Men Caging Ourselves In 

Tough guise.

By Lawrence Santiago 

All my life I’ve seen guys put on a “tough guy” façade that we are encouraged, or pressured, to create.

When we are little boys we’re told “Don’t cry!”

In kindergarten we flex our muscles and pretend to be strong. We are teased by both men and other boys if we don’t act tough enough. After puberty we are pressured to do risky things that could kill us, just to prove our manhood.

“Be tough and rowdy!” Okay, I can do that. That was how my friends did it and I wanted to fit in and get attention, myself. So we always talked about working out and being rowdy when we hung out or met girls.

A guy’s double life 

Sometimes guys are encouraged to be cruel. When I was little I learned that girls had cooties and boys shouldn’t play with them. I thought this was strange yet everyone seemed to think that way so I accepted it. But it wasn’t really me.

Fast-forward a few years: With hormones on the rise I started wondering why the tension between boys and girls lingered. School dances were the epitome of boys standing awkwardly on one side of the gymnasium and girls on the other. If we can barely talk to the other sex how can we understand them?

And as we grow older cootie cruelty takes on a new form: guys call girls bitches and have sex with them primarily to turn them into pawns in a game just to score points. I feel like I can’t call my friends out for it without getting harassed. I grew up with these guys and it sucks.

Once you do get to know girls you can feel like you are leading a double life. You’re supposed to look swole — muscular and buff,  and act tough. I felt like I had to be a lumberjack. But girls want a sweet guy, as well. When I am alone with a girl I can feel more like myself. Girls sometimes comment on our double lives. We bend ourselves into knots because it relieves the stress that would come from not fitting in.

Courageous guys afraid to be ourselves

Being a guy can feel like having a second job, if I’m honest.

It all feels like being cooped up in a box. We cage ourselves in by holding in our insecurities and not acknowledging and expressing how we really feel. We pull the reigns in on our emotions. None of it is good for our mental or physical health, or our relationships.

Guys are supposed to be courageous and yet we are too afraid to be ourselves. Sometimes I feel like the most I can do is not participate in all this. But I’m hopeful that guys will become more open and honest about the masks we hide behind. I’m hopeful that we will have more conversations and share our stories and start to speak out.

I know that by speaking out on this I am going against the guy code. But it has to be said. It’s just too stressful putting on the tough guise day in and day out.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 10, 2017, in men, psychology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 50 Comments.

  1. I hope all the posts about males aren’t really part your reality, they certainly aren’t part of mine 🙂 Oh, there were a jerk now and than, but they were the rare exception.

    • I’m not sure whether you are addressing this to Lawrence or to me. Because it doesn’t quite make sense to me either way I read it.

      Posts written by my male students are about their reality not mine. But men often write in to say that they can relate to what I’ve posted. Or raise their hands in my classes and say they can relate.

      It sounds like your experience is different from his. We are all composed of three things:

      1) the culture and subcultures we live in
      2) our social interactions
      3) our natural personalities that interact with the other two.

      And so we find cultural patterns and individual variations.

      What Lawrence describes will not fit everyone’s experience. But it seems to be widespread. More than one movie has been made on the topic, like Jackson Katz’s “Tough Guise” and “The Mask You Live In” which has many male contributors like Michael Kimmel and Jackson Katz. Some male professors at my college show those films too. And a male student first recommended that I show “Tough Guise.”

      And then there is the TED Talk that went viral on “The Man Box” by Tony Porter https://www.ted.com/talks/tony_porter_a_call_to_men/transcript?language=en

      Because of male socialization men may not realize how much of a box they’re in since they have grown so used to it, too. I read a book by a woman who passed as a man for a year and a half called “self-made man.” She talked about how difficult it was to rein in her feelings and put on a tough guise all the time, or else people thought “he” was gay. She noticed the male socialization of young boys with older men trying to toughen them up. She talked about going to men’s retreats where men grappled with the difficulty of all this. And male reviewers of the book said they could relate and appreciated her talking about this.

      • This is all super ironic. Tough people don’t give a rip what other people think. So tough people don’t give a rip about other people telling them whether they should toughen up, or being concerned about what people think when they speak their mind or their feelings. So if you’re concerned about boys and men being “damaged” by being told to toughen up, then perhaps we should toughen them up, because they’ve become weak. The only mental issues people have are the prisons created by your own mind, and you literally need to toughen up to get past that, and do what you want to do.

      • There are a number of ways to toughen up. One is to put on a mask that’s not real. Another is to be tough enough to NOT put on the “tough” guise. I guess that depends on how you define tough. Tough versus strong.

