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So recently, Gillette released an ad criticising negative behaviour exhibited by men and most of the internet proceeded to lose its collective shit. I'm sure a lot of people saw straight through it for what it was; a business making a corny attempt at pandering to social issues of the time whilst hawking their product (Hello? Pepsi?) but its underlying message is simply too hard to ignore. Essentially, the ad calls on men to be better, to call out toxic behaviour like bullying and sexism, and that's something I can get on board with. However, there are those who see this as a weakness. Reflection and self-improvement are profound transitional periods and are traits of strong, intelligent people. Having empathy for others is not a weakness. Excising bitterness and resentment is not a weakness but the removal of weakness.
A year ago, at the age of 28, I had the worst nervous breakdown of my life. I didn't leave the house, I didn't shower, I stopped going to the gym, I barely ate, and if I did, it was junk. I lost my job and my independence as a result. I had seen the signs, albeit a little late, and I knew where this road was headed because I had been here before. I had stored up all my troubles until they had reached an immeasurable pressure and this was all because I believed that I wasn't allowed to express myself or vent my frustrations. I thought it made me less of a man. I had so easily forgotten what I had learnt in the decade before. I was ready to die.
It was only then that I got help.
In the months after, I was able to address my problems through therapy and with it came something else I had forgotten: liberation. For the first time in years, I felt truly free. I may have been back on the lowest rung of the ladder again and somewhere I never hoped to be, on government support, but this chapter of my life brought something far more profound with it and I was able to get in touch with who I truly am. In recent months I've been able to admit personal details I never thought I'd divulge to anyone outside of my immediate family and I felt stronger for it. I like musicals. I like singing. I like hobby crafts. I like poetry. In general, I enjoy being a massive dork. But I thought these things were emasculating and so I suppressed them. When I was able to express myself and do away with what I thought made me a man, only then was I finally able to find what made me me and furthermore that I did not care what others thought of that.
My point is, that is what masculinity means. To be at ease in one's skin. It's how you choose to carry yourself. It's not something anyone can readily tell you what it means specifically because it's a journey you have to experience for yourself, often through trial and tribulation. The ad is right in that we need to address and correct negative behaviour. Bullying and sexism are not qualities that need preserving and they are slowly but surely disintegrating before our very eyes. The worst parts of masculinity are falling away because they no longer serve a function in this day and age. Keeping a "stiff upper lip" is causing more problems than it is solving and I not only say that from my own experience. Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women and the stigma of admitting helplessness is the biggest cause of that problem, though, thankfully, that stigma is starting to come down.
Men, we're a work in progress. We're learning what works and what doesn't and we're becoming better as a result. We're looking to others and we're not seeing things we can abuse or take advantage of. We're seeing people we can help and draw from. If we are in a constant state of learning and evolving then bitterness and resentment are unable to take root within us and not only do we make the world a little better, but we are better for it. If you still have a problem with that, I don't know how else to help you. If your perception of masculinity was threatened or you thought "men were under attack" by a commercial on TV basically telling you to not be a dickhead, then you might not have been very masculine in the first place. Just saying.