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In our society, toxic masculinity is viewed as the traditional stereotypes that correlate men with strong physical attributes. By discussing toxic masculinity, people are made aware of the pressures put upon men and the detrimental effects it has on them later on. In the video ‘What It Is to Be a Man’ by Dr. George Belliveau, we are introduced to the idea of hypermasculinity and how it is enforced upon young boys. Dr. George Belliveau continues to explain the concepts of using theatre not only as a tool for social justice, but as a process of healing within yourself.

Dr. George Belliveau, through his fourth-year project, provided a space for veterans to tell their stories. The horror of war haunts war veterans in ways most people cannot fathom. He explains that when people are going through pain or trauma, they may not have a safe outlet to express themselves, therefore an outlet for many people is art. Dr. Belliveau gives people the opportunity to share their stories through art, and not just through the veteran’s project, but with his other projects with indigenous women and immigrants. He describes in detail the various practices used during the pre- and post-production process to ensure veterans are comfortable in sharing their story. For instance, having multiple therapists on stand by and always having resources available, even during performances.

The way Dr. George Belliveau explained that his father was one of the strongest individuals in his life. My grandfather was the strongest individual in mine. My grandpa served in the army for thirty-four years, he was a part of the Kargil War and hence was a war veteran himself. Upon being recruited, he was expected to be resilient and imperturbable. They are trained to perfection so that in no circumstances they appear vulnerable. What is troubling is that most soldiers go on to live their lives with this exact mindset. Two years ago, my grandpa was unfortunately diagnosed with coronary heart disease and therefore was forced to endure open-heart surgery. He recovered physically, but not mentally. For the first time in his life, he felt vulnerable and was forced to be dependent on others. As his granddaughter, it was hard to witness his struggle and deny aid, despite his needing it. Starting from a young age, boys are raised to grow up thinking it is shameful to show emotion. They grow up thinking they have to always be tough, therefore in their times of need they feel as though they can’t ask for help. The way my grandfather felt in his time of trouble is the way many men feel. Boys are taught to suppress their emotions, and it is important to teach young boys that showing emotion is not just a female characteristic. Dr. George Belliveau explained: “To be a man is to be strong, tough, and reserve one’s emotions. To be a man is not to open oneself up and be vulnerable in front of others”.

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Growing up Dr. Belliveau was constantly pressured by the conventions of hyper-masculinity heavily enforced in his small New Brunswick community, as well as by his rigid, masculine father. Growing up Belliveau played hockey and was constantly surrounded by hockey culture and the hyper-masculinity associated with the sport. Belliveau made the switch to pursue theatre and gave up hockey completely. He specifically spoke about the contrast between the hockey locker room and the theatre fitting room, highlighting the difference in the culture and environment of the two. In his interview, Belliveau elaborated that with his castmates he was able to share intellectual conversations and ideas, which was absent amongst his hockey friends. For the first time, his perspective shifted; he saw people more insightfully, became more in touch with his emotions and was able to forge a deeper connection with himself.

Belliveau goes on to tell the story of how he lost his brother in a tragic climbing accident and how he struggled with the grieving process. During this tragic event, Belliveau saw a shift in his father’s stoic and traditionally ‘manly’ personality. He began to cry and displayed his vulnerability, which is something Belliveau had not been exposed to before. Dr. Belliveau’s father was the pillar of the family in this hard phase of their lives. Belliveau also saw this shift of ‘masculinity’ in his father’s interactions with his daughters; He would look at them sincerely, embrace them dearly, and begin to cry. Belliveau was able to see and experience a different side of his father. This is a common occurrence amongst individuals who are guarded and unable to express their emotions.

Often, people are shocked when men cry because they always seem guarded and unable to express emotion. Community’s perception of ‘what it means to be a man’ has evolved with time, but it is still a blur, as society still has views on what is and is not acceptable for people based on their assigned gender roles. A change is needed in the way we identify men and masculinity, and people like Dr. George Belliveau are working towards this change for the upliftment of society and bring to people an important truth: “Men do cry, and they laugh. In fact, they have a spectrum of emotions at their disposal. They just need the courage to act and release these emotions”.

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