The pressures society puts on men

How the pressure to “be a man” crushes his true manliness

The pressures society puts on men

From a young age children are guided to behave in certain ways. Those that have come before them, now fully entrenched in society, all have an opinion of what makes the perfect child, or what is needed for those children to grow into fine adults.

For boys, more often than not, it is very apparent that they are championed to conform to a manly model of be strong, be tough and above all else, don’t cry. From this point, as they mature into men, they begin a journey that encourages them to be stoic, resilient and even hard, based around this manly model, instead of surrendering to the loving tender way they were innately born with.

What follows are expressions from men who have travelled this path and are now able to look back with clarity on what was, and now are, their lived experiences.

Bernie Cincotta writes:

I felt the pressure to prove I was manly – this mainly consisted of being derogatory towards gay men like it was the worst thing in the world. None of us actually knew any gay men so it was just used among ourselves to expel any unmanly behaviour. If anyone showed any signs of sensitivity, caring or compassion they were quickly labelled as ‘poofter’ and became the subject of ridicule and ostracized from the group. The only way you could re-join the group was to prove you could be a man by going in hardest on the footy field with no regard for self or others. Singing, acting and music were seen as unmanly pursuits, so taking up every opportunity to ridicule anybody who pursued their artistic flair was relentless. Talking in derogatory ways about women and girls was also seen as a way to reinforce the superiority of your gender. Because of this the artistic boys had better relationships with girls than the aggressive ones calling them poofters… which I found both ridiculous and ironic.

In movies and TV the lone hero was championed: James Bond, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and many others were all accepted to be a bit troubled in society and with women but it’s all okay to be the lone hero who solves problems with violence.

I also felt the pressure to not open up, to keep my feelings to myself, to be stoic, logical and unfeeling. This pressure was more subversive than open; like an unwritten code of behaviour you dare not cross. Boys don’t cry – so if you have to cry, cry alone and don’t let on to anyone that you did.

Mark Gavioli writes:

In my life I felt the weight of expectation to be the perfect son, father or provider. Most times it was framed around what I was not doing, and to be honest my commitment was lacking in a number of areas. In a sense I rebelled against the expectations instead of embracing the opportunities that presented.

The problem is that men see their expected contributions in these areas as pressure from outside influences, in particular societal expectations displayed in media or communicated through work, family and relationships. A man that fails to acknowledge who he naturally is and succumbs to the pressure to become what society wants him to be becomes resentful and hates being told what to do. The reality is that some men see their responsibilities as pressure, instead of seeing them as an opportunity to respond to what is needed.

It took me a long time before I looked at responsibility in this way. As soon as I saw that there was a need to respond there was no pressure, just a willingness to bring what was required in my day to day to life.

At that point I was not just babysitting or helping with the cooking, cleaning, shopping etc., I was in fact taking responsibility for what was needed and contributing to all aspects of my life.

Don't get me wrong; I sometimes lapse into feeling pressure around these aspects of life, but it is usually when I am not connecting to why is it needed and why am I not bringing honesty and understanding to the pressures that I feel.

Greg Jordan writes:

When I was a young boy, then growing into my teen years, I observed how my father and his friends would socialise together. It was usually and mostly based around the consumption of alcohol and food.

I watched, observed and even worked, carrying and loading the alcohol into ice laden bathtubs and spare fridges, during and after events and parties cleaning up the many empty bottles and glasses. I thought that it was what I needed to be doing, copying or learning this behaviour and that this was a natural progression from boyhood to being a man.

Myself, my brother and other friends started to mimic this behaviour, so from the age of about 16 years we would sneak some beers, wine or champagne at these parties, with me once having too much. My body rejected the poison and I vomited it all up whilst sitting on the grass having lunch with a bunch of kids. It was not a great look.

Even though it never felt true, there was no one I knew as a man that offered a different reflection.

There were no true role models to show us another way – a way where in fact alcohol wasn’t promoted or put on such a pedestal: basically I didn’t know any adult that didn’t drink.

We progressed to going to pubs under-age and learning to drink beer – which by the way tasted rotten and took much time to acquire a taste for – to the so-called pinnacle of drinking at the local Returned Services League with our dads.

It was like me and my friends were following in our father’s footsteps, and the many men that came before them, to learn to drink the poison that has been used to build false relationships and so-called connection between men for eons.

I now offer my son and his friends another reflection or living way as I don’t use or need alcohol at all to connect and be social with others, especially men.

Tim Robinson writes:

For me, as the youngest of three boys, the constant message of boys don’t cry when something hurts has left me often unable to fully surrender into my vulnerability and tenderness when the process of healing asks me to.

Tears can allow me to realign so quickly and deeply, but often I can't quite get there and the disharmony lingers longer than it otherwise might.

I attended the local primary school with both girls and boys. When I went to an interview before I began secondary school at a private boy’s school, I was approached by another boy who had been at boy’s school since he was eight.

