On April 2nd, a gay couple openly holding hands in public were tragically beaten by a group of teenagers in the Netherlands. While this is just one example of many such incidents that happen all over the world against the LGBTQ2 community, this attack in particular generated international coverage for the response that the Dutch community showed.
Prompted by a female Dutch journalist, men all over the country (and world) decided to quite literally join hands in a sign of solidarity. Male politicians, business people, and athletes of all sorts held the hands of their male colleagues both in public and on social media to show their support for the LGBTQ2 community and condemn the violence against them.
This display was a stark reminder of the very real threats that LGBTQ2 couples face by doing something as simple and human as showing their affection for their partners in public. On the surface, it's men of all stripes coming together to preach tolerance, understanding, and love between all people.
However - and I'm conscious to not 'appropriate' this symbol from the LGBTQ2 community; it's theirs and I'm just noticing a parallel meaning here - the act of holding another man's hand sends a clear message about a concept of maleness overall that is deeply entrenched in our identity.
As men, we don't really give permission to ourselves to show affection to other men. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've held hands with another man, for whatever reason. If you're ever doing some kind of group activity where everyone needs to hold hands (for me, it was playing a game of ring around the rosy with my infant nephews), make note of how many men won't do it...or instead will grab someone's shirt sleeve or forearm.
The idea of holding a man's hand, even if it's for a children's game between close friends and family, is simply not something a straight man* will do (*specifically Western men - other cultures easily hold hands between male colleagues). It's bred out of us by the time we leave childhood. A toddler would happily hold anyone's hand, man or woman, but through our upbringing, we develop an aversion to showing a close emotional connection with other men. This is a tragedy - for men and society.
That's why I was so shook by the Dutch men that took a stand against this homophobic act by holding hands in public. I don't think most people realize the impact of this. The mental barriers and social norms that these men were pushing back against are at the core of Western maleness. They were being empathetic, emotional, loving, compassionate...towards another man!
I've been searching for the right word to describe this act. The best I can do so far is say it was 'beautiful'. Admittedly, no dictionary definition describes 'beautiful' in the terms I listed above, but I feel that word can have deeper meaning. It can mean an inner strength to show your emotions and be open to understanding and nurturing the emotions of others. It can mean being strong and proud of who you are, regardless of how define yourself.
When we think about creating a more gender-equal world, I think we could all use more 'beautiful' men. We need them to help redefine how we perceive maleness; help us become better fathers and caregivers. We need to own the term and celebrate being 'beautiful' when we see it in others.
With feminism, we've taken traditionally 'masculine' terms like 'Fierce' and 'Strong', and applied them to the women in our lives. To get true change though, I think we need to do the same for men - let's find more 'feminine' ways to describe ourselves and own these words. We need more beautiful men.