      • “Another is to be tough enough to NOT put on the “tough” guise.”

        We can agree on this..Speak softly but carry a big stick.

      • Yes. Sometimes you do need a big stick too.

  2. Thanks for sharing this perspective…it is interesting to know what actually makes the guys act tough.

    • It’s interesting to hear men talk about this experience first hand. Men in my class often talk about the difficulty of donning this guise. And women talk about seeing the men they love change when they are around other men.

      • Men in my class often talk about the difficulty of donning this guise.”

        If it is the real you, it is no disguise.

        And women do not change when they are around other women?

      • I’m sure that some men are comfortable with this sort of thing, but plenty of men are not and feel pressured to fit norms that don’t fit their personalities.

        That’s why so many documentaries etc have been made on the topic like “Tough Guise,” “The Mask You Live In,” “The Man Box”…

  3. Another familiar tale. So many movies in India depict this aspect, of boys being asked to remain strong no matter the situation!

  4. I can relate to an extent in the sense of not trying to score points by getting girls. Luckily my friends never cared how many girls I got with or who. Though it can suck if you’re around guy’s not bragging, but telling stories of this funny, fun time at some party or whatever and it did relate to them having sex, but there’s a whole story of things before and after. So it sucks if you haven’t done that and then your left feeling like shit, or missing out because you didn’t have such memorable, youthful times like they did. It can all be a facade or covering over their insecurities or other problems they are having in their life that nobody knows about. But it makes me think and it’s been shown how social media, facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat, etc.

    They said the more people use them, the more likely they are to feel depressed and isolated. And it’s because what happens is people who use them, they often put their best parts right? Even if a person might not have been on a vacation in a long time, they may post one they had earlier in the year and just pictures and images making things seem like they are living life and having a blast and have a great job, great spouse. You’re basically seeing people’s “highlight reels of life” so then you think of your life even if people on social media are exaggerating things, you don’t know and you feel like your life is not up to measure. I think that when guy’s telling stories and there probably is always that one that doesn’t tell them because he’s not having the exploits like the others.

    • Yeah, on social media we only post the best things so you don’t see the whole person with the downside to.

      Plus, those stories you hear at parties are often made up completely or in part. Just another way of trying to create an image of ourselves that is better than it really is.

  5. I can certainly relate to that. I come from an Eastern European country, not US, and the country is very patriarchal. I grew up in a sort of suburban ghetto where a large amount of people (both adults and teenagers) share “criminal-wannabe” life values, which includes male toughness. There is a wonderful parody about this kind of people (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Uzu58N-Sso), but in reality it is not as fun. I never understood that crap, I never fitted in, and I was bullied for that. I left that place, and now I wholeheartedly hate toxic masculinity and its values. I even accept some partial femininity in my character and I endorse it. When see young guys that jump out of their pants to demonstrate their manliness, I almost want to laugh. US college kids are often like that.

    Interestingly, many women in my home country say that they want “a real man”, the phrase “a real man” is almost a meme. I wonder is that their sincere desire, or they were just brainwashed. I blame not fitting to the “real man” sterotype for being romantically ignored by women, but I don’t care anymore.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience with this.

      Looking at women who want “real men” I have a couple of comments.

      First is that yes, in patriarchies women — like men — are socialized (brainwashed) to value men and masculinity over women and femininity (Because men and masculinity are more valued in patriarchies). It’s an unconscious process and they don’t realize that they have done this. But because they have they may well experience themselves as wanting more macho men.

      That said, the reality isn’t so great. I have a couple of friends who said they wanted to marry male-dominant men. And both of them did. They’re both now divorced. My brother always thought it was funny that one of them always said she was attracted to her husband because he was macho, and then she divorced him for the same reason. The reality isn’t so great.

      I also wrote a post on women being attracted to tough guys and a number of women wrote in to say that that’s what they wanted when they were younger. But as they got older and wiser they realized they didn’t like it at all. I’m not sure which post that was, but here’s a few you could look at if you’re interested:

      The Allure of Bad Boys (and mean girls)
      https://broadblogs.com/2012/01/11/the-allure-of-bad-boys/
      Bad Boy Allure
      https://broadblogs.com/2013/04/08/bad-boy-allure/

      Women Want Betas
      https://broadblogs.com/2013/08/12/women-want-betas/
      Nice Guys Are A Turnoff? (No.)
      https://broadblogs.com/2015/01/05/nice-guys-are-a-turnoff/

