Practical, rough, love of the outdoors, down to earth, good with his hands and having a ‘can-do’ attitude, emotionally aloof and staunch…these are all terms that have been used to describe the ideal ‘kiwi bloke’.
Folk hero status is given to the men who embody these qualities in their achievements, such as New Zealanders Sir Edmund Hillary ‘knocking the bastard off’ by climbing Mt Everest, or the late Sir Colin Meads who chose to play on in an All Black test match despite his arm being broken. We glorify hard tough men such as our sporting heroes who give their all to get the job done, often at the expense of their emotional and physical wellbeing
Are men really this tough or have they become desensitised to how they feel in trying to live up to societal and family expectations of how a ‘real man’ is supposed to behave?
By being ‘staunch’ men have to shut down their natural sensitivity and tenderness which is the true essence of all men. This can make it challenging for men to then express vulnerability even to those closest to them. In turn, this fosters a harden up ‘pack mentality’ where showing your feelings or wanting to connect with other men beyond talk of sport or work can be seen as ‘soft’ or ‘gay’. Without a culture that supports men to seek out emotional support from mates and loved ones, it’s easy to stay isolated in these stereotypes.
This emotional isolation has been shown to lead to the development of unexpressed frustration that can often blow out in drunken and aggressive behaviour. This has undoubtedly contributed to the increase in family violence of which New Zealand has one of the highest rates in the world. Coupled with the devastatingly high statistics of male suicide rates, we are left with questioning, how and why did we get here?
The ‘toughen up’ attitude is something that is put on boys from a young age. As babies, boys are naturally sweet and tender, yet at some point this ‘don’t-cry-toughen-up’ stance is seen as a necessary learning in raising a boy into a man. There is a long held belief that by being tough one is guarding oneself from being hurt. Throughout human history men have fought, guarded and protected the home, people and country and are taught to be ever vigilant to potential threats. The personal impact to one’s body has been regarded as unimportant with duty and honour coming first - a man must soldier on. Unless these old values are consciously questioned and re-evaluated, we will continue to raise generations that perpetuate these stereotypes.
Men are naturally sensitive, caring and loving. When given the space, there is a great power and authority in this expression, that is neither weak nor soft, hard or tough. It is not dependent on how he performs or what he does but more on the quality of how a man brings himself to everything, from the smallest exchange through to the grandest endeavour.
When we as a society can hold and deeply honour these qualities in our men, it has the potential to change the fabric of our
families and communities.
What does it mean to be a man?
The following interview with Stephen Gammack and James Stanfield, conducted by Rachel Mascord, explores and unpacks the ideals and beliefs that men contend with. Stephen and James both speak openly and honestly about their experience in the world as men in a way that is refreshing and inspiring.
This is a great audio for both men and women that gives insight into being a man in the world.