Chapter 3 – All-American Boy
Isn’t that pretty much all men?
That’s a question/statement I’ve gotten from a lot of women when I talk about my previous inability to be emotionally attached or available. As if they all are secretly head nodding as they relate. I think most women in America in fact have just accepted that we American men aren’t going to be someone they can count on to talk to about their feelings, or to share our own thoughts with (least expect more than a head nod or occasional glance up from our electronic devices while doing so).
To have a man voluntarily talk about his feelings in fact, would probably cause a member of the opposite sex to wonder if a pig is flying gleefully through the air somewhere. Yet, it’s the polar opposite if we were to turn things around and talk about women under the same premise.
I wonder, how did that become?
Why are women, by contrast, expected to be emotional beings and to be open about their feelings and men are not? You could even go as far to say that a lot of men in America rely on the women in their lives to carry that emotional torch for them in their relationships. But, aside from the ignorant hormonal comments we could make about this and what makes it so, I’d like for us all to ponder for a moment about why there is such an emotional disconnect between the two sexes. Why the double standard?
If you’re asking me, I would say for this (and for most situations in life) that we are all products of our environment. If you want to know the answer to this question, you’ll have to decide what being an All-American male really means.
As a young American male myself, growing up in the 90’s in America was like living out every machismo cliche you could possibly ever think of.
The nineties in America were the pinnacle of ‘Amurica’ in my opinion (baseball cards, GI-Joe, Michael Jordan, Saved By The Bell, Garth Brooks, Presidential sexploits, urban sprawl, Taco Bell, etc.), and I was every bit the All-American boy growing up. I played sports (meaning mainly football since all other sports were for pussies per societal rules) and picked on those who didn’t. I made decent grades because not going to college and working a trade was seen as beneath my status. I knew all my manners, and even used them at times. I was fluent in pop culture but not current events. I lived in a middle class family with first world problems. I ate my meat and taters at chain restaurants. And, of course, I thought being a white, American male was the greatest thing on earth, etc.
All that though is fairly circumstantial, and really isn’t that important to understanding how I became an unemotional, detached American male like the many other American men you may know. Or, as to why I wasn’t as emotionally available as my female counterparts. I just wanted to clarify that to show that I was by no means the exception to millions of other children in America growing up in that time.
To understand how I became another typical All-American male, you’d have to know what my mindset was like being that All-American boy growing up, and how societal norms to an extent shaped what kind of man I would become.
Let’s start with expectations.
Expectations are everywhere in society. What a boy is expected to like or be interested in isn’t the same as what a girl is expected to be like or interested in. Boys are supposed to like blue and green and darker colors. Girls obviously all like purple and pink and lighter colors. Boys play with Matchbox cars and GI Joe’s. Girls play with Barbies and Easy Bake Ovens. Boys dream of being astronauts and police officers. Girls dream of becoming actresses and nurses. Boys are expected to be tough. Girls are expected to be sweet. Meaning, girls are allowed to be emotional and boys are not.
The list goes on and on.
These are all things though that are not necessarily inherent within us, but that are subconsciously determined, not by children themselves, but by the world around us growing up.
Think for a moment about all the products, commercials, movies, books, etc. that were specifically marketed to boys or girls when you were growing up, and how those things typified what a normal boy or girl is/was expected to be like. It’s something that we adults probably don’t think twice about. It’s just business as usual. But for kids, however, they see a whole different reality. They see all these things before them as a world full of examples. Examples that represent what society expects them to be like, and what they should strive to resemble in order to be normal. In order to fit in. And those examples are loud and EVERYWHERE.
And I don’t care whose kids we’re talking about, give any kids those kind of examples that clearly demonstrate expected characteristics representing their associated sex, and they will more than likely mimic those examples. It’s just human nature at that age to want to fit in and to be accepted. Not to mention, they don’t have a grasp on their own identity yet, so they take on the identities of that which they are surrounded with.
Go back and think about your own examples of men or women growing up and about what they may have subconsciously told you. Were there aspects of who you are now that were left out of these characterizations? Did you or did you not identify with the examples that were being laid out for you at a young age (or now), and how did that affect you in your life? What predominant personality traits, beliefs, or habits do you have now and where do you think those came from? Do you even know where those things came from? Was any of it your choosing?
Now, flip the script, and imagine if you would have grown up in a totally different environment, or in an environment where the opposite sex’s examples would have been acceptable for you too. What would a life with those different sets of examples and identity markers have been like?
The real question is I guess, as far as this book goes, how are we personifying the male species in our society? What will (or do) those examples of men impart on the men of the future to impersonate?