  6. Great blog! I would not think this was a big deal until I read about it. But, I did know that guys always had to act “tough” because they were men and men should be strong and not weak. Being from a Mexican household I always heard my uncles telling their son’s to not cry because only girls cry and boys need to be strong and not weak. I know that i have heard my parents tell my little brother to not cry when he gets hurt because he is a boy and boys do not cry. At first I thought they would say that to stop him from crying but what they were actually doing was making him into that “tough guy” that they are supposed to become into according to our society. It is good to know that men live a double life because i did not know that until i read your blog. I know that sometimes when I would argue with my boyfriend he would start crying and I would notice that he would try to stop himself from crying but sometimes he could not hold in the tears any longer so after the crying and arguing he would later then apologize for crying. He would also apologize for crying infront of me and making himself look like a fool. I would tell him it is okay to cry if that is how he feels and that I would not judge him or make fun of him for crying. I would also tell him that he did not make himself look like a fool because to me that was him expressing his true and real feelings not a lie. It is crazy to know that men are taught to not understand us women and to live that “tough guy” life and when they get into a relationship they try their hardest to understand us. Im hoping that men will also be more open and honest and feel safe to speak out what they really feel.

  7. RobertFoothill

    While I do agree that the idea of traditional gender roles may make some people feel uncomfortable, especially if they fall outside of the traditional idea of what it means to be a male, I completely disagree with the narrative of manhood that the author is portraying. While there certainly are men who act the way men are described in this posting, I find it to only be the case some of the time. The author claims he has to live a double life because the men he hangs out with are pressuring him to act “ tough, unemotional and buff”, and he does not feel like that is what he wants to be. This is understandable, but, from my perspective, he is just a very poor fit for his friend group, and instead of assuming that this is the case for all men, (which it certainly is not) he simply needs to find a new group of friends who share the same interests as he does. The author says when he is alone with a girl he feels more like himself, so maybe he should surround himself with more people like her.

    • What you say makes a lot of sense but when you are in a subculture you tend to think that everyone sees things the way your group of friends does — so you feel like there is no way out. So it could be helpful to find out that not everyone is “That way.”

  8. Men come in all kinds of flavours, just like women do.

  9. While I am certainly aware of these standards that confine what is and is not acceptable for men in today’s society, I can’t say that I have too much personal experience facing these pressures. Ever since preschool, most of my closest friends have been girls. Quiet and shy, I was not courageous enough to join the “tough and rowdy” boys, so I gravitated towards friendships with the girls in my classes. As a result, my experiences were almost the opposite to that of other men. I had no problem talking to girls, but I couldn’t seem to carry a meaningful conversation with any of my guy friends. Expressing my emotions and insecurities came naturally and without shame. I did not put up a façade when with one sex or the other.

    Many guys and girls have poked fun at me because of this, told me I’m not manly enough. However, this pressure to prove my manhood did not concern me. My girl friends treated me with kindness and friendship regardless of how manly I presented myself. Therefore, I was comfortable defying the confinements of the male gender. To me, friendship was far more important than trying to prove myself to others.

    This is not to say I don’t love sports, working out, and other “guy” stuff, but I do so on my own volition. I have only met one or two guys with similar experiences and we often discuss these very issues that men face today. I too hope that we all can all be more open about this subject and do our part to continue the conversation.

  10. Very nice honest insight into the societal silent “rule” on the standard of what manlihood and being a boy should look like and act like.
    I agree with what you are saying about how men should really come together and stand up for how they are being perceived and forced to act in order to fit in. It goes the same way for females too. In that we should be the opposite of what is expected for males, shy, obiedent, submissive and wanting to be a house maker. These are extremely old fashioned ways of thinking, from the 50,60,70’s. I feel that now in 2017 we have come a long way in accepting people’s preferred genders, sexual preferences etc, so why not start changing the irrational standards at which men and women are expected. Let’s change that the ways that we are expected, instead of each having their own expectations we should instead be encouraging individuality, self reliance, basic skills, and each being able to be strong on their own.
    These are some of my thoughts on this topic, thank you for listening.

  11. “Guys are supposed to be courageous and yet we are too afraid to be ourselves.”

    Men are NOT allowed to be ourselves and/or courageous. Remember, such is called “toxic masculinity.”

    • Men who are not macho are you not allowed to be themselves. I think that’s his point.

      And even the macho thing is Socialized. You don’t find it in every culture. How are founding fathers were gentleman who were graceful, wore lace and ruffles…

      Some cultures like the Wodaabe of Nigeria are extremely feminine.

      That’s all socialized too.

