What Does It Mean To Be a Man

While there are varying opinions and ideas about what it means to be a man, it’s important to remember that one’s understanding of masculinity depends on a man’s personal identity and experiences. Elements of one’s identity that play strong roles in their experiences include, but are not limited to: race, gender identity, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, ability, language, education, sexuality, age, and culture. 

Every man has a different definition of what it means to be a man. I decided to put out a survey and ask a few men about their own identities and experiences—their identities will be kept anonymous for privacy purposes. It was interesting to hear how these men described themselves and the spaces they take up within society, and how it all comes into play with their perceptions of masculinity. 

There are several stereotypes that men face both on and off campus, and one of the first steps that we can take as a society is to challenge them. A popular stereotype is the expectation of men’s physical health and fitness. Often times, we interact with imagery in pop culture and media that promotes masculinity in the form of a fit body. But what does a “fit body” look like? 

Think back to how many times you’ve been in line at the grocery store, faced with a shirtless Channing Tatum on the front of a magazine. Or, think about underwear campaigns that feature half naked Shawn Mendes and Noah Centineo. While I am definitely guilty of gawking at these images, failing to address that not all bodies look like the ones we see on magazines is detrimental to society’s collective definition of “masculinity.” We must recognize that one’s body does not equate to their masculinity. The step that should follow this recognition of varying bodies and identities is having accurate representation of different bodies, both in media and on campus. The more we promote images of different bodies, the more prominent the narrative becomes.

One Queen’s student spoke up about how he challenges the fitness stereotype:

“… there is a certain level of expectation... things like working out, protein shakes, body building, building muscles... For me, when I exercise, it isn't necessarily to build the most muscle or be the biggest-muscled male on campus, I do it to keep myself in check”.

He goes on to talk about what inspires him to have this outlook on physical health practices. 

“One thing that I recently learned from a pastor that I love, Craig Groeschel, is that you should treat your body as a temple. Take care of it, be mindful of it, and take care of it in a way that allows you to be at your best. Being at "your best" is very subjective, but for me, it just doesn't mean bench-pressing huge weights or doing such an activity as a means of impressing others! I try to keep myself fit so I can continue to feel fit, and be able to serve others and prolong my healthy life”.

Another classic stereotype is that men cannot have emotions and are often disregarded and/or cast aside in conversations about mental health. One male student tapped into his thoughts about the mental health conversations that we have on campus.

“I have advocated for mental health on campus and have worked to reduce the stigma around mental illness. I have seen a lot of change on campus since first year which is fantastic but now that we are talking about mental health more I think that a lot more work needs to be done around men's mental health in particular”.

While men are often shamed for their emotions, the same student talked about those who model healthy masculinity.

“My dad has been a great role model in my life as he is someone who is quite emotional and is comfortable being vulnerable around me. I have also had a lot of my friends at Queen's open up to me about some of their struggles which has helped me challenge the idea that being a man mean's not showing emotions”.

One could argue that it is nearly impossible to represent every “type” of man in a piece of media. However, I beg you all to think about why we struggle with finding accurate representation—perhaps it’s because the stigma around men’s physical and mental health is so negative, resulting in men being hesitant to share their experiences. Proof lies within the fact that the men I surveyed have all asked to be anonymous. At a school where “freedom of speech” is constantly thrown around, we can’t ignore how common it is for people to experience public shaming and negative judgement from the peers the moment they speak out against the stigmatized norm. 

While there is a need to address that not all experiences are the same and that accurate male representation in media is only possible with recognizing our differences, we cannot solely place this onus on men and force them to speak out in order to create action and combat stereotypes. Perhaps, it’s up to everybody to stop shaming others when they do decide to share—this is a great way to change how we see and understand men and their personal experiences.

The answer to the complicated and loaded question may be simpler than we thought. What does it mean to be a man? Ask one, and don’t judge. Don’t stop there, ask many. Listen attentively and genuinely. Don’t stop learning.