As an All-American boy myself growing up, you can imagine, I did all the boy stuff and had lots of boy things (comic books, baseball cards, action figures, electronic games, etc.). And the older I got the more boy things I had and the more boy things I did. Now, I’m not gonna stop here and say I really wish I would have had a Barbie, or that I secretly played with my sisters. I didn’t. But, that or any other girly things in my life would have never been an option for me either. If I had done that or anything else remotely ‘feminine’, or unmanly, I would have surely been called out by my peers and even my elders for said non-manliness. Being identified as some sort of pussy, fag, baby, bitch, or at worst – a girl. Ingraining in my still young developing mind that anything outside of this cookie-cutter, mainstream image of what a man was supposed to be like was not only unacceptable, but against my genetic code (and guy code).
So, I don’t know what else I would’ve liked or did or wanted or thought growing up, because the environment I grew up in didn’t allow for much wiggle room or negotiation on that subject. I just liked and lived like the examples I had before me.
I understood that there were things that were clearly for girls, and that the stuff I did was clearly for guys. The signs, literally, were everywhere. And, actually, I naturally enjoyed a lot of those things too so it wasn’t totally bad marketing or complete brainwashing either. It’s just that looking back, I realize I could have enjoyed a lot more things in my life had they been more acceptable or mainstream, and I definitely could have been a much more well rounded person as a result.
I mean even though I enjoyed all of those manly or boy things, they tended to only hone in and develop one aspect of myself – the testosterone. And you could even possibly argue that I may have only liked them because I was so constantly reinforced through my peers acceptance in doing so. But regardless of the what if’s, the only thing I do know now is that by setting my own expectations for who I want to be and what kind of man I want to resemble I get to grow limitlessly; instead of having a ceiling that stops at NFL player.
Did someone say segue?
So another aspect of my American childhood growing up that shaped my mindset of the man I was supposed to be, was all the typical, All-American male role models that I had growing up (i.e. more examples).
You see, by liking boy stuff and doing boy things, not only was I constantly inundated with tons of expectations for what I was supposed to like or do growing up, but I was also presented with tons of examples of men at the same time to compare myself to through those platforms. But not just normal men, real manly men. Men with really big guns and crazy superhuman strength and impressive fear to respect ratios. Men like John Wayne, Chuck Norris, Batman, Sting (WCW), The President, cliche military guys in movies, professional athletes, and so on and so forth. And all of those examples and my own personal examples – my father and grandfather – served as the guides for the man I (and many other American boys) was to become.
Granted, there may have been other examples of men out there with less machismo or less superpowers, but in my limited childhood range of resources these were the most prevalent and loud examples that I saw.
It’s like with elections now, there’s nothing fair about the democratic process and choosing candidates when only an elite few can afford your ear.
In other words, I was born and bred to be a powerful, round house wielding, touchdown scoring, superhuman, head of the household badass. Emotional, lovey dovey, thoughtful, compassionate, affectionate, etc.; eh, not so much. Leave that for the girls. Examples of men with those types of traits, if they were out there at all, were vastly overshadowed by all the others. It’s like all those marketers and talking heads knew exactly what basic traits to exploit in my youth (they did/do), and the other parts of me were just forgotten and underdeveloped as a result. But, the raging testosterone in me did love all the badassness. And I wanted to be just like all my heroes and be as manly of a man as possible. And so I did.
Inspirational quotes on t-shirts taught me to never show pain. Football coaches taught me to suck it up and walk it off. Hollywood taught me to be the strong, silent type. Lots of examples taught me to be a fighter. Books taught me to be clever, cunning, mysterious, and slightly dangerous. My father and grandfather showed me how to be respectful, work hard, and do the right thing. Not one though, not one single American male role model, taught me how to open up. Not one told me it was ok to be vulnerable. Not one showed me how to feel. Not one told me what it meant to truly love someone. Not one ever said it was ok to cry.
I mean after all, John Wayne doesn’t cry; talking action figures never say “I love you”; the President doesn’t divulge personal matters (under oath); I’m really not sure if Sting (WCW) even talked; my favorite NFL players just said to eat your Wheaties (which is a whole other topic for debate); Chuck Norris; well, there’s plenty of Chuck Norris sayings and I’m pretty sure none of them have anything to do with getting in touch with your emotional side; and lastly, my familial role models both died without us ever having a single conversation about anything in relation to any of the above for the most part.
And I’m sure this is all remotely similar for boys/men in other countries as well, but maybe just a little less hardcore. After all, we’re America dammit!
