Social Pressures Pt. I.

As the 10th day of my prolonged dry period is nearly amongst us, the sun burst onto the scene with a bang. My thirst for a frosty beverage became so rampant that I even considered sucking down the end of one of my Dad’s finished beers to get a taste of that sweet, sweet nectar. Common sense prevailed and I appeased myself by swallowing the listerine I was gargling to capture a percentage of alcohol in my blood. If that’s cheating then I don’t know if I’m living on the right planet anymore.

Alright, I’m still sober and I’m enjoying it to an extent. I needed to do this for my wellbeing and more importantly, I’ve been searching for a chance to test my willpower. Finally, I’ve passed the one week mark after several failed attempts over the past 18 months and I can see the next three days being a breeze. After that, let’s just say that I’m going to have to be on guard for spiked drinks, days in beer gardens and general social events to avoid succumbing to the pressure, both from my peers and the society I’ve been brought up in, of enjoying a few (too many) drinks.

The pressure we can be placed under can range from a fleeting tickle to a fully fledged Imperius Curse, thank you Victor Krum. To be able to say no is something that doesn’t really sink in for many of us until we are into our 20s. When I was a teenage kid I was used to taking the road led by those who influenced me just like most of my peers. They go to a party so we go to a party. They like this song so we like this song. They suck down a few pills so we tempt fate by sucking down a few pills. Sure, it’s not all as black and white as this example but it takes a very precocious kid to be able to say no to the influence of the alpha-dog or Queen B during high school and in the dusty haze of the year that follows graduation.

I saw a middle aged woman walk across the road and noted her pursed lips and overpriced outfit. I can only imagine that within her head she knew that she was living this facade of a woman whose life has reached a point where the wolf whistles have stopped and the attention has turned to the younger generation of women. Ageing is a cruel procession only halted by the amount you have achieved outside of your aesthetical advantages that dim as the years wear on. We can pretend and persist but at the end of the day, we can all expect to inevitably deteriorate from the beautiful 22 year old specimen we once were.

I have no problem with people living it up and seizing the day as they smash a couple of bottles of bubbly and hook up with a bunch of good looking strangers. We’ve all been there and it certainly gets the heart racing with excitement, however inevitably the morning after hits home and the world isn’t quite as peachy. Is it possible that many of us have missed the boat on being able to enjoy the revelry without the influence of chemicals? How much different would it have made to our worlds if we were forced to abstain from alcohol until we reached the ripe old age of 25. 7 years of post-school experience without cocaine, tequila shots and amphetamines. It’s almost too preposterous to consider. It would have heightened my conversational skills from chuckling about our glazed eyed mate getting rejected by a visibly offended young lass to discussing the implications of the US parliamentary shutdown… Alright, that’s probably an exaggeration but the hypothetical is worth considering.

But would a life without alcohol make me any less reckless? I’d suggest only slightly. The thrill of putting yourself in the line of fire is enough to make anyone’s fingers tingle with anticipation. I’d still want to approach women to get those butterflies, I’d still want to pull out my signature dance moves and I’d still yell out of a car to scare the kids waiting for a bus. Therefore why I am so intimidated by 6 months without alcohol? Most likely it is because I am so used to going along with the whims of my friends and consenting to dousing my body in booze to have a bit of a laugh. It’s only recently that I’ve paused and realised that my body can’t really take the punishment anymore. Really, the only way you can overcome a social pressure is to self-evaluate the situation and make a change yourself. And although I’m only about 10 days sober, I can already say that it is fucking hard.

So for Part I of my Social Pressures special, I thought I would detail the top 5 social pressures that males, particularly from the age of 15 to 25, face.

1. Drinking

As we have already spoken about in detail, drinking and the subculture of illicit drug use (you’re probably all muttering to yourself ‘fucking straight-edge motherfucker’ right now and I don’t blame you…) is one that is ingrained in the Western culture. We are swamped by advertisements and music videos that yell at us to drink and be cool. Drinking is basically a national past time for Australian men. We drink beer, we watch sport and we party hard. It’s an easy stereotype to make but it is one that constantly rings true and is being perpetuated from generation to generation despite the efforts of anti-alcohol bodies. The problem we have is that no matter what the government tries from this point on, alcohol has been glamorised to the point of no return. Thus, we view it as a necessary social lubricant to facilitate a fun day throwing down a bit of social lawn bowls, to head out and paint the town red and even when surrounded by family as to get through another painful conversation with your great aunt. Men in particular have been brought up with the myth of David Boon’s 52 cans during his trip from Melbourne to London, Jimmy Barnes’ ridiculous drug and alcohol intake and Wayne Carey’s binges throughout his football career. What we don’t talk about is the damage that a lifetime of boozing can actually do to you. But does that matter when it is 8PM at your best mate’s place and you are ready to steamroll the city of Adelaide on a boys’ trip? Probably not.

