by Ryan Novak

Paul Smith’s College, where the men are men, and the women are too. So goes the “old adage” as it was told to me; a play on words, concepts, and roles. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, other than to utter the sheepish chuckle of a spineless man, one who through inaction and deflection, condoned the patronization of the women of Paul Smith’s. My pitiable excuse for doing so was that I was in a new place, learning a new culture, trying to make new friends; I had no room to talk an interesting concept in its own, “room to talk.” I had turned my back on the values that are dear to me, that my mother had taught me to hold dear, that is, until now. I have come to realize that, that “old adage” is exactly that. It is a general truth. It wasn’t until I took the time to question the idea of masculinity that I realized how true of a statement it was.

Masculinity, as it had been taught to me, was the lesson I was given at the age of five when my father told me we couldn’t kiss anymore because “men don’t kiss.” Masculinity was this drive, orchestrated and enforced by the society I operated within, to never cry, because emotion was a manifestation of weakness. Masculinity was the lack of affection and a voice with no inflection, only greater volume and misdirection. Masculinity was the five years I spent deteriorating my body to build muscle mass onto my frame, because I was “too small” to view myself as a man. Masculinity was joining the Marine Corps to become a man, because I was never taught what it meant to be a man or had a healthy representation thereof. Masculinity was the love my father was never given from his father that predetermined our early relationship. Masculinity as it had been taught to me, was to always lie and say that I was alright, because manliness forbids the expression of the demons that haunted me at night. Masculinity for me was to always be strong and there for others, I could fool anyone but my mother. Masculinity was to suck it up even when I had nothing left to give, was to shut up and quit “being a bitch” when I no longer wanted to live. Masculinity… that’s as it had been taught to me.

What I have come to learn however, is a different narrative. I have learned that there is no definitive expression of masculinity. Equally there is no definitive expression for femininity. There is no “correct” way to express oneself. Yet we have all grown up in a culture that encourages us to accept certain expectations within a gender.

So if you ask me “what does it really mean to be a man?” I’ll tell you… for me, masculinity is pots and pans with dishpan hands because I love to cook, and I know that I can. Masculinity is learning to love and learning to cry because it is toxic and self destructive to live 13 years without a tear in the eye. Masculinity is being vulnerable and understanding, honest and expressive instead of withstanding. Masculinity is poetry on the lake with my brother, embodying the compassion and nurturing nature gifted me by my mother. Masculinity is loving the life that I am given to live and valuing everything I have to give. Masculinity is not being afraid to ask for help when I’m hurting, it only kills you inside to keep on skirting. Masculinity is the photo album on my computer of all the flowers I’ve ever seen in my travels… because I fuckin’ love flowers.

It took some introspection, it took some self-reflection, it took a new kind of strength to sit down and question, “what does it really mean to be a man?” That’s when I came to notice, everything that I deemed masculinity was just what I had come to value in humanity. It wasn’t a matter of he or she, him or her, they or them; it doesn’t matter who anyone is in their expression.

That’s why I came to realize that the adage was true, “where the men are men and the women are too.” I say this because of who the women of Paul Smith’s are and what they do. Yet some people think that is just for men, but that’s just not true. Because Paul Smith’s is where the women are women, and the men are too. Because these women are strong, and so am I. These foresters, these scientists, these surveyors, these naturalists. These are the women who have taught me what I know, and these are the women who have helped me grow. Of that I am proud to say, any time, any day.

It’s time for a positive culture change, but I have no room to talk. There’s been more than enough talk, it’s time to make room to listen.