Coaching Podcast: What's the Definition of a Man
The Catalyst Life Coaching Podcast, featuring JRNI Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. This transcript of Episode 43 of the Catalyst Life Coaching Podcast looks deeper at the definition of what it means to be a man.
John: Hey guys, what’s up? On this weeks episode we are going to talk about men.
Noelle: Men! I love men.
John: I’m glad you love men. Can I put you on the spot and ask you what your definition of man is?
Noelle: Oh gosh. Well that’s so complex. Are we talking like binary? Are we talking gender fucking? Are we talking…
John: If you just kind of close your eyes, and think about your idea of a man based on your experiences—from friend, to lover, to father, just generally speaking. What would be some of your definitions—some broad strokes, characteristics that you believe a man has?
Noelle: Okay, so let’s talk about you know cis gender body type, that’s the first thing that comes to mind.
John: I love how you break shit down. I love how your mind works, because now you’ve already categories, which is great, and then you’re just gonna knock out each one.
Noelle: Yeah, and I think it’s important to do, right? Because gender is a social construct, not a biological one. So when you say someone is a man, the first thing that comes to mind is a physical presentation.
Noelle: And that physical presentation has been crafted by thousands of years of social conditioning as to what somebody with a masculine body should be able to do and perform—from hunting and gathering, to being a protector, being able to move heavy things, build structures. So it’s really entrenched in the development of civilization, and now we’re in this really weird point in time where your gendered body doesn’t have to perform the way it was meant to in order for you to survive.
John: Right. Do you think that there’s less attention and people put less weight on what a man physically looks like today than back in the day?
Noelle: No, of course not. I think we’re at the very beginning of a great social and psychological reckoning where people are saying, “Well what is my body? What does it mean? How does this work?”. But I think that men still feel a lot of pressure to conform to societal standards, which would be height, strength—tenants of masculinity. And it’s kind of horrible actually.
John: Yeah, I could see that. Also fitness has become so popular. Fitness is new, it wasn’t until 70’s, 80’s that it kind of became a thing, with aerobics and all that. And now it’s become the norm, so that definitely puts pressure on men to look a certain way.
Noelle: It does, and how horrible must it be to grow up—and same thing for women—if you don’t fit these boxes, then you’re doing your gender wrong.
John: I mean there’s more pressure on women of course.
Noelle: I honestly have to say I think it’s equal pressure in different realms.
Noelle: Very much so. Equal pressure in different realms, because there might be this really long historical pressure on women to conform to a certain body type in order to be pleasing, in order to “catch or capture a man”—why is that? To provide. There’s this fucking pressure on men to provide.
Noelle: And that’s kind of crushing.
John: Yeah, and I think we tie our worth to it, so if we can’t provide, if we’re in a transition, if we’re not making money—I know back in the day when I was in my 30’s, I was struggling—then you feel less of a man. You feel like you’re not doing your job.
Noelle: As a man. And I never was raised with that notion that I had to figure out how to make money, it wasn’t something that flowed to me. I wish it was!
Noelle: But it didn’t.
John: It stems from the whole like provider thing. So like with women and their bodies, since the corset was invented, they’ve always been pressured—well with the corset literally—but pressured to look a certain way, to be attractive in the world. And then for men to achieve, to be “successful”, to bring home the bacon, etc., to be accepted by society—I think are still strong pressures, or strong things that men struggle with for sure.
Noelle: 100%, 100%. So, let’s back up. Why are we having this conversation today?
John: I have a book coming out in about four weeks.
Noelle: And the book is about?
John: It’s about men, it’s about challenging definitions, it’s also about my own man journey—from being a complete boy and an idiot, to learning about how I wanted to find myself. And that all happened through working with teenagers and realizing that we live in a fatherless nation.
