Conversations with a Frat Boy: Exploring Masculinity with Nathan Ambrose

For week 2's edition of "Conversations with a Frat Boy," I sat down with junior, Nathan Ambrose. Nathan is a member of Delta Omega Nu. I was happy when Nathan told me his topic of choice was masculinity. Nathan and I explored what masculinity means to him, the role it plays in his life, and how fraternity men can help fight the toxic influences of masculinity.

What is your definition of masculinity?

My definition of masculinity is being strong when other people are lacking, especially relating to holding in emotion or acting as a stoic figure. Masculine men aren't supposed to cry. They aren't supposed to show apparent pain and let the world know they're falling apart when someone dies or when they get broken up with. Masculine men are the ones others lean on in hard times and because of this expected role, I've been taught to not express emotions and hold many things in.

What role does masculinity play in your life?

Let's take the bar setting...say me and a woman make eye contact...Since I'm the man, I'm supposed to take charge and approach her even though she is also showing interest in me. Masculinity says I should be the one to initiate the first move. In my past few relationships, I felt like I was the decision maker and I wasn't fond of this role. While this isn't for sure due to masculinity, it still stands clear in the context of many relationships that men should have the louder voice and the final say and I don't think that's something we should be expected to follow.

Have you always recognized the presence of masculinity in your life or is there a specific experience that led to you recognizing it?

I wouldn’t say there’s a single experience that led to me recognizing it. Like how you learn anything in life, you begin to notice the small things around you. You notice it in TV shows, interactions with people you know, and the next thing you know, it's all over your daily life. That’s how you notice your masculine role, you see the behaviors and observe them and tell yourself “That’s how I’m supposed to be.” Once you take notice of these little things, you find yourself doing them as well and it then becomes a habit and you know once a habit starts, it’s hard to break.

What do you see as being the biggest problem with masculinity?

Emotions between guys. Any emotions that come with a relationship are hard but it’s even more apparent in the context of a friendship shared between two guys. When you are with a friend and talking to them about something that has happened to you, the moment you start choking up and feeling the need to cry, you begin to feel uncomfortable. I feel like most guys don't know what to do in that situation, regardless of whether they're the friend trying to be there or the one crying. On the one hand, the guy doesn't want to be seen crying by other guys because that would make him seem "weak", so he would much rather hold in the emotions as that's what has been taught. On the other hand, the friend is unsure of the right way to deal with the emotions being expressed and how to properly fulfill the "friend" role in this situation. We've never been taught how to cry but we also haven't learned much about what to do when another guy cries to us. I'm dealing with a break-up of my own and I have to be honest, some moments are hard. I'm lucky to have friends that check in on me and ask me if I'm doing okay but even in the difficult moments, I tell them I'm fine because I know that if I'm unsure of how to deal with it, then they would be at a loss too. It's the discomfort that comes with it. But I will say we're getting better at getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. 

What do you think Augustana’s fraternities can do to combat masculinity and the problems it entails?

I don’t think there’s a specific thing a fraternity itself can do. It starts more on the personal level. Each man in a fraternity is their own person and because of that, there isn’t a single strategy that works for each of them but a good starting point would be changing our attitudes towards emotional expression. When men are being there for their friends in times of hardship, they should encourage emotional expression. Rather than taking a stoic stance or being uncomfortable when they notice a friend is choked up about something, they should encourage them to embrace their emotions and to express what they're feeling, so it's not bottled up.