Expressing yourself without fear Expressing yourself without fear

Hugging or saying I love you to your best friend are not things to be ashamed of. Men can overcome cultural taboos by being emotional.

Medical advisor: Hernando Muñoz Sánchez, Researcher
PhD in Gender Perspectives in Social Sciences

Kissing your friends on the cheek to say hello – which is a common practice around the world, especially among women – is nearly impossible for some men, as rigid social norms prevent them from doing so, restricting their ability to express affection.

Due to cultural issues deeply-rooted in society, expressions of affection between men have been stigmatized, labeled and have had to keep up with traditional societal demands to be superior to women – even with members of their own gender who have different sexual orientations. These cultural issues even reach the point of determining what is normal and what is not.

In the words of Professor Hernando Muñoz Sánchez, who teaches at the University of Antioquia and who has a PhD in Gender Perspectives in the Social Sciences from the Complutense University of Madrid: “Some men do not show affection because if they do, they will be considered weak. This label, which has existed over centuries, indicates what men can and cannot do. For example, many men think they cannot cry or say they are sick. Being and feeling stronger is another way to avoid being compared with women.”

Dr. Muñoz also explains how these types of unwritten rules have denied some men the opportunity to express affection or allow themselves to be vulnerable. In some cases, it has led them to take refuge in other behaviors, experiment with drug or alcohol abuse or use antidepressants because they feel alienated or inferior to others.

How to overcome these fears

Communication, understanding and tolerance are critical. It is important for men to understand that it is good and normal for them to express when they are happy, frustrated or sad; and the same applies to when they respect the times and situations in which others do the same.

As Dr. Muñoz explains, this process begins with having a stereotype-free upbringing, starting at an early age. This begins with children following by example at home and continuing with their education at school. “For example, as kids, if they see two men hugging or greeting each other with a kiss – which is what happens in Argentina, Italy and in Arab countries – they will not have a problem. This will not affect their masculinity in any way.”

Nowadays, many people perceive having the resolve to express one’s emotions, and doing so freely, as a sign of strength and self-confidence.

False masculinity

Affection can be expressed in any setting, as long as it is expressed in a sincere way and not only to make a good impression or to pretend you are someone else. Dr. Muñoz refers to this as “fake masculinity,” which is when, in theory, a man is the perfect father, is respectful, and takes care of his kids, but his behaviors with his partner are macho, he treats his partner as an inferior, or in the worst of cases, he is abusive.

Related: Healthcare for men