The Difficulties in “Taking It”

February 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

When thinking about various issues surrounding gender, sometimes we forget to consider the hardships that men have also faced as a result of societal norms/stereotypes.  I thought Leonard Kriegel’s essay, “Taking It,” provided some insight into the expectations of men with disabilities, disease, etc.  Nearly everywhere he turned, whether it be to his father or his friends, Kriegel was not met with sympathy or compassion.  Instead, he says, “polio also taught me that, if I were to survive, I would have to become a man- and become a man quickly. ‘Be a man!’ my immigrant father urged” (207).  Here he is, an eleven year old boy with polio who has to spend most of his time in the hospital instead of enjoying life like other children his age.  I’m sure he was frightened and confused by the changes to his body, but he was not allowed to have those feelings because everyone was telling him that he must take it like a man.  An eleven year old boy is being forced to act like a man.

As he ages, he is forced to believe that his masculinity is directly related to his ability to “take it.”  It seems that only his mother took care of him and showed him love, but we only hear a little about their relationship.  Ultimately, I suppose the most frustrating thing for me as I read this essay was that society had succeeded in practically brainwashing this little boy (when he was first diagnosed) into believing that he had to be tough and grow up fast in order to be a real man.  He says, “But it was the need to prove myself an American man- tough, resilient, independent, able to take it- that pulled me through the war with the virus” (209).  I think the key here is the word ‘need.’  It’s not something that he wants to do, but rather is being forced to do.  One can only hope that someday our society will let all children just be themselves and enjoy their childhood without forcing them to grow up too soon in a world devoid of warmth & compassion.

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