There’s also the matter of the derision that we dish out to non-drinkers. Many people would trust a moderate to heavy drinker more than they would an occasional to non drinker. One of my acquaintances said about a non-drinker at a 21st I was attending that ‘he looks like a nice guy but he doesn’t drink… that’s really weird in my book.’ We drink to celebrate our freedom at every social event possible. But those who drink outside of these functions are seen as problem drinkers. It’s a very fine line between binging and alcoholism. Sobriety is a completely different kettle of fish. If you’re sober on a night out you are either a selfless designated drinker who can’t wait for the next weekend. Or you’re that just that weird bloke who doesn’t drink.

2. Womanising 

‘Getting hooks’ was the aim for younger men who needed to validate their masculinity. The bachelors who wanted to prove that the ‘chicks’ loved them. Some would come to school on Monday bragging about the 10 ‘hooks’ they ‘got’ at Johnny’s gathering and the whispers and rumours surrounding such an unbelievable achievement would lead to the huge buzz around the guy. I remember the rumours picking up around me after I lost my virginity on Schoolies and the buzz really got to my head. I was useless with women but this was enough to make me believe my own hype… (but it’s too untrue). I ended up in a ditch the next night with not a friend in the world. True story. Womanising is fun just like it is for women to flirt with needy men and then turn them down. I’ve never done this as I am not a women but I can imagine it would be a right laugh to turn down arrogant tossers who approach me thinking they’ve got the game to seduce me. I should just wear a dress and call myself Lucy.

If you’re a single guy, you’re expected to want to pick up a woman and take her home to the cheers of your drunken mates. But what happens if you’re just an awkward guy who can’t pick up in public places or you are simply not a fan of the whole ‘game’. You can quickly be chucked into the pile of no-hopers who will constantly be viewed as nervous virgins and useless wingmen. But if you try to turn your game around with substances then you might come to be seen as a raving mess who whores himself out to the highest bidder. Other men may respect a womaniser but women certainly don’t. Subtlety is the key to being a good womaniser but what good is that when you have to tell your mates to increase your rep?? Most men have loose lips as well so you might end up being known as the slimy and sleazy dickhead who only hooks up with the girls who have low self-esteem and strange body odour. It depends on whether you like the rep and odorous women. Some guys revel in such a reputation of having no shame.

This is particularly difficult if you are a closet homosexual as not picking up when the situation begs for it often calls into question your own sexuality which would probably be a harrowing experience. Proving that you are straight is another pressure that can lead to damaging rumours until you just don’t give a shit anymore. As a man whose sexuality has been questioned, I now enjoy being chucked in such a bracket as the men who care whether you are gay or straight are often fat xenophobes and women generally love the mystery of such a scenario. Unfortunately I tend to daydream about these scenarios rather than actually living them but it helps me sleep at night…

3. Body image

‘4 sets of 8 reps – the first set is light but increase the weight every set until you reach the 5th set where you do as many reps as you can mange. Then jump straight onto the next exercise… that’s called supersetting bro… it’s good for your muscle development’. The gym is a tough environment when it comes to social pressure. There are big guys who go every day and then there are the weedy guys who the big guys snigger at when their form is a little bit off. But then there are the really stocky guys who laugh at the really cut guys who tan themselves for body building competitions. Then there are the naturally sizeable apathetic gym goers who come once in a blue moon pop in and look sensational.

Let’s face it, we all come in different shapes and sizes and unfortunately not all of them live up to that natural expectation that marketers parade around as the ideal body shape. Alike women who are told to be as skinny as possible without being too anorexic, men too are influenced by what is portrayed onscreen. However, again in a similar way to women, different people like different body shapes. Some like a man to be slim yet extremely athletic and long. Others like pure muscle, whilst some just like a good old fashioned man to be built like a bear.

We’re told to take these supplements and wash it down with a protein shake. But then others say there are too many preservatives and too much sugar in these shakes so just eat tuna after your session. But then again, we don’t want to demolish too many calories yet we can’t be seen as a salad ordering yuppy. Nonetheless, how delicious are burgers? And how bland is tofu? Dammit.

