We often give short shrift to the ways feminism benefits men.
When men resist the stereotype of what a “real man” should be, they’re free to live life on their own accord: Cry with reckless abandon after a crappy day at work or stay at a home and raise the kids while their partner brings home the bacon.
In a new photo series, photographer Jessica Amity captures just how liberating rejecting gender norms can be for men.
Armed with her Nikon D850 camera, the Nepal-based photographer hopped around the streets of Kathmandu and asked men for their general thoughts on toxic masculinity and its effect on their lives. Then she asked them to finish this sentence: “It’s OK for me to…”
The answers were as varied as the men themselves.
“It’s OK for me to be insecure,” a man from the Netherlands named Caspar told the photographer.
“I have always felt like, as a man, I am supposed to be confident and dominant, and not supposed to ever feel shy or insecure,” he said. “The pressure of toxic masculinity made it very difficult for me to deal with my insecurities. Learning to accept my faults helped me understand them, and in the end, deal with them.”
Others kept things a little lighter.
“It’s OK for me to be the little spoon. Men like being cuddled, too,” an American named Zach offered sweetly.
In an interview with HuffPost, Amity said she was taken aback at how much the men had to say on the topic.
“I expected to have to pick their brains in order to get them to open up to me,” she said. “This was not the case because these men were clearly aware of these issues.”
Amity hopes her project reminds viewers how the patriarchy fails men, too, forcing them to conform to an idea of manhood that’s at odds with who they really are.
“I hope this helps men’s mental health and shows women that men can be allies today,” she said. “I want to push forward the importance of engaging men alongside women to challenge all these harmful gender norms.”
Some responses have been edited for style and clarity.
“It’s OK for me to show my emotions and cry. There is nothing wrong with showing your soft side. We all are humans and these feelings are completely normal. It’s not wrong for men to cry at all! In fact, I would say it is vital for men to cry, to let their emotions out and share their feelings with others. There are cultures where men are not supposed to cry or are expected to hide their weaknesses; it’s better if they seem more controlled and emotionally numb. People think crying is linked to weakness since we can’t take control our emotions. We hear phrases like, ‘Don’t be a pussy’ or ‘Stop being a girl’ a lot. If we keep hearing phrases like these, what will boys all around the world think about how to exist? Who will they look up to, and how will they navigate the transition from being boys to becoming men?”
“It’s OK for me to not compare the differences between men and women. We are all human and that is all that should matter.”
“I was a house-husband and main caregiver to both my children for a while. Resistance to it came not from people I knew (they were all supportive) but from the government and societal institutions. It forced me away from it. (And this was in a supposedly progressive province.) Men aren’t supposed to be the caregivers, only the providers. The fathers I met who were separated from their kids were almost all envious of my situation.”
“It’s OK for me to wear makeup. Being a straight man affords me the privilege of being comfortable. As a man, I sit at the very center of the system that creates the dominant narratives about the world. I trust that my act of self expression is valid. However, people who don’t identify as straight men don’t have the same luxury. The very act of self expression can be fraught with inconveniences. So it is important for me that I use my relative position of privilege to highlight ways in which nontraditional modes of expression are equally valid. Presenting myself in traditionally feminine ways is a way for me to assert that healthy masculinity allows a space for expressions that are as varied as the people who make them.”
Sam, Australia and the U.K.
“It’s OK for me to acknowledge the role men have played in establishing the system that does not value women as much as men, and the responsibility men have in changing this reality. It’s OK for me to acknowledge that when we talk about ‘violence against women,’ we are talking about violence that is being perpetrated by men. It’s OK for men, like me, to take a stand — to step up and speak up — to alter the expectation of what it means to be a ‘man.'”
Naryan, Northern Ireland/Nepal
“It’s OK for me to be vulnerable. I believe we are all made up of masculine and feminine energies. The masculine becomes toxic when it doesn’t allow itself to feel and when it responds to hurt with aggression rather than understanding. It’s hard to be vulnerable, especially because the hurt is deeper when you are; but real men can be vulnerable and can be hurt, and it’s OK.”
“It’s OK for me to offer a victory to others, even when I believe I’m right. Conceding does not just have to be a sign of humility, but also of strength.”
“It’s OK for me to be a man who isn’t afraid to show his emotional side. My emotions are a part of who I am. Having the strength to be open about this and not hide is pure freedom.”