John: And so seeing the byproduct of “dad not around”, whether emotionally or physically, and then what happens to the kids, that’s where I got the fire in my belly, and I became passionate about it. At the same time, me crossing that great divide where I was going through a divorce, and realizing all the things—all my shortcomings. So the seed was planted then, and years later—many years later—it has manifested into a book. So now I feel really called to keep spreading this message.
Noelle: I think it’s a really timely message, because we have the Me Too movement, we have the Times Up movement, and I think that there’s this big microscope being placed on men right now.
John: Yeah, absolutely.
Noelle: There’s this additional pressure to conform to these standards, and the measuring sticks keep moving.
John: Yeah, and I think the Me Too movement has caused a lot of men to become afraid.
Noelle: In what way?
John: I think a lot of good men—or men who do the best they can—right now can be afraid in the sense that they’re scared to show themselves, rather just kind of be quiet, hide, etc. Like you said, there’s this black light that’s scanning men right now, and I think a lot of men are afraid if they do something wrong—or like they’re being looked at right now, examined. And so I feel that, I think it’s also great because it kind of pushes the rock over, and exposes a lot of men that are not so good, that need to take ownership and responsibility. So I think both things are happening.
Noelle: Really what we’re talking about is if you remove the individual humans from it, it’s a cultural template. I can remember looking back at 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, even into the 90’s, seeing really pronounced cultural expectations that a man be sexually aggressive, that a man make the first move, that a man kiss a woman, push a woman—and if you weren’t doing that, then you weren’t going to get laid.
John: Right, right.
Noelle: And that’s been such a normative standard for so long, that women are finally for the first time saying “you know what this fucking pisses us off”, and men are like “well, shit now what?”.
John: Yeah, and I think that that makes a time very ripe to look inward.
John: And to start redefining what is okay with you, and what is not—because of how you feel about yourself.
Noelle: 100%, 100%. So we have this great space to talk about men and masculinity, and it’s a really interesting juxtaposition, because I’m actually an expert on feminism. So from a feminist perspective, what do you want to know?
John: So you just described a little bit about the physical side of men, let’s go internal—what are some of your thoughts and definitions about men as far as behavior, the way they are, etc., like more on the inside.
Noelle: Absolutely, so something that I’ve noticed over the years is that very few men feel comfortable being vulnerable.
Noelle: Very few men feel comfortable expressing their emotional life, and sharing it with others. And I don’t know if it’s a block, or if it’s something that’s unexamined, or if it’s a cultural norm—but I’ve noticed that men who are super vulnerable, who have EQ, who like to talk to women, really are great in terms of being in depth, communicative partners are basically like crack cocaine for ladies. So my wish for all men is to understand that everyone has this emotional ocean, and that it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to be sensitive, and that you don’t have to hold up this facade of strength, of strongness, of being unbreakable.
John: Yeah, it’s the locker rooms, it’s the conditioning, it’s parents, it’s cultural—growing up thinking that if you do you show yourself or express feelings, that you are weak.
Noelle: How does that actually manifest? How does that manifest for a man? So if you feel like you want to cry or express yourself, like what’s an example of a real experience that men go through with this?
John: Well I think from high school on—well I guess starting in the home. If you have a Dad, or had a Dad, that actually promotes it, and the Dad himself actually shows it by crying and is vulnerable, etc.—which I can’t even imagine because I didn’t have a dad like that growing up— but then you kind of learn early on, but I think as you go into the world, and into locker rooms, and high school and college, and all that stuff, when you’re around men, most men they don’t encourage that. Say you’re going through a break up, they don’t say, “listen, let’s have a conversation and tell me how you feel”, it’s more of like “let’s man up, and let’s go get you another woman”, and that kind of thing.
Now of course not all men, but generally speaking, men either sharpen each other or they put pressure on each other to be a certain way, because I think that the tribal element in men is very strong. So it doesn’t matter what the activity is, whether you’re workout partners, or you work with people, or you’re riding motorcycles, that bond—and I don’t know with women, because I’m not a woman—but every kind of tribe I’ve had around men growing up has extremely influential in my own actions, and behaviors, and thoughts.
