You Don’t Need to be Tough to be Masculine

Don’t cry.

Don’t smile.

You’re a fucking pussy.

Looks like you need a nice cup of concrete. Harden up, cunt!

Get over it.

Man up, bitch!

Does being masculine mean that I need to appear tough?

I get this question in many different forms and essentially what it means is: does being a masculine man mean that I need to hide any feminine traits that I might have? Do I need to suppress any sort of femininity in me?

This is really the issue for the modern man, this cultural pressure that men get where they confuse masculinity with being like macho and tough, or being stoic and unemotional, or being this kind of weird new thing called an “alpha male” – which does not actually relate to what a real alpha male is in the animal kingdom, but this new definition of alpha male which basically describes someone who’s very dominant and borderline psychopathic.

James Bond worship

A lot of guys worship models like James Bond – an unemotional, unaffected, all masculine, no feminine – model of a man, and they try to be that thing. They end going through a lot of psychological trauma because they’re trying to be something they’re not; something impossible.

It involves a lot of emotional suppression and self-deception, and I believe this is the real reason for our incredibly high suicide rates and our incredibly high prison incarceration rates, particularly in New Zealand, but also around the world.


This idea of what it means to be “the man” – in New Zealand we’d say the word staunch – it’s the kind of person who feels nothing and is tough and strong all the time.

The pressure to be staunch creates this crippling fear of being seen as weak, a.k.a. showing femininity and emotionality, being seen as someone who’s actually affected and caring. This is a huge fear that so many guys seem to have and are massively affected by.

And we’re only just starting to talk about how devastating this fear and this cultural image of a man is.

Faking it

So what you get is guys end up pretending. I used to do it a lot. We end up pretending to be certain things.

First off, we end up pretending to be unaffected.

Guys pretend that the world doesn’t excite them, the world doesn’t move them, nothing’s a big deal, they don‘t care about anything – that kind of unaffected affect as it’s called. A presentation of being unemotional and apathetic – not feeling anything, being numb.

It’s really just an extension of being staunch, tough, and stoic (not Stoic as in the philosophy but stoic as in unemotional).

How it looks

And what this comes across as, what it looks like from the outside, is someone who’s bored, someone who’s trying too hard, someone who’s trying to look cool, someone who’s slightly angry for some reason.

Sometimes a guy effectively convinces you that they’re tough and that they’re unenthusiastic about life. A kind of nonchalance.

You see it in a bar, the guy’s done the gel and the hair, and he’s got his best shirt on, and he’s holding his beer defensively in front of his chest, and he’s just not smiling and everything’s serious all the time in.

In his mind he thinks “Man I must look pretty tough” but everybody else is just like “Man that guy‘s having a dull time” – this is how it comes across.

Taking the piss

There are other forms, like banter. New Zealand guys are big for this. We call it “taking the piss.”

You go to any worksite and they’re just taking the piss out of each other all the time because that’s the best they can do in terms of forming an emotional connection with somebody. They can’t really be open and honest about how they feel so they develop this kind of code-language called banter. And they also use it as a defense.

I used to use humour as a defense quite effectively. I’d make jokes about myself and about other people as a way of stopping anyone getting in close and seeing how I feel, what really affects me.

The alpha male try-hard

What we’re really talking about is this attempt to be an alpha male – to be this manly man – just ends up with people doing emotional suppression and dishonesty.

They suppress what they really feel. They lie to themselves about it and then they lie to other people about it, which ironically is weaker than any display of emotions or any genuine expression that a man might make.

It’s so much weaker to hide who you are than it is to express it, so it’s ironic that people are trying to use deception to appear to be tough – it doesn’t make sense.

The guys who are trying the hardest to appear to be hard are really the most cowardly. I look back on the way I used to be; using humour and pretending nothing affected me and pretending that I was tough.

I remember a party once, standing real staunch, and a guy next to me was like “Oh don’t fight me” – I felt so good about that, as if it was an achievement of some kind to intimidate some random dude.

That was so cowardly of me to do. I was such a pussy to do that.

True bravery

Nowadays, when I’m open about being stressed or being sad or I let my feminine nurturing side come out for a play, I’m so much braver to do that than if I was hiding it. It’s so ironic!

I used to work with the toughest guys on the planet. I’m talking gang members, the most violent criminal offenders that have ever walked the face of the earth (at least in New Zealand). These are guys who can beat up five policemen with one hand behind their back. These are tough guys… and yet they would shit themselves at the thought of being open emotionally with their bros and with their family.

And I‘d watch them going “Oh my god! They’re more afraid of that than I am! I am braver than they are! How is that possible?”

