by: Brenden Sommerhalder // originally published on MediaPost on 11/21/17
“If you live your life openly with your emotions, that’s a more manly stance than burying them,” actor Nick Offerman told Men’s Health in a recently published article.
Offerman’s words were in response to his interviewer’s question about the last thing that made the actor, “synonymous with being a man’s man,” cry.
The Parks and Recreation star said that he cries with “great regularity,” and that “crying at something that moves you to joy or sadness is just as manly as chopping down a tree or punching out a bad guy.” The seeming contradiction of “man’s man” Offerman describing manliness in these terms was catnip on social media feeds, and Offerman was praised and his quote massively shared.
As a fellow man on this side of college partying age, I found Offerman’s sentiments to be, rather than counterintuitive, actually very familiar. Of course I’m not beholden to simplistic, machoistic conceptions of masculinity, and I wouldn’t expect Offerman – an artist – to subscribe to these ideas either. I found the shockwave from his interview to be confusing. Could it be just me and the Ron Swanson puppeteer on one side, the girly men, and the rest of manly-kind, all brutes, on the other?
Not according to our latest research. As part of our quarterly Youth IQ study, we asked young people (13 to 35) to rate a series of statements about how they see themselves and the world around them. The data shows that people like me — Millennial (20 to 35) men — really believe ourselves to be a lot more Offerman than Swanson.
As to whether we think of ourselves as artists, nearly half of Millennial men (48%) say that we do. This is the highest rate of self-describing-as-artist among all youth cohorts, including our younger Gen Z (13 to 19) counterparts (39%), and our female contemporaries (37%). Millennial men are also more likely than any other cohort to agree that we believe in true love (80%) and that our parents are some of our best friends (62%). Far from believing in the need for a hard outer shell, nearly 8 in ten (77%) Millennial men told us that there is nothing wrong with men/guys acting sensitive. It seems there may be a disconnect between what society believes about men and what we believe about ourselves.
This disconnect between societal expectations for Millennial men and the inner lives of those same men may be due, at least in part, to a difference between the beliefs that we men hold in our heads and the actions we take in the world. While it is true we are more likely than any other youth cohort to say that our parents are some of our best friends, we are no more likely to say we actually spend a lot of time with our families. We’re actually somewhat less likely than Millennial women to say we text our parents often (although to be fair, we are also somewhat less likely to prefer texting as a mode of communication overall). We didn’t ask about how often they call their parents, but I predict men’s intentions would outpace our behaviors on that action, too.
Maybe a reason for the persistence of the macho man expectation of masculinity is because the softie inside of Millennial men has struggled to express itself in our actions, or at least not pervasively enough for the rest of the world to notice. It is a feedback loop that is held in place by a fear of vulnerability.
Brené Brown, a vulnerability researcher whose work may be familiar from her popular talks and multiple best-selling publications, wrote that “courage starts with showing up and letting yourself be seen.” It is easy to anonymously admit that we are romantics, family-focused, artistic, and open, but there may be a vulnerability barrier that is harder to cross to say these things out loud or to put them into practice.
Maybe this is why Nick Offerman garnered such praise for saying something so obvious: he not only thinks the thought, but talks the talk and walks the walk. Some of us probably need to summon a bit more courage and let ourselves be seen, and then the idea of thoughtful men may not come across as such a shocker to everyone else.