Federico | AMFI (HvA)
Hi Federico! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Let’s jump right into it! When did you first become aware of your gender?
I can probably relate it to when I started playing football. I grew up thinking that because I was a boy, I was supposed to play football and play with the other boys. I think it's the first thing that comes to my mind. It’s funny because my parents let me do what I wanted, but still… We lived in this bubble of a village outside of the city, full of traditional and Christian attitudes. The environment I was living in made it clear that if you were a boy you were going to play football, and if you were a girl you had to dance, or play volleyball maybe. It came very instinctively to me.
So what would you say being a man means today?
I think society paints a “man” as a person lacking emotional intelligence, without interests and unable to have feelings. That’s something I felt even more strongly in my home country, Italy. Having weaknesses is not allowed for a man nowadays, men can only show their strengths.
Another issue that I think is affecting a lot of guys is the perception that they are the ones in the family that should build a career while womens shouldn't even consider one but rather focus on raising a family by staying at home with the kids. I think that's wrong, and that it also puts a heavy weight on boys’ shoulders to have to be “that man” who can provide for their family and rule over it. Needless to say, in my opinion, as humans we all have our feelings and weaknesses, and we should be self-aware of that, and not be afraid of showing them. For me, the ideal man would be someone who is aware of his own strengths and weaknesses without trying to create a shield just for the sake of being the coolest or most successful in your surroundings.
When in your life have you been confronted to those expectations - and do you feel like maybe it has affected you in any way?
All of this definitely relates to my high school days and the environment I was surrounded in then. It was basically like in the movies: I was part of the cool kids and it was all about showing off, whether in terms of money, or how many girls you could get at parties. I grew up with what I considered friends, but people that I never even imagined that I could open up to about my issues or problems. It was just too much of a race to who was the coolest, while still being friends. What makes me sad reflecting on it, is when one was unnecessarily mean to others just in order to act tough or superior. It didn’t make me fully become another person, but I convinced myself of values that I don't actually believe in. Over time I manage to change the crowds I surround myself with, and now that I am at the AMFI (Amsterdam Fashion Institute), there is a lot of freedom of expression and open-mindedness around me. The people I met there make me feel freer to express myself in whatever I do without judgement.
From there, what is your own definition of masculinity?
Well, I couldn't really find ONE definition for masculinity. I feel like there's no such thing as one kind of masculinity, and I don’t think this attribute should always be related to being a Man. We are all people, and there are some attributes which make a man more masculine or feminine, based on someone's personal approach to life. I don't feel like masculinity should be something that defines a person, man or woman. It can lead to people saying: "Oh, this girl is very masculine in her ways" but I feel like there's no such thing.
Do certain situations make you feel more masculine/manly than others? Would you say that being a man is a big part of your identity?
Although I kind of reject more “traditional” approaches to gender, they were definitely still instilled in me. For example, when I go to my girlfriend's house and I'm fixing the fridge, I feel like "Oh, this is very manly!”. But sometimes I wake up and feel like wearing a silk scarf. Overall, there are moments when I feel more manly and others when I feel like my feminine side comes out more. But I think that's just something that is a reflection of my upbringing and how I was taught to view things, rather than what I actually believe in. In that aspect, I wouldn’t say that being a man is an important part of my identity. I don’t actually think that some actions in my daily life make me more or less of a man, it’s just nuances in my personality!
Despite it not being such an important layer of your identity for you, can you think of ways in which being a man has shaped your relationships with other people? With friends, family, girlfriends…
I think that for some time I hurt people around me just because I wanted to portray myself a certain way. Looking back at it, I should have been more careful and focused on others and their feelings, to develop more empathy towards others. I feel like that’s something that has influenced me a lot since I came here to Amsterdam, something I have been trying to work on. Yet, I notice that I still have a different attitude when I'm with guys friends and when I'm with girls. With girls I date, I notice that I definitely try to act tough at times… But I know I can also be the cheesiest one in the relationship!
So what’s key to free yourself of such pressures?
Thankfully I got to be self-aware of society’s expectations for men and how they affect me personally, and that made me develop more empathy. I feel like self-awareness is a big part of the solution. To me, trying to show off strengths is just a reflection of you trying to hide your weaknesses. The more you're uncomfortable about something, the more you want to try to cover it by looking tough. I believe this social pressure is what leads to toxic masculinity, as a consequence of the expectations society has for men. And I don’t mean masculinity in general, but toxic masculinity, which I connect to bullying and bringing others down to bring yourself up. Every man should be able to embrace his feelings and be self-aware about them to emancipate from the need to only show off his strengths. Talk with each other! Having open face to face conversations can help clear up those pressures in ways you can’t even imagine.
With all of this in mind, is there anything you would have liked to know and tell your younger self about this topic? What would you tell other men, who might not have thought about those topics themselves?
Yes, definitely to figure out that if you are feeling some kind of social pressure, even if it doesn't look like it because sometimes it brings you joy, then you are definitely surrounded by the wrong crowd. I would really want to try to ask my younger self: What kind of person are you, and who do you want to be? Be true to yourself! And don’t worry about seeking help when needed.
To other guys, I would like to say: Just reflect. And try to always put yourself in the shoes of the person you have in front of you. With women, relax and don’t feel pressured to be the toughest you can be - on the opposite, show your partner they can love your weaknesses.
Thank you Federico!