I was able to look past the big affect they put on and the facial tattoos and the muscles and see this is all a mask to hide how utterly afraid they are.

These men are not tough psychologically, they were cowardly (with the exception of the psychopaths who are really scary). These guys who are trying to appear to be tough are the weakest of them all, and that’s why they’re the ones who end up taking lots of drugs, and committing suicide, and beating up their wives, and drink driving, and accepting a mediocre life.

Because really they‘re very much cowardly. They’re terrified of real life but they don’t appear afraid so it’s hard to believe.

The mask we wear

You go to a worksite you see all these tough guys with scars all over their hands , taking the piss out of each other and having a good laugh and having a beer on a Friday and you think “Man he’s tough!”

No, he’s not.

He’s shitting himself on a day-to-day basis, hoping he doesn’t get found out.

The idea that being masculine means you never demonstrate any feminine traits is more like saying being constantly masculine means you are a dishonest coward, because everybody has both masculine and feminine in them.

You can be a masculine man: a predisposition as towards masculinity and masculine traits, but you will have femininity in you and this is requisite for you to be a strong leader.

Here’s a great TED talk from Frans de Waal, who originally coined the term “alpha male” though his work with chimpanzees:

He’s quite distraught about how people have skewed what that word alpha-male means into being this macho, tough, dominating psychopath, because real chimpanzee alphas are caring and nurturing, they pay attention to the needs of their troop.

They’re the most appreciated and appreciative members of the tribe. They get voted in, essentially, because everyone loves them. And it’s not because they’re dominant.

Beta male wannabes

The ones who try to dominate by force quickly get kicked out of chimp troops. It’s not long before they‘re ostracized.

The ones trying to be the Alpha are always the betas, alright? And that’s true of our society as well.

The guy with the big muscles and the fake tan and the gel sticking up, taking the piss out of everyone, he’s the beta, because he’s trying hard.

The one who everyone naturally loves because he’s thoughtful and considerate of the group and he’s trying to take everyone in the best direction and sacrifices his own petty needs for the greater good – that’s the real leader. That’s the Alpha.

Now, he’s got all those leadership traits: he’s honest, he’s courageous and assertive, he’s responsible – all the masculinity is there – but he also pays attention and receives feedback, he’s respectful, he’s compassionate. There’s a lot of feminine traits in a real leader.

A real leader

In fact, a real leader is just a great balance of masculine and feminine. He knows when to be hard and when to be soft; when to drive forward and when to pull back.

Someone who’s all hard and all driving forward isn’t a leader; they’re a psychopath, or they’re just an aggressive dominator. They‘re the person you put in the frontline of the army to take the bullets. They’re not the general who sits at the back making sure the war is won.

I really want you to challenge your idea that being a man means being tough.

I do believe that masculinity requires an ability to be tough when it counts – an ability to step up – but often that’s the very thing that most tough guys are scared to do. They won’t step up when it counts. They won’t cry at their own wedding. They won’t be honest with their parents about the dark feelings they have about their childhood.

They won’t really step up when it’s scary. They’ll only step up where they’re already tough. They’ll step up with physical violence because they’re good at physical violence. They’ll step up with things that they don’t feel uncomfortable doing. How is that something to admire?

We’ve all got it in us. I’m not judging people here. We’re all capable of cowardice and we all demonstrate it on at least a weekly basis.

You want to be a real man?

You’ve gotta embrace everything that’s true about you – both your masculine and your feminine; your dark and your light; your hard and your soft. And let it all express itself genuinely to create what is uniquely you, as a moving, endless expression.

And all those guys out there that you think look really tough, notice how hard they’re trying to look tough, and realize they are the beta’s.

The real alpha is the one who’s not trying.

I hope that’s helpful. I’m gonna expand on this topic as time rolls out because I think it’s hugely important and as I said I’m not bullshitting; I really think that what we’re talking about here is the root cause of the incredibly high rates of mental suicide and imprisonment.

When I work with criminal offenders who have also even higher rates of suicide than the general population, I just saw so much shame around weakness, which was translated as femininity, without realizing that weakness is trying to hide feminine softness.

These guys spent so much of their life trying to be tough, all that did is got them into trouble, made them followers rather leaders, and lead to really low self-worth and mental illness.

I’m interested in your thoughts. This is a highly divisive and controversial topic. Feel free to disagree with me in the comment section below – troll hard! – let us know your thoughts, your experiences with trying to be a man, or your experiences as a woman watching guys trying to be a man.

Let’s keep this conversation going.

If you’ve got questions around masculinity you want to bounce off me, get in touch

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