In exploring the idea of having the ‘Strength to Care’ I spent a lot of time thinking about what our culture identifies as strength and what this leads to. Brené Brown, a social researcher from the University of Texas, explains that men “live under the pressure of one unrelenting message: Do not be perceived as weak.”

Learning to wear a mask (that word already embedded in the term ‘masculinity’) is the first lesson in patriarchal masculinity that a boy learns. He learns that his core feelings cannot be expressed if they do not conform to the acceptable behaviours sexism defines as male. Asked to give up the true self in order to realize the patriarchal ideal, boys learn self-betrayal early and are rewarded for these acts of soul murder.
— bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love

I remember reading “boys learn self-betrayal early and are rewarded for these acts of soul murder” and thinking, ‘wow! That is some strong language’. Too strong, I thought. That was until I began to look at the way my thinking and life has been shaped by our patriarchal culture that privileges ‘rational thinking’ and ‘achievement’ over other things like caring, making ourselves vulnerable, articulating our feelings, and really connecting with our fellow human beings. I know this has been true in my own life. While I grew up in a home where crying was never frowned upon, and I was encouraged to share my feelings, there is no escaping the cultural messages that surround us as kids. 

As hooks also says, we can’t teach boys that "real men" (and real strength) “either do not feel or do not express feelings, then expect boys to feel comfortable getting in touch with their feelings.”

My idea of strength has definitely changed – I no longer see anger as the ultimate display of strength but look for power in those around me expressing their joys and sorrows – seeing the ability to understand, process and express a full range of emotions as being deeply human and incredibly strong.

This has been very confronting as I have realised how disconnected I have been from my emotions – at times finding it difficult to process and articulate them. I don’t think this experience is unique to me. Being able to access our emotional/feeling side and all the different parts of ourselves – our ‘inner community’ if you like – is to live a fuller, more whole life.

If you want to read a little bit more here’s an essay by bell hooks. If you want to read more than a little bit more, bell hooks – ‘The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love’ and Brené Brown – ‘Daring Greatly’ are worth checking out.