Then I hear a girl talk about how she only goes for guys who have 6 packs. That’s enough to convince myself to go to the gym. Am I that easily influenced? Probably. As Tim Whitlam once sung, ‘there’s no aphrodisiac like loneliness’. So true Tim, so true.

‘4 more sets of that and we can go to KFC bro.’

4. Machoism 

Being macho and loving all things quintessentially manly is often a necessary perception we should give off when you are working in a field dominated by men. Drinking scotch, smoking cigars, wearing expensive suits and driving superb cars are a few of the stereotypical features of someone who is macho. The traditional hero of a man who considers himself ‘macho’ is James Bond. The man who constantly has a piece of eye-candy on his arm and grows delicious stubble despite not having looked in the mirror for three days. It’s the grandest myth that anyone can live up to. But truth be told, rugged masculinity is not an easy lifestyle to lead. Formerly a lifestyle where only white men would sit around drinking scotch poured by a dark-skinned butler as they told jokes about women and voted for the Republicans, now the tables have turned. No longer is the white man the vision of machoism. American sport is dominated by African-Americans, the Chinese dominate the economy and nerds make all the money. What happened to the good old days of casual racism, the objectification of women and exploiting Asia!?!??! Oh well, at least Bond films are still leaking out every now and then to reinforce the myth of being macho.

The other form of machoism is expressed in the strong working class man who doesn’t take shit from anyone and speaks only when spoken to. But the Simpsons already disproved that stereotype…

Many young men look up to sportsmen across the globe such as Usain Bolt, Christiano Ronaldo and closer to home, Dom Tyson, who live up to the playboy image and make us jealous of their lifestyles. However we live in a far more transparent world these days. We need to know statistics, secrets and their whereabouts at all times. The quiet macho man is dying a slow death. Times are changing and despite the macho image still being one that we feel pressured to live up to, it is simply not a realistic expectation to live and breathe the playboy life without bumping into complications unless you are blessed with incredible good looks and sporting ability.

Of course then there is Hugh Hefner. Feminism and the rapid nature of technological advancement may have eroded the charms of a macho man with a cigar in one hand and a firm buttocks in the other but Hugh still lives on doing whatever he does whilst the envious eyes of (straight) men everywhere dream for a slice of his pie.

5. Sensitivity

I added this one in the light of girls influencing the way men act and the evolution of the hard-nosed working class man developing a softer side to the detriment of the appeal of men with big beards and a bear-like stature. The influence of Seth Cohen and Dan Humphries from the hugely popular dramas The OC and Gossip Girl respectively have helped relaunched a mainstream love of the quirky, nice guy with awkward charm. This awkward charm has led to men across the world believing that their love of poetry, Elliot Smith records and fixies amounts to them being considered a heart throb with women… and it has worked pretty successfully. Being an individual has always been an attractive quality but being a sensitive soul has often been associated with an innate weakness in this dog eat dog world. However, it is no secret that most women like a man who understands the beauty of the first leaves dropping in Autumn and the power of the spoken word whether it be in French, Spanish or ye olde English. But what if one finds the March of the Penguins gratuitous or simply cannot stand the taste of a delicious Mohito despite the bartender claiming it will attract the eyes of a bevy of beautiful women? Well, therein lies why I have presented sensitivity as one of the 5 great social pressures that men face. We can’t be everything! Not all of us can be major sport stars and balance a degree in English literature. Not every accountant actually gives a shit about reading the Sunday papers at an East Brunswick cafe (props to Pope Joan if you are reading this). It’s a tough world for a tough guy.

Being too sensitive in front of the fellas also calls into question your sexuality or your loyalty to your mates. Staying in to watch Sleepless in Seattle with your missus instead of heading to your local with the boys is often enough to see you referred to as a ‘WOM’ (Women over mates) for the rest of the year. Crying during Philadelphia is enough to make your homophobic mates shuffle away from you. Again, as I’ve previously mentioned, there is a fine line between just enough and too much or too little.

To be honest, if we listened to every different individual when it comes to living our own lives we would be a confused mess without any sort of positive direction whatsoever. So the best way to live it is to just take a deep breath and listen to our own instincts. Sure, we should all have a mentor we trust and respect and we should all take advice that makes sense from time to time but in the end we have a mind that we don’t utilise enough these days. Back yourself in, it might even get you laid or a new job or perhaps even put a smile on your dial*.

*No promises… this could just be really bad advice.

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