“It’s OK for me to be who I am, warts and all. I think ‘toxic masculinity’ is rooted in men’s insecurities. If I were to give advice to my younger self about what it means to be a good man, I think the main thing would be this: Care less about what others think, judge others less, and learn more. Don’t worry about maintaining that practiced disheveled look, about how many parties you’ve been to, or about your experience (or lack thereof) dating girls.”
“It’s OK for me to cry. I’m a crier. For example, today I visited the sacred Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu and just cried. I get emotional and that’s OK.”
“It’s OK not to embody what society defines a ‘real man’ to be. There’s an all-encompassing structure surrounding what being a ‘real man’ is all about. It dictates everything from a man’s behavior and posture, to the way a man should walk, even to the way a man should dance. I definitely don’t dance like a real man. It goes as far as having your legs crossed while sitting, the way to treat women, friends… the way to treat everything around you. It pushes your ego and testosterone above everything else. This idea of a ‘real man’ is confining, and unfortunately, it’s what I’ve had in my brain, often dictating my thoughts, actions and beliefs. But who decides what a ‘real man’ is? We have created this whole idea of ‘the real man’ but I don’t feel like that is what I am… Now I’m like, screw that, I’m going to be whatever I feel like I want to be. That’s given me so much liberation. I can breathe again.”
“It’s OK for me to be afraid. I’ve realized that being afraid opens opportunities for learning. In this day and age, I’ve noticed men reacting irrationally because they are afraid to show people that they don’t know something.”
“It’s OK for me to wear pink. I don’t think colors should be meant for a specific gender, and it’s annoying to feel we must limit our choices for such reasons.”
“It’s OK for me to be feminine. I have been told multiple times by others that my hand gestures are really girly. I cared a few times but then I realized this is something I can’t really control. People have also told me that face my looks very girly and I could easily pass as a girl. Now, what can I do about looking like me? So I guess, it’s OK for me to have a ‘beautiful face’ (darn, I said it!). Regardless, I can’t do anything about how I look.”
“It’s OK for me to value love and relationships more than sex. In my generation, casual sex is considered more acceptable and less taboo than in the past. I feel that society considers men who aren’t that interested in one night stands to be less ‘manly.’ Television, music and movies have all glorified having casual sex over having a relationship so much so that young men tend to believe it’s a defining characteristic of being a ‘true man.’ Obviously, there’s no problem with casual sex but there’s also no problem in wanting to have physically intimate relations only with people you feel emotionally attracted to.”
“It’s OK for me to be classified as a sensitive guy. Men often hide themselves when they are feeling sensitive to things or situations — it’s like it is a matter of pride. The pride should come from not feeling the need to hide and being who we are.”
“It’s OK for me to disregard and denounce some of my cultural traditions and values if they are rooted in sexist ideologies and prejudice. This way of thinking would perpetuate a world in which male chauvinism and misogyny would continue to run rampant, a world in which my mother, sisters and potential daughters must live.”
“It’s OK for me to be open-minded toward the relationships of men and women. Men and women can lead their lives on equal terms.”
“It’s OK for me to reveal my weaknesses in front of women, accepting that I am not always right and showing my vulnerability, my feelings and my emotions. I don’t wish to be the kind of man that believes he is right all the time and hides his weaknesses, pretending to be in control of everything. Whenever this happened in my past, I messed up my relationships, I didn’t listen and wasn’t being aware of the other person’s world and sensibility. I realize I was projecting my image as a strong successful man, what I thought a man should be at the time.”
“It’s OK for me to be sensitive to intersectionality and to be an ally in fights for social justice, because, as a cis white gay male, I am bombarded with privilege that I definitely don’t deserve.”
“It’s OK for me to ask for directions. A man asking for directions seems to imply admitting that you can’t figure it out on your own. I think we often want to prove we can do it and asking for directions is seen as some sort of weakness or defeat.”
“It’s OK for me to do the ‘little things’ for my female friends or girlfriend when in a relationship. For example, I once knelt down in the street to tie my friend’s shoelace that had come undone. It took her by surprise and said she doesn’t know many men who would do that, especially in public. Many men feel doing such things are not ‘manly’ and worry they would get mocked by their male friends or ‘macho’ men.'”
“It’s OK for me to be passive. I don’t enjoy confrontation yet I am constantly made to feel as though I should be tough in the face of it. I don’t want to be expected to fight back when somebody throws a punch or start yelling when somebody insults me just because I’m a man.”