It’s not emasculating. You just need to get over yourself.

So about a month or two ago, I’m starting to think about what I can do to better my journaling. My personal journal was turning into a long tome of complaining about myself as well as throwing my worries onto paper, and while that can be healthy, I found that it was also overwhelming anything else and was starting to get me into a cycle of navel gazing. So I went looking for ideas, figuring that writing prompts might be helpful. And they were, as were the bullet journal ideas I cribbed from in order to figure out my own tracking for my bad eating and spending habits.

But I noticed something as I was looking for ideas: they all seemed to be geared toward women. Many had calligraphy fonts and a pastel color scheme and even some inspirational quotes. Granted that might be because I scrolling through Pinterest, which does have a large female audience/membership, but as I scrolled through the suggested pins, I saw a lot of calligraphy and imagery that was a slightly more sophisticated version of what might have gone into a teenage diary at one point. My first reaction was that I was a bit embarrassed to be using something “meant for girls” and that I wish there was a men’s version of it. Yunno, “Bullet Journals for Guys” or something like that.

That is a very ridiculous line of reasoning, but I wrote it out because I went through it like a lot of men tend to do because like a lot of men, I am still overcoming decades of conditioning toward gender norms. In my childhood, there were boy toys and girl toys (and there still are), and crossover between the two was looked at as if it were a sign of some sort of problem. In fact, I know people who still get uneasy if they have boys who like to look at or play with dolls. And this didn’t stop during my teenage years as I tended to watch television, see movies, listen to music, or read comics that had a more masculine or masculine-oriented bent, which carried over to my twenties when I subscribed to Men’s Health.

Now, I didn’t necessarily fall in line with those norms and stereotypes all the time. I have a younger sister and we would play together, so there were adventures with My Little Pony or stuffed animals in addition to Transformers and He-Man. And I know for a fact that I’ve read more pages of Marie Claire than Maxim. But still, there was that involuntary, knee-jerk reaction to what I was seeing on Pinterest.

I brought this up to my wife and she explained that men haven’t had to think about these things before. And she’s completely right. The point I’m going to make here is not backed up by any research on my part, but men haven’t had to think about self-improvement in its true form because all self-improvement has been framed in the sense of achieving a goal or getting what you want or are entitled to. It’s the raise, the nice car, the chick. Women, on the other hand, seem to have had self-improvement thrown at them via fixing physical or character flaws. Men gain six-pack abs; women lose flabby tummies.

Like I said, that is the complete oversimplification of an enormous issue in a blog post, but it’s been on my mind because even if I don’t feel entitled to anything, it’s been drilled into me from a very early age that I should be and breaking that programming takes more effort than you sometimes realize. But breaking that programming is not only worth that effort; it is necessary. When I got past my initial reaction, I decided that I would use some of what was on Pinterest as reference for my own journaling. Pretty calligraphy is not my style and I certainly don’t have the skill to do it, but making a grid on graph paper and then coloring it in to mark my progress? That’s definitely an art project I can get down with.

I’ve been on a very private–and in some places, not so private–self-improvement mission because I’d hit some serious emotional lows and needed to explore what my flaws are and how they affect me and those around me. It has taken me to places where I am very uncomfortable and there have been times when I wonder if I am doing more damage to myself than actually improving anything. But then I remind myself that improvement is often incremental and nonlinear.

And I wish more men did this. We should be spending more time seeking out those emotional places where we make ourselves feel vulnerable in a way that is uncomfortable enough to be challenging but comfortable enough that we will continue. We need to see the importance of intrinsic value (i.e., it’s okay that being in touch with who you are and how you feel isn’t going to net you a six-figure salary or whatever other “alpha dog” b.s. we measure ourselves by), and throw aside any preconceived norms and perceptions. It’s not a perfect solution to the toxic nature of the culture of masculinity, but it’s certainly one step in the right direction.

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