10 Dec BOYS TO MEN: IN DEFENSE OF MASCULINITY
As the author, I would like to acknowledge that this piece is coming from my perspective as a white cisgender woman. I continue to hold a certain state of privilege, and acknowledge that everyone has their own experiences.
“I hate men”.
These three words effortlessly diminish the feelings of heartbreak, betrayal, loneliness, and insecurity. It’s the cry of outrage when the patriarchy is working against you. It’s the whisper to your friend next to you when that one student puts up their hand and dares to utter the words, “If I may play devil’s advocate…”.
“I hate men”.
I fear these three words together, and sayings alike, have become so normalized that we’ve completely tattered the meaning of masculinity to only embody the toxicity that we despise the most. In fact, it’s become a scapegoat saying, substituting any effort, any reflection, any action, and any vulnerability.
Now, I’m not perfect, and I won’t act like I’ve never shouted these three words off of a rooftop, because I have many times. More importantly, I won’t act like it hasn’t felt good to do so.
But the truth is that I don’t hate men or masculinity, no matter how many times men have wronged me and attacked my gender in the past. However, I thoroughly despise the system that foments toxic masculinity and disguises it as the ultimate form of humanity.
Before I continue, I must vulnerably state that at one point I was completely and utterly ignorant when it came to the consideration of men. As a cisgender woman, I struggled to look past the toxic culture of privilege, and in result, looked to masculinity as my enemy, not my friend.
This came from a place of anger and pain, but even so, my ignorance was there.
I would roll my eyes at every social media post that advocated for male mental health, and although on the surface I may have been a supportive sister and friend, deep down I would regard men opening up about their pain as selfish.
How dare they not enjoy their lives when they so effortlessly ruin the lives of others. Don’t they realize how lucky they are? Don’t they understand how easy they have it? Don’t they realize how many privileges they have because of their gender?
I was a complete hypocrite.
I was ignorant about the external forces and influences that doom men from the beginning. I didn’t consider the suppressed internal struggles that foment into pain so unfathomable that it turns into an infliction of pain onto others through emotional, physical, and/or sexual violence. I didn’t recognize the immense pressure men face to fit into the single mold of masculinity that was impossible to achieve.
Perhaps more crucially, I was disturbingly ignorant to the idea that I was contributing to the system that formed their internal struggles from refusing to acknowledge its existence . There is a persistent toxic culture that is sustained in masculinity that, unfortunately, overpowers the aspect of masculinity that remains pure. But it’s just that, a culture, not masculinity as a whole.
A culture that hurts everyone: men, women, non-binary, cisgender, transgender, and every expression in between.
It is a system that hypnotizes you to believe that silence is equal to strength, and strength is equal to violence. It is a system in which leaders and role models stand to represent the same singular toxic representation of masculinity: physically strong, emotionally guarded, heterosexually charged, and personally superior, and to be anything but is to be seen as anti-masculine. If you’re anti-masculine, you drift off into femininity, the one thing that toxic masculinity fears and stigmatizes the most.
As we progress together, our understanding of gender begins to veer off from what the science and sexual educational textbooks have been telling us for way too long. Even as a child, I remember feeling the pressure myself to fit into a mold of femininity that just clearly didn’t fit who I was, and we see this common uprising in the activism of feminism.
I identify as a cisgender woman, yet I have many tendencies and behaviours that would be labelled as stereotypically masculine.
However, the harshest words targeted to me run along the lines of, “you’re acting like a frat bro” or “I just wish you had a little more emotion”. Even so, these lines are usually followed by a “fair enough” and a clink of our glasses in a toast to my bro nature. My worth as a woman, and my overall femininity, would never be questioned.
Yet, how is it that I can display stereotypically masculine tendencies and get nothing but a side joke every now and then, but when a man displays stereotypically feminine tendencies, such as an outwardly display of emotions, he’s seen as less of a man, with even the possibility of being publicly criticized for it?
During my teaching placement a few weeks ago, I was discussing different presentations of masculinity and what it means to “be a man” as seen through Shakespeare’s Macbeth. After class a student came up to me and said, “this was stupid, by the way”. I asked why and he replied, “because the answer is just that, “be a man”, there’s no deeper meaning”. I asked, “okay, well what does it mean to be a man?”. He stared at me for about 15 seconds with an absolute blank face, and managed to mumble, “well, I don’t know”.
Because that’s just it, some boys are brought up with no teachings of how to be a man other than those which are saturated with toxic masculinity, that which they now know are wrong. So, here they are, trying to grow from a boy to a man with zero guidance, zero knowledge, and zero influence.
If I were to ask you right now what the definition of “positive masculinity” is, would you be able to give me an answer? When I was producing a research project on the matter just a little over a year ago, the answers to this question were fragmented, vague, and existed few and far between.
If there’s progression towards dismantling the culture of toxic masculinity, yet there’s no suggestion for what positive masculinity is, then expecting boys to grow into healthy men is like asking them to complete the impossible once more. To a large degree, our education is highly to blame for that.
So no, I don’t hate men or masculinity. In fact, I think masculinity is beautiful and should be celebrated.
Masculinity means strength, but strength in emotion, love, and passion. It means power, but power through intelligence, empathy, and confidence. It means courage, but the courage to love who you want to love, to stand up for what you believe in, and to live life to your ideal of fullness.
Masculinity may mean having “bro time” by cracking open a few cold ones and watching Sunday Night Football, but it also means that you’ll have some “bro times” where you offer your bro a shoulder to cry on. Masculinity may mean pumping iron in the gym, but it may also mean staying home to watch the next episode of The Bachelorette.
However, at the end of the day, masculinity is, and will always be, whatever you want it to be.
We all play a role in dismantling the culture of toxic masculinity and advocating for positive masculinity. Support Movember and LGBTQ+ initiatives, engage in education and discussion of male mental health, hold your friends accountable for displaying unhealthy tendencies, and be self-critical for the moments where you yourself are helping to promote the negative culture.
Even more simply, however, ask the men in your life how they’re doing, and let them know that you will always be a safe space.
If you ever feel like you need to yell “I hate men” out of the car window, I encourage you to alter it to say, “I hate [insert specific man]” and/or “I hate the culture of toxic masculinity that has allowed this man to believe he can [insert action here]”.
To the men out there, however you identify, in the same breath that I am giving you now, I vulnerably ask you to give it back to femininity. Just like how women dutifully support and fight for men, men have the duty to support and fight for women.
We are not each other’s enemies. We need each other to recognize our intersectionalities, layers of difference, and how these systems work against us collectively to render gender violence.
We’re stronger in unity.
HEADER SOURCE IMAGE: Sadie Levine – @sadiesartthings
HALEY MARANDO IS AN ONLINE CONTRIBUTOR FOR MUSE ONLINE.