What does it mean to be a ‘real man’ in the 21st century? Charles Joseph Popov would argue that it requires four steps: a fall, a journey, a liminal space, and a reconstruction. Challenging toxic masculinity and outdated male archetypes, Charles Popov has dedicated his life to helping clients find their resilience through thoughtful counseling. As the CEO and Founder of Resiliency BHS and Geographia, Charles Joseph Popov has positively impacted many lives through his unique yet practical means of achieving counseling. Drawing from his personal experiences to empower his patients towards practical solutions, Charles Popov has a unique ability to build a no-nonsense rapport and camaraderie with his clients. Able to help any client overcome any problem, Charles Joseph Popov wants his clients to address how much we allow other people’s expectations to drive our behavior.
Does toxic masculinity still exist?
Absolutely. Our understanding of what constitutes a ‘real man’ has been handed down to us from previous generations who lived through a different set of circumstances and conditions. Women were only given the right to vote in 1962, right to equal pay in 1963, and gay marriage was only legalized in 2005. There is something called a ‘cultural lag,’ which refers to the notion that culture takes time to catch up with technological, social, and cultural innovations, and that there are resulting issues associated with the lag. For some, this is toxic masculinity. It exists in various forms for different people depending on their upbringing, environment, and education.
How can we combat this ‘macho’ stereotype?
We can only do that through thoughtful conversations, meaningful debates, continued education, and diverse representation. Everyone that produces media has an opportunity to share diverse content, showcasing multiple perspectives, and viewpoints about what it means to be a man. Certain television shows are working to break stereotypes around what masculinity means, like “Rupual’s Drag Race” or “Queer Eye.”
Can you explain the four steps required to be ‘a real man’?
Being a ‘real man’ means being able to stand up to any challenge—that is what the four elements reflect. The first is the fall, which is usually an event, experience, loss, failure, or humiliation that damages your ego and persona. Our ego is what we think of ourselves, and our persona is what we project to others. Once you experience ‘the fall,’ you are able to question who you are, what your values are, and who you want to be moving forward, which brings us to our next step: ‘the journey.’
‘The Journey’ is the aftermath of ‘the fall.’ Depending on what led you to this point, it can involve anger, frustration, guilt, regret, fear, and many, many more. It is a recognition of things no longer being the way that they were. It is often through great suffering that human beings are able to find their resilience. This is ‘the journey.’
Once someone has moved through ‘the journey,’ they move into ‘liminal space.’ Liminal spaces can be defined as either transitional or transformative spaces. They are the waiting areas between one point in time and space and another. When you lose everything that felt familiar and comfortable to you, you are forced to consider what to do next. This is a time for reflection, isolation, and contemplation. The liminal space can provide character development, shadow work, and it is hard and humiliating.
Lastly, ‘the reconstruction.’ Being a real man doesn’t involve the demolition and removal of the ego, but dismantling and reconstruction. This process will involve unlearning one’s religious beliefs, political views, ideologies, philosophies, a family of origin, expectations, and conventional world views. Becoming a real man is
getting in touch with our feminine side (the part of us that is creative, shows emotion, allows the non-socially subjugated idea of self to be revealed).
Being a real man consists of experiencing an actual fall, a journey, a liminal space, and a reconstruction. It involves essentially taking a good look at the mirror, honestly acknowledging what you see, exposing this to one’s self and to others, and a willingness to change for the good of yourself and others.
Does someone have to experience ‘the fall’ to reconstruct themselves?
While most people wait to be presented with a tragedy to re-envision who they are through the lens of growth, this is available to anyone at any time. The difficulty is putting forced discomfort on yourself—which most people are unwilling to do. The problem is that so many of us have become so accustomed to comfort that even the slightest inconvenience or struggle is avoided.
What book would you suggest people read to learn more?
I would suggest that people read The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry. Beginning to understand that part of the problem with men is not their gender, but rather the gender role dictated to them, this book is a great introduction to how we can start to break down toxic masculinity. Exploring how symbols and social markers like clothing are codes we often follow but do not think too deeply about, Grayson Perry does an excellent job of covering every aspect of what it means to be a man in modern society.
How have the four steps helped you better serve your clients?
It has given me a framework, not only for understanding myself but for understanding others as well. A crucial thing to know about these four steps to being a ‘real man’ is that we all deal with the same problems. We have deeply seeded insecurities and beliefs about how others view us and how we then view ourselves, and we habitually internalize them. The four steps help people break out of that pattern and forge a new identity that is more closely aligned to their ‘true selves.’
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