I’m just not a Masculine Dude

As a 5 foot 6 inch theater kid, I never quite fit the traditional mold of masculinity. In the attached photo from my high school choir, you can spot me in bright red, donning my mom’s slippers. The women in the choir jokingly wrote “men” across the sky, playfully highlighting our lack of traditional masculinity.

Back in high school, I came to terms with the fact that I didn’t conform to the stereotypical idea of a “masculine dude.” Fast forward to today, I’m the father of two young boys, aged 2 and 4, and I’m grappling with how to help them navigate their own understanding of gender. While I coped with my own feelings about gender through humor, I’ve come to realize that this approach may not be the best fit for my children.

I’ve also had the incredible opportunity to provide training to other therapists in Arizona on the topic of masculinity and how to effectively engage men in therapy. To be honest, I often felt like I’d be more qualified for this role if I were three inches taller (reaching the average height of men in the United States), had broader shoulders, or possessed some mechanical know-how. But, along the way, I’ve learned different perspectives on masculinity that I want to share with you.

First, I discovered that scholars use the term “hegemonic masculinity” to describe traditional masculinity. It’s the notion that the most respected and socially accepted men are typically seen as heterosexual, white, physically strong, and emotionally reserved. Adhering to hegemonic masculinity often involves trying to assert dominance over anything perceived as “feminine,” both in oneself and in others. Unfortunately, this narrow view of masculinity is associated with adverse health outcomes for men who embrace it and their communities.

To me, hegemonic masculinity feels like a mask or a confining box. It’s the societal pressure to conform to a set of ideals or fit inside that box, projecting an image of strength while concealing insecurities and vulnerabilities within. Personally, I knew I’d never be the most physically dominant person, and I accepted that as a given. Instead, I’ve strived to be capable, as my “mask” demands that I should be the smartest or wisest person in the room. I want to earn respect through my abilities. I’ve also come to acknowledge that I’m more emotionally sensitive and focused on relationships than some other men. Yet, my box tells me to limit the range of emotions I express, while my inner self-critique labels it as weakness or femininity to be openly emotional or to show how much others mean to me. Regardless of how self-aware I am, I still find myself holding back my care or resisting asking for help out of fear that, as a man, I’ll be perceived as incapable, unintelligent, or overly emotional.

I experience this pressure when I need to ask for help at work, when I have a new male client and worry about them thinking I’m effeminate and emotional, or when I realize I should have asked for help much earlier. It’s palpable in the company of other men when I find myself smiling less and becoming more distant. Even in the gym locker room, I catch myself combing my hair and hoping that other men won’t see me as too feminine for caring about my appearance and hygiene.

Trying to fit into this restrictive box is incredibly isolating. The more I conform, the more I distance myself from others. It’s no surprise that women tend to receive emotional support from friends, express love, and share their feelings or problems with friends at about twice the rate of men. As comedian and social commentator John Mulaney humorously puts it, “…my dad has no friends. And your dad has no friends. If you think your dad has friends, you’re wrong. Your mom has friends, and they have husbands. Those are not your dad’s friends.” Unfortunately, this isolation takes a toll, with men completing suicide at four times the rate of women, yet only seeking mental health treatment at 6/10 the rate of women.

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Reflecting on my own experiences, I can’t count how many overt messages I internalized that equated masculinity with suppressing emotions and not asking for help. For me, adulthood and maturity were closely associated with being reliable. But upon deeper introspection, I’ve come to realize that these messages suggest that as a “man,” I should be the one helping, emotionally stable, and not too expressive or effeminate. More than merely recognizing these ingrained messages, I’m actively working to step outside my comfort zones. I am trying to state my current problems before they’re solved, ask for help when I don’t know what direction to take, ask for comfort when I’m feeling down, and be more expressive when connecting with others.

My hope is that my sons will pick up on this healthier form of masculinity, and I’ll be secure enough in myself to openly acknowledge my own limitations.

If you have any questions about Therapy With Heart’s services please contact us.


Matthew Benson


(480) 203-2881
8737 E. Via De Commercio, Suite 200 Scottsdale, Arizona 85258