Hamid is a 30-year-old male, born in the United States. He studied engineering at university. Though he faced many challenges in his education and life, Hamid always persevered because he was taught that as the oldest son in his family, he had to be the best and always be strong. Being the eldest of five siblings, Hamid took on a lot of responsibility to support his parents and family. Hamid was taught that boys are tough, strong, independent, and do not show weakness. Hamid learned this through the messages he received from society about how a boy becomes a man.
Let’s explore Hamid’s life and how he shifts from the expectations of society and how he can overcome the challenges he faces.
Hamid’s experience: As a young boy, Hamid was shy and reserved. He did not talk much, but instead, buried himself in drawing and reading.
During recess, he was not interested in playing sports, but would sit back and draw or read.
Impact of Societal Norms on Hamid: Because society teaches us that boys are rowdy, Hamid’s parents worried that their son was not “normal”. They would compare him to their friend’s sons, and say “Hamid, why don’t you go run and play with the boys”, or “get out of those books”.
The other boys in Hamid’s class would tell him to play football with the boys. He would hear negative messages about reading from his male classmates.
Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid started internalizing that he is a boy and should run around, be rowdy and have lots of energy. He began to struggle between doing what he loves—reading and drawing— and wanting to please his parents. Hamid began thinking that to fit in with his male classmates, he had to play sports during recess or else they would not like him.
Hamid’s experience: As Hamid got older, he continued facing similar challenges. At this point, his parents asked him to take on more responsibilities so he began a part-time job mowing lawns for neighbors. Hamid also helped his siblings with their schoolwork, often mediated their problems, and always showed up as the “strong older brother”. Everyone could depend on him.
Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Hamid learned that it was normal for young boys to take all this responsibility even if it was too much to handle. He never felt safe sharing his feelings with anyone because he was afraid of being seen as “weak”.
Additionally, he learned that boys are to be strong. Hamid takes on the role of “hero”—always being able to support others and be a shoulder to lean on. But he learned not to ask others for support or burden them with his problems.
Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid never complained or expressed that the responsibility was too much for him. He did as he was told without conveying how it affected him. He had a hard time recognizing his own emotions and expressing them.
Hamid’s experience: Hamid is now in high school. This is a very sensitive time because his body is changing and he is figuring out his identity in this world. Yet, nobody talked to him about the changes he is going through. His mom said to him, “Oh, what a handsome man you are becoming” as he started to grow facial hair. Many of his friends went to the gym daily to build muscle. Hamid’s dad, uncles and friends kept encouraging him to join the football team even though he wanted to join the art club.
Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Hamid learned that boys transitioning into men are expected to be seen as muscular, tall, and handsome. They are supposed to be seen as strong both mentally and physically.
He continued to learn that art is not for boys and that he needs to be more athletic to be a “real” man.
Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid did not “bulk up” his muscles as much as his friends, and dealt with the pressure of wanting to look more muscular. To fit in, Hamid started working out at the gym with his friends. Additionally, he shut himself down from expressing his feelings. He continued to be a support for others, while often feeling that his needs, interests, and feelings are not seen and not heard. He began to shut himself off from what he loves, and had to cope with the loneliness it brings.
Hamid’s experience: In college, Hamid wanted to study art and literature, but shifted to engineering because his parents though it was a more dependable career. He got excellent marks on his exams and made his parents proud. They encouraged him to find an engineering internship to start his career.
His mom also wanted him to get married, but he struggled to make deep connections with his friends and was not interested in anyone in particular.
Instead, Hamid focused on starting his career.
Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Hamid learned that men are supposed to be the provider and protector of others. Their status in society is usually determined by their career, earnings, and opportunities for promotion. Their status is about what they do rather than who they are as people with unique interests, strengths, and character. He also learned that to be considered successful, he should marry a woman and have children.
Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid believes that he should work on securing an internship at a major corporation and focus on developing his engineering skills. He tells himself that as he becomes more stable in his career, he will eventually find a wife and settle down. He doesn’t think too much about that process or make the effort he will need to successfully find a partner. He has transformed from himself into the mask that everyone expects of him.
Hamid’s experience: Hamid is now successful in his career, married and is now thinking to start a family. Everything seems to be going alright.
Suddenly, his dad passes away. Overcome with grief, Hamid does not know how to handle it. He is not able to focus on his work anymore, and sometimes he lashes out at his wife. Everything around him starts to spiral out of control.
Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Because Hamid was successful in his career, everyone assumed he was doing well, including himself. There was no acknowledgement from his friends or family about the sacrifices he made to become a lead engineer, the support his wife has given to him, or the other life challenges he faced. Instead, Hamid was constantly praised for being “the guy who has it all”. Everyone around him constantly praises how he can do it all.
Hamid’s loss goes unseen as he is expected to be the strong one for his mom and siblings. When he tears up during the funeral, one uncle tells him, “Hamid don’t cry. Be strong for your mom”.
Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid believed that he should be able to do everything without help. Even though his wife had supported him a lot early in his career, he failed to acknowledge this.
Now facing his father’s death, Hamid doesn’t have the skills he needs to thoroughly and openly process this experience. He is overtaken by sadness and does not know how to cope.
Hamid makes the brave call to seek out counseling. He reached out to a grief counselor who began working with him to break down the societal messages he received throughout his life and created a safe environment for him to recognize and process his emotions.
Hamid’s experience: Now, with every new challenge or difficulty Hamid faces, he can navigate it with more ease utilizing the tools he has learned in therapy. He has started mentoring young boys at the town center on how they can learn to express themselves and encourages each of them to follow their interests.
Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Though society continuously taught Hamid that he had to be strong and stoic, he has broken that norm and has learned to be more expressive.
He is not afraid to be vulnerable, or share his feelings and emotions with his wife, family, friends, and the youth he mentors at the town center. He shows them that recognizing emotions and sharing them is strong. This has made his relationship with his wife stronger and more satisfying.
Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Now that Hamid has broken the norms of how society expects men to be, he feels freer and is more comfortable with sharing his emotions. He feels more alive and engaged in the world.
He is engaged in art and literature again and has incorporated it into his daily life.
Hamid is breaking the norms he faced growing up.
He is modeling for other males in the community how to find balance between oneself and others, without losing himself.
Photos licensed from Creative Commons and Canva.
Support the well-being of boys and men:
- When we encourage men to share their feelings and experiences and be vulnerable, we can build stronger connections. By letting them know that we will make the effort to understand them, and share honestly ourselves, we give them a safe space to explore and feel supported.
- Challenge outdated stereotypes about men and masculinity:
- A common norm in society is that men should suppress their emotions. They are expected to be problem-solvers and be logical in every situation. Let’s challenge that in our homes, schools, and local communities. Encourage boys and men to express their feelings, and encourage them to explore activities, careers, or tasks that are often seen as feminine. Many boys will someday become fathers and need to practice parenting, so let them play with the doll.
- Develop deep and meaningful connections with them:
- A major way to help our boys and men is working with them to develop good communication skills. When they can express themselves better, it helps us understand what they are experiencing, and it helps them understand us better, too. This helps us develop deeper connections as we continue to understand each other better.
- Build on their unique strengths, rather than the strengths society places on them:
- Identify the strengths in the men around you and help them find their strengths. Allow them grace for not always having the characteristics that are expected of them by society.
- Normalize seeking counseling:
- Hamid made the brave decision to seek counseling when he felt overtaken by the grief. This counseling supported his growth in understanding himself better and expressing himself to others. We can transform our lives if we make our mental health as important as our physical health.
- ReWA’s Center for Social Emotional Wellbeing can help. Contact us at CSEWIntakes@rewa.org