This is for the strong men in our lives.

Maja Tosic

The pain that overwhelms your heart is not just emotion. It is a reaction to words you never should have heard. It is the result of an immense pressure to deny your humanity.

You may coolly fit into your masculinity and carefree swag, but your eyes tell a different story. I see the clouds of confusion and hurt seeping over your strong composure. As you leave innocent boyhood for rough and rugged manhood, you feel the need to adopt the one definition of a man our society allows. To be strong, independent, dominant, aggressive and emotionally constipated is synonymous with being a man. Songs tell you of the need to possess money and women in order to be on top. Movies show you of the need to solve problems with active force. Your peers teach you of the need to put them before hos. Your father criticizes you for not being man enough.

You are meant to walk with your shoulders high on this campus. You are supposed to party the hardest and hold your alcohol down. You are judged by how many women you can get. You are pressured to be the biggest, the baddest, the coolest, the hottest.

The weight of these messages is drowning you. And you are robbed of your voice to say so — to admit it would not be manly. Though you possess privileges and power I will never experience, your gender norms are just as suffocating.

Your tears shatter bathroom floors behind closed doors.

Your short stature calls for doctor appointments.

Your lack of muscular tone calls for brutal gym sessions.

Your need for love is stifled by an overbearing demand for independence.

You want to give, but others tell you to take.

Your fragile and vulnerable heart is breaking, but you must plant your feet firmly in the ground.

Your self-worth is rooted in your ability to conform, so what happens when you don’t?

You and I may be regarded as opposite poles of a restrictive binary, but I think our pain is born from a common story. We’re both built from the same machine: manufactured to become robotic products and silent mimes of our culture.

You and I are not that different. Our sadness is regarded as weakness. Our need for acceptance and human connection saturates our lives. Yet, we are driven to distance ourselves. We are turned blindly from one another so that we view each other as opposites.

I am told to resent you for all you have.

I am told to blame you for the caution in my steps and the oppression weighing me down.

I am told to fear you for the privilege in your pockets.

But you are all my brothers. Not my enemy. And the pain you silently suffer through adds to my heartbroken pulse. I recognize the need for our common liberation — a fight to be fought as allies connected by love and interlaced hands.

But before I can reach for your hand, I must see that boys will not just be boys.

We all must see that boys are overshadowed and overlooked. Their pain will be locked in a secret compartment, because they’ll have to “toughen up” and “act like a man.” Before anything, ask a boy how he is feeling, so in that moment he can be more than just a boy. Don’t ask him how he is doing, because “doing” is an external act fit for his stereotype. Chances are he’ll laugh and shun the topic. Ask him again how he is feeling. And again and again, because we must not give up on our boys.

Maja Tosic can be reached at tosimaj@umich.edu.

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