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Contributions from CSMMD Writers, Warren G.

Hug Hegemony

Give me a handshake or give me a hug.  I’ll be honest – I used to despise what I like to call the “hugshake.”  To give you a visual, the hugshake occurs when two people shake hands while using the other arm to hug each other.  Hugshakes are the manifestation of masculine hug hegemony.  If you want to give me a hug, just give me the hug!  Don’t beat around the bush.  Let your inhibition go and forget what the other guys around us are thinking.  They’re probably far too jealous to express the fact that they want a nice bear hug just as much as the guys next to them.  Hugs are good for the soul, and men shouldn’t deny themselves the opportunity for improved holistic health.

I grew up with friends and family that would only give hugs, so my perplexity is certainly merited.  But does this mean that I shouldn’t be sensitive to those that fear dissolving the mask of masculinity?  For those that may feel the way I do, I have some terrible news.  I am an absolute hypocrite.  I did what I thought to be the unthinkable…

A few weekends ago, I celebrated my birthday at a bar in downtown Chicago with a few good friends of mine.  One of them taps me on the shoulder and says, “Warren, do you know who that is behind you? That’s Reggie Bush!” I likely wouldn’t have known the Miami Dolphins running back had he not at one time dated Kim Kardashian, so to anyone that doesn’t follow sports, there’s your description.  For some reason, I felt it was appropriate to pass by his bodyguard to introduce myself.  “Hi Reggie, it’s my birthday. Would you mind taking a picture with me?”  I hand my camera to his bodyguard and he snaps the photo.  I thank him by shaking his hand…then the unthinkable happened.  He reached in and gave me the dreaded hugshake.  I was too nervous and star struck to do anything but to revert back to my masculine script and graciously accept his gesture.

You may be thinking I just invalidated all my previous statements.  However, by reflecting on this experience, I have developed a more humbled perspective.  Men will use societal masculine norms for many reasons, one being a form of protection.  Reggie made me realize that we need to meet other men where they are at, because some are simply not ready to dissolve their mask and move away from a world of subconsciously accepted normative behavior.  However, this does not mean that I won’t provide the challenge to step away from these invisible boundaries.  I will be a loyal partner, waiting patiently until the other is ready to embark on the path toward true self-expression.  I will provide support in a manner in which he sees fit, and I encourage others to do the same.

– Warren Grove (Center for the Studies of Masculinities and Men’s Development)


About CSMMD Admin

The Center for the Studies of Masculinities and Men's Development at Western Illinois University. Research is clear that men are in crisis, particularly men from underrepresented populations. However, considerable disagreement exists about how to most effectively support men's engagement and development, while maintaining focus on social justice. The Center for the Study of Masculinities and Men’s Development aims to provide quality scholarship, advocacy, and programming that positively influences college men’s development in a manner congruent with gender equity and social justice.


5 thoughts on “Hug Hegemony

  1. Do we raise our sons to be unemotional so that they can be useful pawns for war? Do we create emotionally disabled men?

    Or do you think men are naturally unemotional? But let’s be honest – young boys have as many emotions as young girls. They do not feel less fear or less pain. They are not less vulnerable or dependent.

    We are the ones who harden emotions out of boys – or force them to hide their emotions. We teach our sons to suppress their fear and vulnerability and sensitivity. We do not want them to express deep feelings. Perhaps we don’t even expect them to have such emotions.
    Natural human emotions are ‘hardened’ out of boys. The cruel result is that boys are forced to stop sharing their emotions. Self-protection takes over. They hide or even shut down their inner reality. Over time it becomes difficult for boys to show softness or caring or any so-called ‘weak’ feeling, and impossible to expose their fear or uncertainty. The emotional capacity eventually becomes rusty from lack of use and shuts down.
    As for the boy who cannot amputate his emotions, he can be overwhelmed by insecurity. Or he will use different ways to protect his emotional self, to hide the hurt. He may learn to respond to any mocking or criticism with defensive aggression, with anger or denial. Or he may adopt a non-caring, sullen attitude and defiant, rebellious behaviour.
    We teach boys to keep many of their emotions tightly, dangerously and unhealthily submerged. They become emotionally impoverished, unable and forbidden to talk about their deep, important thoughts and feelings. Eventually they not only hide them, they are no longer capable of them.

    It seems that we don’t trust boys’ natural masculinity. And therefore we can’t allow them to be children with the natural emotions of vulnerability, insecurity, fear or dependency of a child, in case they don’t turn out to be masculine enough.

    Posted by caygin | March 22, 2012, 7:20 AM
  2. I love your response, and I believe it is extremely insightful. I believe the mask of self-protection boys in our society wear is much more damaging than helpful. The physical representation of using a mask to hide yourself is sure to manifest itself mentally and emotionally. How can you showcase your true emotions while wearing “the mask?” Additionally, if men must also hide themselves mentally, perhaps this is the reason we have experienced a trend in male anti-intellectualism and a fall in male student representation in higher education.

    I think we encourage our men to be “manly,” because deep down we love them and do not want them to be objects of ridicule to others among our society. This love is something greater than we are ever willing to display to them, because if we do, then they may begin to display those “non-manly” emotions as well. What issues might result from this way of thinking? Who is being hurt by this?

    Posted by Quimby | April 1, 2012, 9:43 PM
  3. Clarification – I am referring to both caygin and CSMMD.

    Posted by Quimby | April 1, 2012, 9:44 PM
  4. I definitely feel like men are raised to be robots. Coming from a sports background, you were considered weak if showed emotion negatively. It seems like due to ridiculous gender norms set forth when women stayed at home and men were primarily the work force, men have to be “tough” “hardened” individuals. WHY?! Men have emotions too, and in my opinion this is why men have a higher successful suicide rate than women. They hide these emotions in themselves and it eventually leads to them resorting to the last thing they believe they have control over.

    People’s roles within the households have changed and it’s not uncommon to see stay at home dads (which in all seriousness I’m hoping to be some day. Come on men everywhere, don’t act like that doesn’t sound awesome, stop being tough guys and admit it.) and women in the workplace. Why can’t our view of men showing their emotions change as well?

    If you want to cry let it out! I’d rather have men crying everywhere than read about their suicide in the paper a couple days later.

    It makes sense.

    Posted by Kyle Bornbach | April 2, 2012, 2:09 PM
  5. I wanted to add a couple of thoughts to this dialogue. While I certainly agree that men need to be better empowered to embrace and deal with emotional issues, its not their fault really. As many of you have stated the issues is how society has formed masculinity. I believe firmly, and especially in higher education we need to stop blaming men and start blaming ourselves. (I am not saying that is what is happening in this blog post). But like Mr. Grove said, we need to stop passing judgement on me for the failure to share emotions, or succeed when they have the tools AND access but rather reexamine our approach. How many times have I received phone calls or meetings with people expressing frustration with men’s inability to open up, or mature, or whatever we want them to do. Often my response is somewhat similar to Mr. Grove’s, meet them where they are at. Stop asking them to come to where you want them; most importantly, change your approach to best suit them.

    I would finally leave you with this challenge, are you defining for other men (or even people) what healthy emotional expression is? And, if you are does that seem fair. What is healthy emotional expression, I would argue it looks different for everyone. I think the work starts in two places, one shifting some of the hegemonic masculine norms (BIG job) and two, one-by-one helping men establish their own way for expression and dealing with their emotions.

    Posted by IVA (@IVA722) | April 4, 2012, 10:43 AM

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