Society expects males to be loud, swaggering, confident alphas. But there is much to celebrate and admire in a quieter, thoughtful, empathetic version of masculinity
Try to imagine a conversation where an extrovert is told: ‘You’re a bit loud aren’t you?’ or ‘You talk too much’ within the first few minutes of meeting them. It’s almost too rude to contemplate. Alternatively, envision a world where a member of the public would pay for ‘self-reflection building’ or ‘reticence classes’ to make themselves quieter. Unthinkable, isn’t it?
However, I have been told ‘You don’t say much, do you?’ or ‘Why are you so quiet?’ even as an adult, often delivered with a clear and perceptible undertone of negativity, combined with a quizzical gaze.
As a man, to be labelled as introverted is one of the least ‘alpha’ traits that you can possess. In the lexicon of unmasculine phrases, it probably ranks above ‘light-weight’ or ‘meek’, although not by much. In your teens, when you’re already awkward and vulnerable, it’s a social death knell.
During my own teenage years, and well into my 20s, I had the feeling that I was somehow fundamentally broken, particularly when compared with my more boisterous male peers, who appeared to be the exact opposite to me.
Why was I quiet? Why did I abhor presentations at school? Why was I happiest in my own thoughts, and why did I prefer small gatherings to social situations where there were large numbers of people? If I wasn’t familiar with someone, why didn’t the conversation flow easily?
I knew that this didn’t put people at ease. I knew it made me seem aloof. (Some of this is introversion, but some of this is that you just have nothing in common with certain people, and that’s OK as well). You can guess the (non)-affect this had on the opposite sex at school.
Even to this day, in social situations, I prefer to hover about on the periphery of the proceedings, rather than being in the centre; a wallflower version of Batman. A silent guardian, a watchful protector.
The hero the party deserves, but not the one it needs right now. My natural habitat is the ‘green room’ of the kitchen, rather than the ‘main stage’ of the living room.
These issues can be further exacerbated by the way ‘masculinity’ was, and still is, portrayed in the media, where it can quickly morph into the damaging toxic variety. In this theatrical version, the male of the species must exude an almost overbearing confidence; full of swagger, sure of himself. He’ll get that job and that partner. He’ll ace that presentation in front of the clients from Zurich, dine with his future in-laws, and then meet with a gathering of his clones, all the while looking like a chiselled Adonis.
If you don’t meet this, then you’re simply less of a man. Introversion is a pariah in this scenario. There’s a reason that Calvin Klein adverts haven’t featured a man on a chair with a book and a cup of camomile tea.
Indeed, to be an introverted man is to face a degree of mild societal ostracisation, mixed with a degree of perceived inadequacy. If you aren’t loud, people don’t tend to notice you’re even there. I have slipped out of meetings without any of the attendees noticing my absence. The majority of workplace seminars are geared to more extroverted people. They rely on clear and confident public speaking to get your opinion across, although on occasion there may be some fluorescent Post-it notes available.
Luckily for me, two events happened. I discovered the fantastic book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (Thanks, Susan!) and it all really fell into place. I possessed the traits of an introverted person. They were normal, and I should be comfortable with them. I had a unique set of skills that were useful, required by wider society, and ones that I could be proud of.
After this, I discovered a number of supportive and ultra-relatable Facebook pages: ‘Introverts are awesome’, ‘Introvert problems’, as well as the blog ‘Introvert, Dear’. Here were supportive, friendly, little communities of people who were having identical experiences to me – and roughly half the comments and posts were from other men. There are now thousands of articles, webpages, and think pieces on introversion; resources and opinions I wish I’d had when growing up.
The ground has shifted so much, at job interviews I now mention that I’m an introvert; listing the positive traits that I can bring: more expressive with the written word, more empathetic (so much so, that I’ve even felt ‘secondary embarrassment’ on behalf of strangers), the ability to focus on tasks, good listener, and many, many more. In the two jobs where I mentioned this, I ended up getting hired by the company, so perhaps it’s something employers are actively looking for now. Also, depending on what field you are in, there are bound to be a few introverts about, even in management.
Basically, you are what you are. To an extent, everyone can modify their behaviour to fit the social environment. I’m sure the most gregarious extrovert would tone it down for a funeral. Likewise, I know introverts can manage feats of extroversion when necessary. We need extroverts as well. They are the party masters, the organisers, the social butterflies. I can even talk to women nowadays, and they don’t stare at me as if I’d just asked them for a sponge bath.
But I also don’t believe that you should attempt to totally overhaul your personality to fit in with some vague feeling that you aren’t talkative enough, or feel bad because you feel nervous about public speaking. The old saying about banging square pegs into round holes comes to mind.
It’s perfectly reasonable to be quiet and confident in your own mind, abilities, and beliefs, rather than adhering to the false, toxic, swaggering, exuberant male archetypes shown in the media.
Basically, know thyself, and remember that as a man, there is no one masculine ideal. The sense of mindfulness, peace, and acceptance that comes from this simple epiphany is liberating. I’ve genuinely never looked back, and I’m far happier with this acceptance than with battling my own introverted nature to fit a noxious ideal that would have made me depressed had I reached it.
To find out more information about introversion, visit lifecoach-directory.org.uk.