Noelle: Do you think that you conformed in unhealthy ways to hive think?
John: I think I did in my 20’s, and I think it took a long time. Now that I’m 45, I can finally be the guy in the locker room that actually decides to show emotion, and be okay with it and not afraid—not be afraid of what the other guys think.
Noelle: Are you finding, as you age, that the world of male friendships are changing?
John: Yes, I’m finding that as I age I’m becoming more of a woman. I’m becoming more—well I shouldn’t say that because that’s stereotypical. But I think there’s an evolution to men, and I think that men—and I think this is also why a lot of women date older men—I think it takes—and I don’t know if it’s because of society, or if it’s biological—I think it takes until around 40 to start turning the corner, and be authentic in a way. I think by the time you’re 40 you’ve gone through enough where you refuse to play the stereotypes or fall into the roles if they’re not honest to you.
Noelle: Mmm. I see that changing a lot with the younger generation, which is awesome. I think that gender fluidity is more pronounced. I think that—especially with the way our educational system has changed since you and I were young—feelings are all over the place, feelings are talked about, feelings are expressed. I remember I took a group of students on alternative spring break one year, and I was so delighted to see this group of young men—they were all fraternity brothers—they were hugging each other, they were snuggling, they were talking about their feelings, it was the most healthy expression of masculinity that I had ever seen, and it taught me a lot.
John: Yeah. What do you think would happen—so like those men that you experienced—if there was a wave of that, how do you think that would ripple through the world? So like relationships, and etc., and the way men run companies, and all that stuff?
Noelle: It’s really hard to say, because there’s also this concept of power, and we can’t ignore the fact that we live in a patriarchal society, and men have, for millennia, had power—financial power, sexual power, land ownership power—and the whiter you are, the more power you have. So, on one hand, there are alternative riches to be found in emotional openness, and kindness, and a more Aquarian communal view of the world, but nobody ever wants to give up power.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Noelle: So, men are going to have to decide to what extent they want to come to the table of a rich emotional life, and give up their power.
John: What’s interesting is I think that’s kind of the driving fear from men who have resistance with the whole Me Too movement, is the loss of power.
Noelle: Yes! Oh I fucking know it man, I’ve been living that shit. So yes, 100%. And as a woman, as a powerful woman, as a masculine woman, it’s maddening to me.
John: Yeah, of course.
Noelle: It is maddening to see someone that is clinging to power so desperately that they refuse to see that there are other, and equally satisfying ways of being.
John: Yeah, and it runs deep, because culturally, a lot of cultures encourage and paint the picture of man with that kind of power. So, they tie tightly that if you don’t have that kind of power, you’re not a man, if you have that kind of power, then you’re more of a man. So that kind of like iron fist, dominating, controlling, machismo, all that stuff.
Noelle: Yes, and it can be so damaging to the man himself.
John: And that’s the piece that most men are not aware of, so they don’t see it as damaging, they see it as that they’re winning. And so if men could actually look inward—and see that that kind of power can be damaging, not only in relationships, etc., but with themselves, and also with other men—then there’s room for something different to emerge.
Noelle: It feels like there’s so much tightness around that kind of concept of masculinity, especially machismo—like that must be exhausting.
John: Yeah, it’s a constant tug of war.
Noelle: I know that in your 20’s you embodied a lot of that. What was it like for you to wake up every day and be like okay I’m going to—did you feel that it was authentic, or did you feel you were performing masculinity?
John: I felt like I was performing, and I felt like that was the standard—so all across the board. So like in the locker room, being super competitive, to be the alpha. If you’re out dating, you’re aggressive, and if you don’t get the attention of a woman, or the person that you ask out, etc., that means that you’re less of a man. So there’s a lot riding on her to say yes, so you’re aggressive that way. Biologically men are also bouncing off the walls at 20, sexually, so they have that stuff going on. And then financially, if you don’t make a certain amount of money, drive a certain car—and I grew up in Los Angeles, where it’s put up on a high shelf—then you’re less of a man and you’re not successful. So I think there’s a lot of stuff happening.