He wanted to know about being at school with girls; his first question was " Did you root 'm off?" Despite having shared only the most innocent of kisses with my ‘girlfriend’, I replied, "yes".

I needed to meet what I felt to be the expectation he had, to prove my manhood. Before this moment I had felt no such pressure or expectation, but in that instant I succumbed to society's myth of the virile male (despite the fact that at 12 I was a prepubescent boy) and from then on I was isolated by the lie from my peers. This kind of pretending was common in all areas of our lives and it robbed us all of the intimacy and support we might have offered each other as we went through the vulnerability and uncertainty of adolescence. It left me lonely, although I had friends. It was the beginning of the isolation, the search for acceptance on society's terms, that men are then left in.

Willem Plandsoen writes:

As a young boy I was heavily influenced by parents who expected me to get good grades and go to that University all of my family had attended. I clocked how at age 5 or 6, I very deliberately started to perform well at school using my mind – to get the attention and recognition (not to mention love) they had not given me in the years before. They just were not there – physically (dad), or emotionally (mum). In the absence of the love I craved, I settled for attention and recognition, thinking these were the best things I could get. I knew and felt I had sold out my natural way at the expense of my sensitivity.

I started to see myself as a poor boy, a victim, having grown up in a difficult family and totally chose to forget that it was me, as a young boy, who very deliberately chose to please his parents to get the love I so much craved. I became resentful of my parent’s imposition.

Later in life I fell for many ideals, beliefs and pictures of what a man should be. I did not have any true role model and was not in touch with my inner compass, so I adopted those ideals and pictures, but at the same time was always looking for methods and ways to find what would make me truly "happy".

Living the ideals of society just did not fulfil me, but at the same time the pursuit of happiness was leading me from one success trainer to another guru, which also wasn't the solution. That pursuit was just another refined ideal for the seemingly more developed man.

Now claiming and living who I truly am, I more and more have come to see how many ideals and beliefs I had, and still have, of how I am supposed to be a man. I am no longer a victim of my upbringing and do not blame my parents as I can see they were also entangled in the same false Ideals. I take responsibility, knowing it was me that chose what I knew was not true. Now I live from what I feel in my heart and the impositions of society no longer have a hold on me.

James Stanfield writes:

Looking back to my youth and all the years in between, I can now see that there was a constant internal battle taking place between choosing what I felt was truth in my body, or aligning to what was going on around me. More often than not I found myself altering who I was and what I was truly feeling so that I would be accepted, if not applauded, by those around me and society in general.

Reflecting back on this I had to ask myself: Was this pressure put on me from society, or was I trying so hard to fit in that it created an internal struggle? Whichever way I looked at it, the pressure I was feeling was apparent, and it became obvious that I was responsible for its creation and/or its projection.

I had always felt an underlying pressure, whether self-imposed or external, to be the best. I believed if you were the best or successful you had nothing that could be challenged or picked on, however the double-edged sword here was once you were at the top of the so called heap, you had to stay there and show no signs of weakness or expose any cracks that could be seen as a vulnerability. It was at this point I realised the pressure was self-imposed and therefore I had the power to relieve it.

While I was busy staying on top of the pile and warding off any contenders were busy doing exactly what I was doing to help them feel included, or feel as though they were a ‘round peg’.

So if this is the case and we all think and live this way, does this then not become “society” – and if so can we then not deconstruct society by living our truth?

If we live our truth from the wisdom we have uncovered, this will in turn offer an alternate path for all, relieving the pressures we have all felt to that point.


Boys are experts at watching and copying what they see around them. They feel the immense pressures put on them and from there pass this pressure down the line to the younger boys that follow in their footsteps as they all grow into the men that help shape our world. The loving, tender way so innately held within from that young age gets buried under layers of hardness due to the constant pressure they are feeling.

If men can start to alleviate some of this pressure, with the help of those around them, they can start to feel removed enough from it and not be so influenced by it. Without this pressure, we as men are then free to embrace our natural strengths such as caring, gentleness, sensitivity and tenderness.

By valuing these strengths more than the external pressure and false stereotypes projected at us, we begin our journey back to being who we innately are. Others then get to see, feel and experience us as true men, in turn relieving the pressure placed on them to be a certain way and offering support for them to value their inner strengths.

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  • By Greg Jordan

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  • By Tim Robinson, Student nurse, father, musician.

    At 54 years of age my expression and relationships are blossoming like never before, it all flows naturally as I connect with the livingness inside me.

  • By Mark Gavioli, Finance Director

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  • By James Stanfield, Qualified Cartographer, Survey Draftsman, Small Business owner for over 25 years

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  • By Bernie Cincotta, Engineering Teacher & Designer

    I love to make things with my hands and design and manufacture quality products from quality materials that last and can be used by people for many years.

  • Photography: Rebecca W., UK, Photographer

    I am a tender and sensitive woman who is inspired by the playfulness of children and the beauty of nature. I love photographing people and capturing magical and joyful moments on my camera.