by Jack Jajewski
I was eight years old, running up and down the stairs from my basement, and evaluating the risk of going up to tell my parents I couldn’t fall asleep. They were in the living room as always, watching TV. I knew it would be light up there and the two minutes of comfort that it would provide might help me come back and fall asleep. But I had already been up there three times that night, and if I went up once more there was an impending consequence headed my way.
That was the first time I remember being scared. It wasn’t always the dark, it was just a fear of the night, fear that I couldn’t fall asleep. Every night it was the same story, and I would fight the pit in my stomach that felt like a magnet pulling me to that softly lit living room.
After a couple years of my parents trying to teach me through discipline to stay in bed, I eventually began suppressing the feelings. It wasn’t their fault, as they were merely a function of a societal system that tells little boys to be tough. Being scared isn’t something you are supposed to do, and therefore wasn’t something I felt I could do.
What is society telling young men, if not to accept fear? We learn to be tough, powerful, and to exert our will. To be scared is to be vulnerable and out of control, and so fear itself evolves into a taboo emotion. Aggression and anger can overcome fear and sadness, and so as the “weak” emotions disappear, we condition men to become the reason why violence and sexual assault are so prevalent in our communities.
When you get double-dog dared to pull a prank on a teacher in fourth grade and your friends all say “Are you chicken?” after you don’t want to do it, what does that do to the psyche of a nine year old? The constant insults thrown among friend groups through middle and high school are projections of their own insecurities and fears. Yet instead of saying to our best friends that we don’t like the way we look on a particular day, we’d rather pick on the clothes they’re wearing and call them gay.
The wrecking ball that is masculinity walks hand in hand with the patriarchy of society. Where you see oppression of other genders, you see aggression of men. We use words such as “pussy”, “wuss”, “bitch”, “baby”, and others to encompass the personality of anyone afraid to do something. To be scared is to be feminine, and apparently that’s not such a good quality to have. We’re supposed to “man up”. What does that even mean?
I’m scared today, too. I still have trouble sleeping, and I’m really afraid of sharing my feelings with people. That same little boy who wanted to run up to that living room is still there, but he’s had 14 years of conditioning to never be afraid. If one of my friends asks me how I’m doing on a bad day, I’ll laugh it off and say I’m just fine, because that’s a lot easier than looking them in the eyes and saying, “I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do about it.”