I mean think about it. Think about how we portray a real man in America. The emphasis we put on being good at sports, being tough and hard working, being educated, being financially successful, being better at everything. And what do all those portrayals tell our young boys? Do they tell young males to be open minded, or how to love and care for others, or how to express themselves? Do they even tell them that those things are as remotely important, much less on par, with all the other things? Do they tell them anything other than to kick ass all their way to the top?
I mean call me crazy, but I think those other things may be even more important than anything else. That it’s those things that allow a man to truly know himself, and be a good man to others. And yet, at least in our society, those aspects are completely overlooked in the development of young boys for the most part.
And, what about all the things we are inadvertently saying with those expectations and examples as well? What are we saying about things outside of that mainstream? For instance, what are we saying about anything that might be construed as remotely feminine: emotions, compassion, self expression, certain forms of art and craft, traditional female roles, etc.? If we are saying they are unmanly, and using feminine terminology to make fun of any male who displays those aspects, aren’t we also saying then that women are lesser than men?
If so, what issues does that create in our society?
I can almost even guarantee right now that someone is arguing that I’m a pussy for saying all this, and that I’m an idiot and that they could kick my ass. After all, I probably would’ve thought/said the same thing at one point in my life to justify continuing my manly way of being. Always doing so by discrediting and belittling others to display my superiority.
But is that what makes a man – being able to kick someone’s ass? And do real men have to show or prove their manliness? Does a real man need to be better than someone else to feel like more of a man?
For the record, part of the catch 22 of me being me is that I was raised to be that man, and even though I know now that fighting is never worth it, that doesn’t mean I can’t. Just fyi. (Who let the old Adam out?)
And to state the obvious and add to this tangent, I’ll be honest, all of this was worse when I was growing up in rural America as opposed to the city. Anywhere where there are less people, it mathematically means there is less of a chance that you’ll run across someone who will challenge your way of thinking and allow for growth to occur. And also a greater chance that the people there will be unwilling to step outside those accepted social norms, because there is a lack of examples of people doing so.
I mean shit, where I grew up in the mountains of Virginia there wasn’t even soccer in most schools growing up because soccer was a pussy European sport and real American men played football. I mean they didn’t put that on a banner or anything in our town, but seriously; that was the mentality. No self respecting man would have ever signed up his boy for soccer when I was young. You might as well have put a skirt on him in the process. That’s not to say I didn’t love playing football, or that I don’t love the mountains of Virginia and mostly everything that goes with them. I did, and I do. I’m just saying how narrowmindingly fucking stupid and counterproductive this whole macho mindset and societal portrayal of what a man is towards actually producing decent, well rounded, respectful young men in the process.
When you are raising people in a society to look down upon so much of the world because it as seen as unmanly or un-American, that’s not conducive to anything positive (unless your goal is to be a total douchebag). I mean hell, I looked down upon soccer and soccer players for most of my life for no other reason than that’s how I was raised. You could probably repeat that sentiment and mindset for a million different other things as well.
One time in particular, when I was playing football in college a group of new freshman soccer players came into the cafeteria while we were eating, and so I immediately thought it was my duty to enforce the natural order of things – football players up top, soccer players down low. I chose one soccer player in particular to make fun of because he seemed to embody the pussy, soccer player profile I had instilled in my head at the time: pretty boy, fancy gear, skinny, and wearing a bright pink bracelet on one of his wrists. Total puss I thought. Obviously, much less of a man than myself. And so, I began to give him hell over his feminine pink bracelet without him doing anything in return to deserve it.
Well, it just so happened that I was absolutely correct about that bracelet being a feminine bracelet. The bracelet, in fact, was his high school girlfriend’s. And he wore it all the time in honor of her, because she had died in a car wreck not long before I decided to open my big dumb mouth.
But let’s move on. I know things are changing, but unfortunately there is still much of this in the underlying, traditional mindset of America and it needs to be addressed. Cue all the Donald Trump supporters.
I also know this sense of societal expectation isn’t just restricted to men and boys in America. That women and girls also experience much of the same things growing up, but in the opposite manner. The good thing is, I think now we are at least addressing that problem with women, and trying to impart on and show young girls more examples of women in non-traditional roles; emphasizing strength and intelligence as equally desirable traits to beauty and compassion; pushing for equal pay and position in the workplace (the fact that I had to type that is just how pathetic all this is), etc. But, it’s all the same. We’ve got to stop setting unfair expectations for kids growing up to be anything other than who they are, and allow themselves to find out whatever living up to that may mean. We can’t just only push one idea of what a man or woman is, or only develop certain aspects of our young humans and expect them to be a part of a thriving, well balanced society as a result.
Albert Einstein has a really famous quote that I love, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Nuff said. Let’s change what being an All-American anything really means.