      Outside of being courageous enough to go against the flow of macho masculinity where is men’s courage discouraged?

  12. btw, when your post(s) don’t appear anymore, does that mean you’ve taken it to look at later or got rid of it?

  13. My friends aren’t like what his friends are like and I don’t think that’s the case for all men. It can be the case for boys and some sub cultures to the extent the person has stated. But I do think boys and men conscious or sub conscious feel pressure in different ways to uphold constantly the masculine ideals of society. It may not be about scoring points by getting girls or acting macho. But more of not showing “feminine” traits or the softer side around guys or even girls too. Women may be easier to show that side, but it depends, and women and girls can hold a similar standard on men to not act or show or like something that may not be considered “masculine”.

    • His subculture maybe more macho than most. Meaning he’s all the more courageous to speak out.

      But I agree with your point that a more widespread problem for men is not showing “feminine” traits or the softer side around guys, or even girls.

      That more feminine side is part of the male psyche that men are constantly treasure to submerge and it doesn’t two anyone any good. For instance, instead of getting psychological help — because “real men” are independent and don’t need help — men are more likely to blow up and beat their wives, Commit suicide, mass murder… We are all harmed by this.

      And it takes a lot of courage for men to stand up against it and stand up for being in touch with their whole humanity.

  14. As a southeast Asian, I grew up in a conservative and traditional household and community. There were certainly many different stereotypes and expectations from boys and men. Those who strayed from these expectations were considered strange and different. When young boys shed tears, their parents shush them because “real men don’t cry”. My mother would refuse to let my father use a red umbrella because, according to her, the color red is “too feminine”. I find these ideas of masculinity absurd. Men should not be barred from displaying emotions just for the sake of appearing tough.

    I strongly believe that gender roles for both women and men are harmful to society. It is not just members of the opposite sex that are enforcing these stereotypes; they are enforced within the same sex as well. The expectations that society imposes upon us can lead to various mental and physical health issues. I agree with the author that men should become more honest about these feelings and speak out against these societal norms. Everyone should be allowed to be able to fully express themselves in any way, and understand one another as people rather than through labels.

  15. It was cool to see a guy open up about feeling like they have a double life. I just had a similar conversation with my 15 year old son about this topic. He says that he has to act one way in front of the guys and be tough so that he is not called names. It is not just parents and other adults that put this pressure on boys but other boys do this to their friends as well. To me it sounds like a form of bullying. Be this way or else we will treat you this way. People need to let boys be themselves whomever they feel that they need to be. If they want to play with dolls and house then let them. If they want to play with the girls, then that is ok too. At the worst, it will teach them to be compassionate and nurturing and in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe then boys will grow up into men who feel comfortable just being themselves.

    • Thanks for telling about your experience with this. Women in my classes sometimes say that they notice how the men in their lives change to appear tougher when they’re with their male friends — like they’re putting on a mask.

  16. MatthewFoothill

    I think that I can both relate and disagree with the idea of these traditional gender roles that the author is expressing here. But maybe because I grew up in one of the most liberal parts of California, I can’t say that I have been subjugated to these gender role standards as much as the author has here. But when I have experienced these standards, such as being tough, or not crying, I’ve actually found much use in this mentality. People come across many hardships in life, and honestly most of the time in my own experience it is only through “being tough” and putting aside my emotions that I can come out on top, and accomplish my goals. “Not crying” about roadblocks and thinking logically instead of emotionally is sometimes just the best option to get where you want to be. Now I’m not arguing to shut off all your emotions and just become a logical robot, as feeling and expressing emotions is important to oneself for obvious reasons; All I want to say is that one should be able to control ones own emotions and that “being tough” does have merit. Maybe I’m delusional, and now just a product of the masculinity norm. But honestly, I live by most of my own principles that I make through my experiences and studying my own life, and not society.

    • I think there is a place for both toughening up and for being in touch with our emotions. Men may suffer from less depression because they are better at letting go of depressing thoughts.

      But some men end up doing emotion management to change a “weak” emotion like sadness or depression into a “strong” one like anger. That causes a lot of problems when men end up beating their wives because they feel bad about themselves. Or raping because they feel bad about themselves. And not seeing a therapist because that would be weak. Or they commit suicide or mass murder.

      The trick is to know when to use which tactic: letting negativity go or being in touch enough that you deal with your problems properly.

