For a Black man living in our modern western civilization, there is no task more difficult than attempting to live up to our collective community’s expectations of hyper masculinity. No matter your age, occupation, education, or socioeconomic standing, our society has firmly crafted beliefs on how Black men should be, well, men. Some of these standards are forced upon us by external pressures, some of these standards are imagined concepts that we personally buy-into and some of these standards are simply due to our own making, yet regardless of the origins, Black men suffer at the hands of these almost-impossible suppositions, mostly in silence.
The stress that being a “real man” has on us is real as hell. Feeling like it’s our duty to be providers and protectors is already ingrained in our minds and souls as we traverse cityscapes on our lonesome, but once you add a woman into that scenario, especially a woman we truly love, those pressures actually double. It’s a constant and crippling battle with a self-loathing fear of inadequacy that, we feel, is far too deep, painful and complex to share with our significant others and our boys (although they’re actually going through the same shit.)
This inadequacy, built from the fear or our parents who told us to “man up” and “act like a man” before we even hit puberty, who believed that even a moment of youthful ignorance from a Black boy in this society can drastically alter our futures – or, even end the possibility of us having a future at all. This inadequacy was curated by the other young Black men around us, just as scared and just as pillaged of a childhood, who spared no expense at performing this act of hyper-masculinity with as much intimidation as possible. These were the dudes on the corner, suffering at the hands of an impossible expectancy, full of the most braggadocio and the largest desire to embody a confused ideology of an “alpha male”, who went around calling dudes “pussies” and worst, “bitch-ass niggas” the latter being used as a simultaneous revocation of the other man’s Blackness and masculinity, all in one fell slur.
And it’s become incredibly easy for many Black women to mock this performance and pretend that they had no hand in it’s creation and nourishment, when it’s the mothers of many of these boys who tell them not to act “gay” or “like a bitch.” It’s become far too easy to pretend that the aunties and the grandma’s who implant these messages in these young boy’s minds don’t exist. It’s become far too easy for many Black women to overlook the fact that hyper-masculinity is a social creation that we’re all collectively responsible for.
Masculinity may be as fragile as glass, but the fire that melted it’s minerals was blazed by us all.
A relationship, especially a mature one between two grown-ass adults looking towards the future, feels like a masculinity litmus test for many of us. Can we physically protect this woman from incursion? Can we shield her from anything and anyone that may effect her mental health? Can we be the emotional hard rock she needs when life gets too sticky for her? Can we put food on the table? Can we provide an income to make her feel as safe and secure as possible? Can we guard our children from any incursion? And, if we can’t, can we get them the vengeance and recompense they deserve?
Any possible ‘no’ to any of those questions becomes a self-perceived slight of our own manhood. Real men fight for their families. Real men provide everything their loved ones need. Real men don’t cry about having these responsibilities. Real men don’t cry at all.
And somewhere in our relationship, in between performing our hyper-masculinity, the woman we love brings our guarded walls crashing down. It’s usually never some grand moment or even an occasion that our woman will recognize herself, but it will provide the monumental answer to a question that the long-suffering boyish souls in us have yearned to ask, but never actually inquired about to her.
The answer is, “no.”
The question is, “do I have to keep this act up?”
In one instance, with one act, she shows us that her love, respect and admiration for us has absolutely nothing to do with anyone’s notion of masculinity.
With her, we get to be human.
With her, we get to be imperfect.
With her, we get to be emotionally healthy.
With her, we get to laugh as loud and as childishly as we want.
With her, we get to cry.
And when we stand up at the alter, realizing that there’s one woman in the world who not only told us that we didn’t need to perform an alpha-male act, but also investigated our souls to reveal our vulnerability AND STILL decided to love us, knowing how fragile we truly are, we let it out. We take off the mask that society has forced us to wear for so long and we breathe in life in a way we’ve never done before.
We become human again.
This Is Your Conscience