So to cope with that, I think a lot of men then get into addictions, and other types types of things where they become workaholics, or they get addicted to working out. They just start maneuvering in extremes, and I think the more you do that, the more you disconnect with yourself. So now you’re dehumanizing yourself, you’re turning into a product, a robot. And then when you have millions of men encouraging each other to be that way, we are going the opposite way.
Noelle: Yeah, yeah. I have so much empathy for men, and some of my best friends are men, and I have partners. I wish everybody would ease up, and take a big breath.
John: Yes, and hold hands.
Noelle: Yeah, and just look around and say, “Okay, well what would it be like for me to attach to community? What would it be like for me to depend on others?”.
John: Well I know the book kind of hangs on men, and that’s kind of the door I’m entering, but it’s more about human. It’s more about humanizing yourself, it’s more about—even starting with the title—being okay if you have been miserable. There’s a lot of men who are in a dark place, and because they’re not happy, they feel like they’ve failed or that they are tainted, or scarred, or defective.—well men and women. But a lot of men when they’re there they don’t express it, they suppress it. Does that make sense?
John: It’s okay to actually announce that you’re upset or that you were miserable.
Noelle: I love that you wrote this book, and I love that you’re taking on this topic, because I feel like what you just described—this angry man—is such a cultural icon.
Noelle: And it’s so wasteful on the human soul.
John: It is, and I think now the world is ripe for that to change. Back in the day when men were on horses, and swinging swords, and all that—emotional intelligence and psychology was never a thing. It was very survival, instinctual, etc., but I think today, especially with self-awareness, and psychology, and even therapy and life coaching—all of that becoming popular and accepted, now I think there’s a chance for men to start redefining themselves.
Noelle: Yes, so let’s talk about where people can find you to hear more about this topic. You have a book tour coming up.
John: I have a book tour. I’m going to be writing in the spirit of this, to connect with real people. I feel like I’ve been at a computer for so long, I think it’s time to go out there and engage. So from L.A., to San Francisco, to Portland, Oregon to Seattle, for two weeks. And I’m sure it’s going to be nutty, and I’m going to go to CrossFit communities, I’ve got a few lined up, obviously bookstores, but I also want to like come into peoples’ living rooms. I’ve got a couple men’s groups that I’m gonna run, so it’s gonna be really interesting. I’m sure it’s also gonna be a shit show, but that’s part of the journey. So, I’m gonna be doing that, and just keep creating the dialogue, and it’s not about me pushing any of my definitions on anyone else, it’s more about hey let’s just start talking about this, and that’s kind of my goal.
Noelle: Absolutely, that’s awesome. So when does your book tour kick off?
John: First week of February.
Noelle: First week of February. So February on, you guys will be able to see John up and down the West coast.
John: I’ll push everything onto social media, and we’re editing episodes so you could see all the behind the scenes. Hope you guys follow me, or if you’re around those areas, please come say hi.
Noelle: Absolutely. We’re going to be putting all the information up on your website, The Angry Therapist website. And pre-order the book guys—this is an important conversation that we all need to start having with each other, because no one is an island.
John: Yes, yes.
Noelle: And if you’re a man, and you’re listening, you’re not alone.
John: Thank you for talking to me about this topic, and also thank you for supporting me and my whole man journey Noelle.
Noelle: Of course, it’s been fun.
John: It has. We go way back, so thank you for that, and I look forward to continuing with you, and growing not only as your business partner, but also as a man, and learning things from you about masculinity, about being a man, and all that stuff.
Noelle: Let’s get face tattoos.
John: I kind of draw the line there, but…
Noelle: Okay, fine.
John: Alright guys, be well.
Noelle: Take care.