Noah | UvA
Hello Noah, and thank you for meeting with us! First things first, can you think of the first time you realized you first became aware of your gender?
The first thing that comes to my mind is when I was around 16. I grew up in a town that's not that big, so everyone hangs out together. I had some girl friends who were the same age, but in contrast to me had to negotiate that they had to be home by 12:30. I never had that because my parents were pretty chill, but I know it’s also because I'm a man. I could just come home more or less whenever I wanted. I think being told that you have to be home earlier than some of your other friends is a very strong intrusion into a teenager's life, and I could see this contrast between me and my female friends. Of course some parents are stricter than others, but I think they can also be stricter with their daughter(s). I have two sisters, and one is 17 now. She has different rules about when to be home, in comparison to me at the same age. A couple of times, I told her: “Just do whatever you want!”, but my mum stepped in and opposed that. I had to realize that her reality is different than mine. Unfortunately, she has to watch out more than I do and can't “just do whatever she wants”. It can be hard to navigate those compromises.
You just talked about ways you felt girls have to be more careful, but can you also think of instances when you personally felt limited or affected by expectations around masculinity?
I think that from the outside I can be perceived to fit the stereotypical model of what a ‘man’ should be fairly well. I know I don’t “look” obviously conflicted about any of it. Yet this doesn't mean that I do fit that particular idea of masculinity, but at least I “look the part”.. Still, there are significant limitations I struggle with.
One is dealing with emotions. For example, whenever one of the guys would have some romantic troubles with a girl in high school, my friends would say “okay let's get beers, let's get shitfaced” - and that’s how you are supposed to process your feelings. But that's not really the way to go about it. Only in the last couple of years was I able to talk about more intimate and personal things with my men friends. Even just giving each other big hugs as friends, without it being weird.
The other big thing is expectations about sex. In the last year and a half I realized that I don't actually care about sex in itself that much. What I care about is the emotional relationship with someone. It wasn’t easy to recognize how perfectly fine this is - that it is not weird or boring. Knowing what I’m looking for and appreciating that has been a process. As a young adult, there is significant pressure to have a good amount of hook-ups and one night stands, but that’s not what I want. That's an expectation of manhood that I've certainly struggled with.
When are you most aware of your masculinity, and would you say that it is a big part of your identity?
I think I see it reflected in other people. Talking to people who don't identify as men or who have a different relation to their gender than me makes me reflect upon my own experience. For example, a friend of mine is transitioning at the moment. Seeing this process really makes me reflect on my place as a man and how easy I have it as a cisgender man in this world and think about those who do not fit this image of masculinity and manhood.
Dating life is also an area in which I’m most aware of the traditional expectations for men. Like - I like being fit. I've always done a lot of sports and worked out for that, and even now that I don't do sports anymore, I still want to be in shape. Of course it makes me feel good and healthy, but... It'd be lying to say that I don’t also try to tailor to some of the expectations someone might have for me on a date. What's funny is that either party might not even have those expectations! But that's how it’s perceived. It’s difficult to manage the dynamic between trying to fulfill these expectations and challenging stereotypical masculinity.
That really relates to what you were saying at the beginning, those kinds of compromises between being yourself and compromising to fit into certain expectations.
Exactly. That is why it's so important to have conversations about that. To what extent am I being me, and how much of it comes from expectations of who I'm supposed to be? In my experience, the more you're able to talk to people around you, the more you realize that your anxieties aren’t always justified.
And how did those expectations shape your relationships, be it with, friends, family, romantic interests…?I think you already mentioned a few examples, such as not being able to hug your friends…
It’s such a funny thing to say, that I’m now able to hug my friends… It shows how ridiculous it is, that it is even a thing with mentioning. Just the fact that a year and a half ago we didn't do that, but instead just did the “cool guys” handshakes with each other is hilarious to me.
On a serious note… I think it sometimes makes it difficult to have honest conversations with each other, and understand each other. Once I started hearing about more personal experiences, like friends of mine being raped and stuff, I started being more attentive to what else is happening. Once you go down that road of observing more, you become more aware of what's happening around you. For example, when my friends talked about people they had relationships with using words like “sluts”... They might not have meant it, but guys talk about girls like that, especially in early teenage years… I find it so frustrating when people are not at all aware of that reality. That is why it is so important to be able to have those kinds of conversations with my guy friends and to be emotional with each other. If you're able to share more things, you're also able to bond more. I think that's really important for good friendships. My experience has been, the more I'm able to talk to the people around me and the more I'm able to move away from the image of the perfect guy, the better I feel.
So for you, the turning point was to hear about the personal experiences of your female friends. What would you tell other men who might not be in that situation to get them started on this introspection?
I think the first thing would be to realize that the world you experience is not everyone's world. The world is geared in a certain way, which tailors to me as a man, with all the perks. I can benefit a lot from the way the world works... That’s not the case for everyone and that’s important to remember. Be who you want to be, but be aware that your actions have consequences. Try to realize that your reality is not everyone's reality.
“What’s the difference between a compliment and catcalling?” some people ask. Well, the way you see things, you might mean well and want to tell a girl her smile is pretty and you don’t see that as a negative thing in any way. But if that girl was having a good night out with her friends and she heard that 10 times already that night from different guys, well maybe that gives insights into why her response might not be nice.
You can also pay attention to who talks in the group discussions - especially when it gets heated. Chances are most of the time it's guys going back and forth. Try to notice those whose voices are NOT being heard in the room. Think about why that is and what you can do about it. Ask actively for their opinion, facilitate them being heard and actually listen to what they are saying. Who is dominating the conversation? Sometimes, you see a man repeat exactly what a woman just said, without being heard. If you’re able to see those things, that’s a good step forward.
I would also want to encourage everyone to have those conversations with each other. I know it’s difficult, but so important! Talk about expectations, what it means to be a man, what is okay and what isn’t… That also goes with asking someone before you kiss them, for example. It’s not as unromantic as it sounds! It can be really nice too. Just be open with people around you.
Thank you Noah!
Any closing remarks?
Anything you haven't touched on but wish you had?
No, thanks for asking the questions! It's very difficult to put some of these things into words... There's still so much stuff I don't even think about. I would like to discuss with the other guys you interviewed. If we get together in a room and you ask the same kind of questions, I think I would learn a lot from what others have to say.