“That is for girls.”
These are a couple of the phrases many people tell boys who are in touch with their feminine sides.
We encourage men to reject empathetic traits such as gentleness and sensitivity. By not allowing men to openly display these characteristics, we are not allowing them to be true to themselves.
The culture of shaming men for being “feminine” needs to be dismantled.
Masculinity and femininity are usually conceptualized as two different ends of a spectrum. Males are expected to act more masculine and females are expected to act more feminine.
This viewpoint is problematic: We are complex and are meant to show all kinds of emotions. Sadly, some families raise their sons very early on to grow a thick skin.
Emotions are off-limits.
When tears fall from little boys’ eyes, they are told “to suck it up.” Those tears dry into internalized anger and clenched fists. A practice of being tough and angry instead of crying is created.
We teach boys to reject “girly” things. Rainbows, glitter, and dolls are off-limits. That furthers the culture of toxic masculinity.
According to The New York Times, toxic masculinity can be defined as a set of behaviors and beliefs that include suppressing emotions or feelings, maintaining an appearance of hardness, as well as exhibiting violence as an indicator of power.
The American Psychological Association said in a tweet, “Traits of so-called ‘traditional masculinity,’ like suppressing emotions and masking distress, often start early in life and have been linked to less willingness by boys and men to seek help, more risk-taking and aggression.”
One of the biggest problems with how we portray masculinity and femininity is how we portray them differently to boys and girls. We have made great strides in letting girls embrace their masculine sides. Professions that were once considered masculine and for men such as those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are being marketed to girls. Yet we do not do the same for boys and predominately female-led jobs, such as nursing or teaching.
Girls are taught they can be anything a boy can. The same cannot be said of boys.
I have struggled personally with finding ways to display my masculine and feminine sides for most of my young life. It started in elementary school when I wanted my G.I. Joe action figure to have a female companion. I chose a Barbie doll. While my older brothers and mom were against the idea of buying me Barbie, they relented after I begged and begged.
My mom said nothing when I played with Max Steele, but policed me when I played with the Barbie doll. The doll wasn’t allowed to leave the house. It was “too girly.”
In middle school, I cared more about pop music, poetry and the Real Housewives franchise than sports or video games. I wrestled with the idea of watching those types of shows because I knew they were considered feminine.
In high school, nothing I did seemed masculine enough. Not allowing myself to be effeminate caused me years of anxiety for most of my teenage years and early 20s.
I walked around as this masculine stereotype. I did not allow people to get close to me unless I knew they were accepting of both my feminine and masculine traits.
Now, in my mid-20s, I have learned to accept both the masculine and feminine parts of me. And because I learned that acceptance, my mental health and self-esteem are better than ever.
Letting boys showcase both masculine and feminine qualities without judging or policing them will teach them they can be whoever they want to be.
Start letting boys be who they want to be at a younger age. Teach them that it is acceptable to dress, feel and act how they please. Then society will be forced to conform to a new standard – a standard of acceptance.