make money.” There was something in me that I want to be of service and uplift people and give them resources. To that end, I’ve been focusing on trying to be of service instead of being wound up in making money.
Volunteering to feed the homeless, the houseless, doing animal rescue and trying to give my love and my support in ways that are not necessary. One point in this is, “It has to make me money, this has to further my career. This has to advance my cause in some way.” I’ve started to shift my focus into the question of, “How can I be of service to people in need?” It’s not making me money. It’s not furthering my career but in some ways, it is making me feel as if I am having an impact in a positive and loving way on the lives of other people and other animals. That has been helping me through this period of not getting lost in feelings of worthlessness.
It is an ongoing journey and it’s an unfolding and daily practice of self-reflection. It’s a wonderful example that you’re giving, which is that you don’t have it all figured out, but you’re giving yourself permission to explore it and to tune into yourself in a deeper way and not try to wear this mask. I also think about Lewis Howes’ book, The Mask of Masculinity, which I have not read. For me, the gist of it is how a lot of men feel that pressure to wear a mask so that they are perceived as being this masculine person that our society has taught us exists? What’s underneath that? Giving yourself permission as a man to value yourself on an authentic level and to be genuine and experience yourself that beneath that mask. This is such an important conversation. I don’t know how many men read to our bog but hopefully, those that do have enjoyed this. For me as a woman, it’s also important.
It’s helpful to understand the men in our lives, whether it’s our fathers or our male partners, whether they’re business or romantic partners, our children. If you have sons and all these different men that are in our lives realizing that there are pressures from them too. There are a lot of emphases put on the feminine struggle and part of that is because of the lack of equality that women have had. Maybe this is because I’m a woman, but there’s much emphasis on women’s appearances and struggling with things like that. I am trying to be more aware of what men are going through as well and realizing that because they don’t verbalize that they’re struggling doesn’t mean that they are. One thing I’m grateful for is you, Jason, for being open and honest about your struggles.
Sometimes you may perceive that as a weakness, but that’s a massive strength and a beautiful example. Culturally, people may think because you are an emotional person that makes you feminine, and thus, perhaps you’re gay or something. Aside from that, you’re giving a lot of men permission to express themselves. You were drawn to a lot of emotional men that you’re surrounded by them. I’m curious if there’s anything else that you would like to share for the women and men reading on how you have learned to express yourself in the ways that you do and to tap into yourself on a daily level? Anything that you’ve learned from the men around you and as you’ve watched their evolutions as well?
Before I want to dig into answering it, I want to say for the men and women reading this that the danger is getting into a fixed role and not being able to make decisions from your own agency and autonomy. What I mean by that is, as a heterosexual male, you ought to aspire to be having do these things. As a homosexual, female, lesbian, you ought to have CB and do these things. There was a lot of subjugation, no matter the gender and sexuality. I have many friends that have different beliefs, sexualities, and ways they identify themselves. I feel first of all, incredibly blessed to have these open conversations with people of different perspectives, sexualities, and gender identifications. The one thing that we all can struggle with sometimes is because I have this label, this title or identify as this thing that I ought to behave, act, do and want these things. That is a dangerous place to exist.
We exchange our autonomy, our free-thinking and our personal agency in exchange for trying to live up to a title or a label. It’s a dangerous thing because then we get aligned with the herd mentality of, “Everyone else who’s a lesbian is doing this. Everyone else who’s a homosexual is doing this. Everyone who’s a bisexual is doing this. Everyone who’s an alpha male is doing this.” On that tip, I had three different people independent of one another say, “You ride a motorcycle?” I was like, “Yes, I’ve rode motorcycles for 21 years.” They’re like, “I didn’t peg you for a guy who rode a motorcycle?” I was like, “What guy is that? Not being combative. I didn’t peg you for that guy. You seemed sensitive and emotional.” I’m like, “I was sensitive and emotional men can’t ride motorcycles.” I start to challenge people. I’m like, “Where you’re going with this as you’re under mental conditioning that only alpha dudes ride motorcycles, like fast cars, shoot guns and sports.”The more that you release any cultural narratives and own what works for you and what feels right for you, the better you’ll feel each day. Click To Tweet
My thing is, I love fast cars. I love riding motorcycles. I love going to the shooting range. I love basketball and sports. I like the “alpha male thing.” If you like #alphamale on Instagram, a lot of that stuff I like, do I identify as an alpha male? No, I don’t. An alpha male to me typically is a person who needs to go into a room and dominate energetically or physically and subjugate everyone in the room to their presence like, “I’m here. I’m in charge. I’m going to take over.” I’ve never been that guy. I don’t want to be that guy. It’s not part of my nature. Are there moments in life where I feel like I’ve needed to leverage my authority, energy, and power in certain ways? Absolutely. It’s not under the guise of trying to subjugate anyone, overthrow, or put people under my thumb. It’s interesting, especially in quarantine, I take my motorcycle out and there’s been this idea of like, “You don’t seem like the guy that would do that.” I’m like, “I am who I am and I like what I like. I don’t give a fuck how you label me.”