  17. Cecilia Rivera

    It sure seems unfortunate to live in a society where men are supposed to conform to hegemonic masculinity, and women emphasized femininity. As wretched as it is, the way men must act and be perceived stems from as recent as the colonial era. Men have held social and political power over women for centuries now, and the roles imposed on young boys cannot change overnight. It is something that takes time and dedication, as well as education among the masses. For some men, hegemonic masculinity can turn into toxic masculinity. The socially-constructed attitudes that come along with labels of masculinity and femininity, are detrimental to everyone as patriarchal norms cease to exist. People have to conform to a certain look, act a certain way, and as you have stated, hide behind masks. This is where feminism comes to play. I am not necessarily talking about the ideologies found in the first and second wave of feminism as the goals were exclusive, but more so the ideologies found in the third wave of feminism. Feminism in its most modern form can be understood as more inclusive and intersectional. Feminism is not just for women, but men too. I feel that many people get fooled into believing that feminism is hating men, or that it’s exclusive to women because the word ‘feminine’ is embedded in the word. But, that is false. Both men and women mutually benefit from feminism. For men specifically, adopting feminist ideologies allows them to not be tied to socially-constructed roles. As I try to imagine from the standpoint of an identified male, it must seem super difficult to live the double life. However, it does not necessarily need to be that way. Raising one’s consciousness on the roles that men play, in my opinion, is a step forward to dismantling stereotypes and expectations. And, if we look back at history to the early 1970s, the National Organization of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) is an example where men played and continue to play an active role in feminism. It is difficult so to speak when expectations have been embedded since birth, but I feel that it is easier to day to break away from stereotypes. In all, I commend you for acknowledging the difficulty.

    • Me too! Thanks Laurence!

    • “For men specifically, adopting feminist ideologies allows them to not be tied to socially-constructed roles. ”

      Why should I as a man allow you as a woman to determine what MY masculinity is or should be? That’s absurd!!!!

      Are you OK with men defining you as a woman? Or what a woman should be?

      Why cannot women just leave us men the hell alone! Seriously.

      Lastly, modern feminism is totally about hating men and masculinity.

      • When men are out of touch with their emotions they end up hurting women, children and other living things.

        Men often feel like they can’t feel “Weak” emotions (sad, depressed) and so they do emotion management to turn them into so-called “Strong” emotions like anger. And then — not having dealt with the core problem — too many men take out their unhappiness on women by beating and raping them. And beating and raping children. Or Mass murder — almost always done by men. Or suicide. And avoiding seeing a therapist because that would be weak. Or generally insulting women and making them feel bad, Like your last sentence does. It’s not true but it’s meant to be hurtful.

  18. I have thought about how the distance and divide put between girls and boys growing up affects their interactions as they become adults. There have been cases I have seen in college where some guys simply do not know how to talk to girls normally. They are awkward and forced to say the least, and at the most come off as creepy and shady. While intentions may be plain and simple, to meet and get to know an individual you are attracted to, I believe that the separation and lack of interactions between boys and girls make men ill-equipped to see women as people. Where the writer of this piece may have had the opportunity to get to know girls and open up to them, the men I speak of are his friends, the ones who treat women poorly. These men ultimately treat women as “other’s” rather than having a normal conversation with them, there is a gap in understanding that becomes very clear after seeing one of these first interactions.

  19. This is an article that although I don’t have intimate understanding of I can relate to, and in such a away is through my brother-in-law. He who grew up within a gang learned the lessons of a man doesn’t cry and that he has to be tough, but also can’t show/express his emotions to those around him. I myself has witness his double side, for example when he is with my sister or not among his friends he is an extremely funny bubbly person who cracks random jokes and likes to be loud whether it’s creating commentary or just laughing. However, when it comes time to “hang out” with his friends he has a personality change leading up an hour to going out he becomes quiet, dresses differently, and much more serious. It makes me ponder sometimes that how is it that he can lead this double personality and how much it takes a toll on him psychologically every time he has to do it.

  20. This post? https://broadblogs.com/2013/08/05/men-dont-feel-sexy-and-it-sucks/

    If so I haven’t read it yet. Another instructor uses my blog in her class Summer quarter and I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with approving comments right now. I’ll get to it.

    Yeah that’s it and I posted in this post too.

    https://broadblogs.com/2017/06/19/porn-and-my-sex-life-dont-play-well-together/#comments

    That’s fine, thanks for responding to posts, I’m amazed with how many people’s posts you respond to as I’ve seen other blogs by other authors and they don’t respond much or as soon as they do. So I’m sure people who reply on your blogs appreciate it too and another reason why your blogpost is pretty popular because of your personable activity to it despite your busyness. t’s all good though, I was just curious, thanks.

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