‘Be a man’
‘Boys don’t cry’
‘What are you, a girl?’
All too familiar phrases weaponised against boys and men who dare to challenge societal and cultural norm. Sometimes, it is not even an act of defiance, rather simply an act of being.
This is what a society does to you: boxing you in. You are a piece of paper with boxes and categories waiting to be ticked. Society seeks entertainment in ‘defining’ you. It derives pleasure from ‘having figured you out’.
You are in until you are not. That is when you will realise the true face of society, an unfriendly entity. Society can be cruel. Society can outcast you. It can hurt you. And it will hurt you. I’ve seen it happen.
Contradiction of the True Diction
The term ‘masculinity’ itself does not bore innate toxicity. I believe that it is fluid, dynamic even. The negative intrusion of imposing the ‘ideal man’ narrative stems from societal and cultural ideologies of what characteristics are ‘accepted’ to be performed by a man.
Decades worth of belittling and punishing reactions and responses to boys and men differing from the ‘ideal’ version is deeply wedged in our society that the default of ‘how to raise a boy’ or ‘how to behave like a man’ presumes there is a fixed singular character of what a boy/man is supposed to be.
The stress of monochromatic expectations forced onto boys and men generates a handful of harmful and serious consequences for them, as well as for women. I cannot stress how daunting it can feel for a person to only be exposed to and encouraged to mimic a very specific set of gendered-qualities and behaviours.
Imagine feeling ‘not-up-to-par’ with such a black and white ideal that it triggers and breeds internal battles, conflicts and tension with yourself, your environment and those you interact with. To suspend the ‘right’ way over the head of anyone is like placing their heads in a guillotine with the fear of almost pulling the lever. It will create cracks in the mirror. The mirror used so vigorously to ensure the upkeep of the ‘man’ will be the same glass that cuts them.
To suspend the ‘right’ way over the head of any individual will create cracks in the mirror. The mirror used so determinedly to ensure the upkeep of the ‘man’ will be the same glass that cuts them.
Falling short to an impossibly fixed maze of ‘do right’, ‘do no wrongs’ and ‘mistakes won’t cut it’ pressurises any and all of its inhabitants. If an individual is shamed into suppressing their feelings, unable to candidly explore and experiment with their identity in the face of openness and kindness, men and women are put in danger.
Numbers Illuminating Truth
An Australian study surveyed a thousand Australian men between the ages of 18-30 revealed several troubling and upsetting realities. 35% of young men believe men should be the breadwinners, not women. 20% of young men believe exercising violence to gain respect is allowed if necessary.
27% of young men believe they do and should have the final say concerning decisions in a relationship. And 37% of young men believe they have the right to their girlfriends’ and wives’ whereabouts at all times. Entitlement at its worst, exploitation of privilege at its best.
The power dynamic between a man and a woman continues to hang severely unbalanced. A large visible gap exists between the two genders to the point where (some/most) men develop egos. The abuse of trust and entitlement in that 37% speaks to a high degree of desire to control, limit and restraint women. The use of the sentence ‘have the right’ showcases how men believe women need to be monitored. To be given a line of where not to cross so as to not shift the dynamic of that power-imbalanced relationship.
So as to not poke at or bruise their egos. It highlights the false reality of how the world works better with women at the bottom. It tells boys and men that they are only as capable as the women they control. This is dangerous. It informs girls and women that they are lacking, submissive or powerless without a man. It informs boys and men that they should be threatened by a girl or woman who is deemed an equal and so attack. This creates spaces for girls and women to be targets, and boys and men to be bullies. Little girls deserve more than an excuse for aggressive behaviours: ‘if he pulls your pigtails/if he picks on you/if he is mean to you, it means he likes you’.
Women warrant the right to state their needs and ambitious goals without having to be convinced of: ‘oh, you’ll want kids one day’, ‘you’re overreacting, calm down’, or ‘if you want a man, you have to….’. Little boys deserve to cry and not be told: ‘go to your room, you baby’, ‘stop acting like a girl’, or ‘boys/men don’t cry’. Men are allowed to wear pink, cry at movies, paint their nails, and do laundry.
The Inevitable Victims of Society
The same study discovered that 25% of young men believe men who expressively share their worries, fears, and problems should not be respected. Through this finding, we can note how the conditioning of ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘be a man’ has played out. Respect is a bare minimum. Every person, every individual, every being deserves respect. On a human level, when we feel respected, we feel more confident. We feel we are being heard, acknowledged, taken seriously and supported.
To reject a five-year-old boy, dismiss and punish him for experiencing a human emotion is hideous. To then shout at that same boy whose now a man: ‘you do not deserve to be respected for feeling’, is a word the English dictionary has yet to invent. It is too kind to say it is cruel. It is cruel, but its essence is beyond what the adjective: cruel, encompasses.
The Significance of Meaning
Toxic/traditional masculinity is a well-bred and noxious concept, and a presence that still exists in our society today. There are young boys, young girls, men, and women who question their worth, their existence. All because they do not fit into this dark confined tunnel of a box.
What are we teaching boys? What are we as society telling boys about girls? What are girls learning about themselves through the eyes of society?
Violence is never the answer. Violence against yourself and others is wrong.
Women are strong. Women are intellectuals. Women are breadwinners.
Girls are worthy. Girls are important. Girls have power.
Men are vulnerable. Men are house husbands. Men are kind.
Boys are sensitive. Boys are soft. Boys are caring.
Those are the narratives we should be teaching little boys, girls, adult men, and adult women about each other and themselves.
It starts with you, me and all of us.
Written by Puteri Izzaty
Views expressed in this article are those of the author and they do not necessarily represent the position of UNM IGNITE.