“Our lives improve only when we take chances and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.” ~Walter Anderson
Society has a series of unwritten and sometimes unspoken laws they expect both males and females to abide by without question—a perceived set of standards and assumptions which span the generations and often shape, however haphazardly, the development of our youth.
From colors to activities; music to clothing; relationships to careers, an infinite number of stereotypes exist for the opposite sex, and society feels they are judge and jury—bullying, chastising, and poking fun at anyone who doesn’t fully support or adhere to them.
Unfortunately, I know what that’s like.
Growing up in an average American suburb, I began to notice that I wasn’t like other little boys. My interest in sports was non-existent.
Athletics seems to be a unifying force amongst males and used endlessly to judge one’s “manliness” in society.
Young, impressionable minds are often preconditioned to believe that any little boy who doesn’t like sports or the rough and tough exterior typically associated with them is a “sissy.”
I found enjoyment and fulfillment in the world of creativity as an artist, musician, and writer. But regardless of my talents or abilities, societal stereotypes continued to plague me. Artists are typically sensitive, emotional, and passionate individuals. These are three adjectives you might not associate with manliness.
My young, male counterparts just didn’t know what to make of me, and so I spent much of grammar school and high school dodging ridicule and abuse almost daily.
This ongoing struggle to fit within the confines a very narrow-minded society left me insecure, anxious, and at times even depressed, at an age when I should have been filled with innocence and joy.
My parent’s solution to the problem was just to ignore it—to simply be happy with who I was. But their advice offered little comfort to a young adolescent who just wanted to be liked by his peers, not judged.
Now at the age of 36, the memories of my youth are often bittersweet. While there were occasions of happiness sprinkled throughout, I spent the majority of my time trying to stay under society’s radar. Consequently, I missed opportunities to form relationships with my peers.
I wish I could say that as an adult my life is void of some of the same stereotypes I found in my youth. But some of the men around me define themselves by macho behaviors, a lack of emotion, athletics, and oftentimes a resistance to simply grow up and mature.
And so the struggle for acceptance seems never-ending in a society dominated by the understanding that every man and every woman should abide by gender distinctions the mass population has created for them.
I recently came across a wonderful anonymous quote, which reads:
“Stereotypes are devices for saving a biased person the trouble of learning.”
It seems the only reason then for society’s stereotypes is to help those who are too cowardly to accept uniqueness by providing them with an excuse to segregate and bully those who are different then they are.
I’ve spent years trying to live up to gender stereotypes only to discover that’s not how I want to be defined.
I am a guy who’s not afraid to cry when emotions sometimes weigh me down; and I view hugs as expressions of love and appreciation, not of sexual preference.
Everyone is unique in this world and those differences should be revered, not ignored.
At the end of my life, I don’t want to be remembered as someone who struggled to blend in with the crowd. No, I want to be remembered for being me.
If you feel the same, step back and ask yourself these questions:
- Am I being true to myself or living the expectations of others?
- Do I surround myself with individuals who love me unconditionally?
- Do I play up societal stereotypes to avoid being ridiculed?
- What’s the ultimate benefit of living life like everyone else?
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have found, quite by accident, a most cherished soul to share my days with. My wife is one of the kindest, most loving individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to come in contact with.
There are no airs about her, and she forms judgments solely based on how you treat her rather than stereotypes or materials that others use to judge one’s character.
She knows everything about me and in spite of those flaws believes I’m more of a man than most—something I would never have believed as a young boy just trying to fit in.
If people are going to love you unconditionally, they’re going to love you for the unique person that you are.
Sameness is easily achieved and highly unmemorable.
And while standing out in a crowd can feel difficult, I assure you it makes you stronger, for having the courage to embrace and love yourself is infinitely more valuable than blending in.
Actress Eva Mendes once said, “People are incapable of stereotyping you; you stereotype yourself because you’re the one who accepts roles that put you in this rut or in this stereotype.”
How right she is.
Photo by Lel4nd