For all of us men, women, however you identify yourself, the more that we can find what we love, that what our soul is calling for, crap the labels. Let’s try and break free from this idea that, “I am this thing, therefore I ought to act like that thing.” Be who you are, find who you are. Let the process of evolution, change and growth unfold as it is. Be unapologetic about the things you love. If you blow people’s minds and you shatter their illusions and expectations of who they thought you were, fantastic. That’s something I take pride in. Not because I’m trying to shatter people’s expectations or illusions of whatever they think I ought to be, but because I love what I love. If it bothers people, freaks them out, or confuses them, so be it. I got to live my life. That’s the final message here that I want to relate everyone is finding out what you love. Listen to your soul, be who you are and fuck what people think.
That might be toxic masculinity, Jason, at its finest. I feel like this was an enlightening conversation. I learned something new. I did not know about that prison story and for some reason, that was fascinating for me. It taught me something new about you. It’s incredibly important that we explore all different elements of what people are struggling with. Remind them of letting go of any shame and tapping into who we are and owning that. It’s not always that easy. Jason, you’ve been working on this your whole life. It’s not like you snapped your finger and had these realizations. Even with the realizations, it doesn’t mean that you’re not continuing to struggle with it. The benefit of awareness and self-expression is that it’s giving yourself more permission to be who you are, to explore it, to own it and to reflect on it.
That’s a nice alternative to trying to bottle everything up and wearing a mask. A lot of us are trying to survive, to protect ourselves and to find our way in the world. We can relate to wanting to hide away and to project ourselves as being something that we’re not, we’ve each done that in our own ways. I’ve found that the more that I release any of these cultural narratives and own what works for me and feels right for me, the better I feel each day. That’s ultimately what it is. It’s not about perfecting ourselves and feeling good all the time. For me, it’s about how can I live in a way that makes me feel my best the most consistently? I know for you, Jason, a lot of the things that you’ve mentioned have impacted your mental health. I would love to see you improving your mental health and having consistent better mental health days. A lot of the things that you’ve expressed are things that you are struggling with.
It’s also a real-time regulating of my mental health in terms of my belief systems and watching that when I believe thought and I assign it as truth, how quickly I can spiral with that. Here’s what I mean specifically. If I look at people in our field of health, wellness and entrepreneurship, if I see that there are people that are “doing better than me” because they have a nicer house, cars, beautiful wife and family, then I find myself going into, “He must be a better man than you. He must be more valuable in the world because look at what he’s done. He’s done better than you.” The danger is twofold when I start to observe those things is that I start to believe that’s true. That he’s “better than me or more valuable than me or has proved his masculinity in the world leveraged it more effectively than I have.” We talked about this in an episode, “I must need to pattern my life or look at his methods, strategies, work ethic, how he built his business and co-opt that and use that as a blueprint for how to be as successful, worthy or valuable as he is.”
That’s dangerous because then the aptitude is buying into our unworthiness, using our unworthiness as fuel to be better than someone else. Sometimes through trying to be better than that other person, fueled by the unworthiness, we adopt aspects of their identity, practice and methodologies. We lose ourselves in the process. I’m aware of that for myself, of being envious or comparing myself to other people. In certain ways, trying to figure out how to be more like them, but I don’t want to do that anymore. It’s like, “I want to be more of who I am and continually uncovered the layers that I’ve built over my deepest sense of self or my truest essence.” Rather than, “I want his life, therefore I ought to be like him.” To me, that’s a fallacy in a dangerous thing that I’m becoming more aware of and pulling myself out of that well before I get too deep. That’s one thing I’ve noticed that I’m improving at. I’m not great at it yet, but I’m improving at it.
We would love to know from you, readers, your perspectives on gender roles, toxic masculinity, any points that may be hit deep in your heart or your soul on this episode. If there are any other subjects you want us to expound on, maybe you’d like an episode about the crazy stories of my dad’s life. I’m happy to share that if you want us to go down that road. If this has sparked your curiosity, heart and a deeper conversation, you can always reach us at our website, Wellevatr.com. You can also reach us there at our email, which is [email protected]. You can find us for even more free resources on our website, our eBook, You Are Enough, and our programs, The Consistency Code and Wellness Warrior Training. We are all over social media as well. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, @Wellevatr. We are always continually on the hunt on the lookout for ways to explore this crazy, wonderful, confounding and beautiful thing called life.
If there are any subjects you’d like us to cover in future episodes here on the show, feel free to shoot us an email and a DM, send a homing pigeon. Don’t come to visit us in person yet, unless you want to keep a six-foot distance. Hopefully, that will be over soon. We do appreciate your listenership. We appreciate your follows on social media. We appreciate your wonderful emails and we will see you get even more uncomfortable because we seem to be doing a great job at that together. Thank you for getting uncomfortable with us. If there’s anything here that’s made you go deeper, made you excavate some things inside of yourself you haven’t thought about or touched on in a long time, we want to give you credit and acknowledge you for being on this journey of getting uncomfortable and growing with us. Until the next episode, we love you. We thank you and we’ll catch you again.
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- The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making
- Kevin Love in The Players’ Tribune
- The Good Men Project
- What We Mean When We Say Toxic Masculinity – Tolerance.org article
- Toxic Masculinity Is A Myth, But Insecure Men Lash Out at Women – Fatherly.com article
- ‘The Man They Wanted Me To Be’ Puts An Individual Experience In Broader Context – NPR article
- The Mental Health Lessons in Star Wars – Previous episode
- The Mask of Masculinity
- [email protected]
- You Are Enough – eBook
- @Wellevatr – Instagram
- The Consistency Code
- Wellness Warrior Training
- Facebook – @Wellevatr
- Twitter – @Wellevatr
- Pinterest – @Wellevatr
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