ololia/Fotolia

13 Things Boys Learn By Age 5 That Perpetuate Toxic Masculinity

By
Share
Ad failed to load

Eighteenth century Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said "Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains." In other words, society corrupts us all. Of course, Rousseau also had horrifying ideas about women's inferiority, but let's talk about the corrosive nature of society some more. The dude had a point there. Take for example, the things boys learn by age 5 that perpetuate toxic masculinity. Because, honestly, it's scary and stunning to think of how quickly they pick up on so much of this nonsense... and how frequently we ourselves might even perpetuate it without realizing.

Before my son was even born, I had plans for him. This little boy was going to be raised to believe in the inarguable equality of men and women. He would know that there's no such thing as "boy things" and "girl things." He would feel free to wear a tutu and dance ballet any time he wanted. My husband and I were very mindful of how we discussed gender with and around him. We were diligent about presenting him with toys and media that were not only gender neutral but masculine and feminine, too. We would be critical of any potential bias we thought we might have in order to avoid them as much as possible. But it turns out that parents aren't a child's only influence in life. I know, I was stunned as well. Apparently they have friends and teachers and community acquaintances and TV personalities they listen to and some of them blow.

And it's not that my son has a membership in the He-Man Women Haters club or anything: he's an awesome kid. But in the past couple years, I've seen him internalize some of the misogyny and toxic masculinity — a narrow and aggressive definition of what it is to be a man that hurts everyone — that run rampant in our society. He went from only wearing pink sneakers to refusing to drink from a pink cup. From watching My Little Pony to vehemently denying he ever enjoyed it. He has declared distinct differences between what boys wear and what girls wear.

Ad failed to load

Some of this, on the surface, may not seem like a big deal. But I firmly believe all of these things, big and small, feed each other. We hear the term "intersectionality" a lot in terms of feminism, but what we don't always remember is that our systems of oppression are intersectional as well.

Ad failed to load

Gender Is Binary

Giphy

It's pretty basic, but until I see this idea all-the-way dead out in society I'm going to keep highlighting the fact that it's a problem.

The idea that there are only two genders, each with unique and very specific modes of behavior, dress, speech, sexual and romantic expression, is as absurd as it is damaging. Because at the same time, under this model, we assert that gender identity is (arguably) the most important identity we have. So much so that it's entirely biologically and evolutionarily dictated and corresponds exclusively with our genitalia.

The problem with that (other than the fact that it's all bullsh*t) is that our ideas of gender are not historically or culturally fixed and, even within a fixed time and place, there are lots of people who do not (and do not wish to) conform to every single line of the gender script they've been given. But now that they've been told their one prescribed gender is who they are and who they are supposed to be, they are put at odds with themselves.

This binary is put on our children often before they're even born.

There Are Girl Things & Boy Things & Girl Things Are Bad

Giphy

Thanks to the gender binary, "men" and "women" are divided along such strict lines: hobbies, activities, clothing, even colors and subjects in school are split into masculine and feminine. While little girls are often directed away from "male" interests (cars, pants, the color blue... I mean guys, are you hearing how ridiculous this is yet?) it's usually not with the panic that boys are forced away from "girl" interests.

If a girl wants to wear a "boy t-shirt" out of the house, for example, that is less likely to be seen as a point of concern than if a boy wanted to wear a skirt to school. If a girl wants to do karate, it's usually more accepted than a boy doing ballet.

Why?

Being Mistaken For A Girl Is Embarrassing

Giphy

In our binary structure, femaleness is a downgrade. Toxic masculinity overtly (but more often implicitly) asserts the superiority of men by proclaiming the inferiority of women and girls. Girls (and to a lesser extent women) emulating male behavior is understandable in a way that boys (and to a greater extent men) emulating female behavior is unbelievable. Moreover, the latter is a challenge to the idea of male supremacy, and I don't know if you know this about those in power: they usually don't like to give it up. So anything that challenges the concept of who should have power us usually swiftly and decidedly quashed.

A boy, early on, is taught to feel shame if he is associated with femininity.

Ad failed to load

If You Want To Insult Someone, Feminize Them

Giphy

And to really drive this idea home, let's point out the idea that the vast array of male-directed insults harken to femininity or being female: b*tch, p*ssy, sissy, or just girl. Even pejoratives like bastard or son of a bitch are, really, besmirching the "honor" of a woman rather than the man in question directly, right? Being a man is, once again, starkly juxtaposed to being female.

Homophobia

Giphy

Gender identity and sexuality are tightly bound up in our culture and being a "man" means being a straight man. (In turn, toxic masculinity dictates that gay men be feminized, whether or not they are femme.) I heard the word "gay" used as an insult long before I ever knew what it actually meant. So the first time I heard it used properly I already had several years of negative connotations connected to it.

(I find it hard to believe that I'm alone in this, and I hope I was able to explain what it means to be gay before my kids were fed a string of homophobic misrepresentations.)

Showing Affection For Other Men Is The Same As Showing Sexual Attraction To Other Men

Giphy

Because homophobia is so deeply ingrained in toxic masculinity, it's learned early on that even the appearance of homosexuality is to be avoided at all costs. Boys are encouraged not to hug and certainly not to kiss, and the older they get the more insistent those taboos become.

Of course this leads to a culture of male closeness being expressed as ironically as possible (guys constantly ripping on each other, for example) and living in fear of being seen as a feminized man rather than comfortable expressing positive emotions for people who are important to them.

Ad failed to load

Pretty Much Anything About "Courtship" Culture

Giphy

So many of our old (awful) standbys as to how a man should treat a woman start when we talk about how boys should treat girls, and are rooted in the idea that men are superior to women. From the paternalistic platitudes that nevertheless serve to segregate men from women and women from being seen as individuals ("a man should always pay for dinner," "don't swear in front of a lady," "treat her like a princess,") to the more blatantly problematic ("if she says no it means she wants you to chase her," or "if she puts out on the first date she's a slut"), romance isn't about being kind, it's about establishing a hierarchy in which the man is superior.

"Courtship" practices have historically been a hotbed of toxic masculinity, because it's so concerned with how men are supposed to treat women (and vice versa) based on gender.

Boys Should "Protect" Girls

Giphy

Certainly we should all strive to raise children who will stand up for those they love and be generally mindful of defending those who may not be able to defend themselves (or who could at the very least use a vocal ally). But the idea that boys should protect girls simply because they're girls is condescending at best, perpetuating an idea of female weakness. At worst, it promotes the idea that boys and men have a kind of ownership over the women in their lives.

Men Should Be Physically Tough...

Giphy

For some reason this is tremendously important within the realm of toxic masculinity. Guys should be physically impressive, not predominantly for the purpose of being sexually attractive (though all the better if you conform to a particular male beauty standard, says toxic masculinity) but so you can intimidate people.

And far be it from me to say we should live in a world without superheroes or action movies, but little boys can absolutely learn this sort of thing through the promotion of superheroes and action movies if they are not put in the proper context.

Ad failed to load

... & Not Shy Away From Settling Disputes Through Violence

Giphy

How many young boys hear, "Don't start fights, but if someone starts something with you you don't just sit there and take it."

Now certainly there's a time and place for self-defense, but I find that when this attitude is employed "self-defense" is a concept liberally applied. Very often, it's not just used to mean "defend your body" but "defend your reputation as a man." Walking away from a fight, in instances like these, is an example of "sitting there and taking it."

Men Should Be Stoic...

Giphy

Boys are encouraged, earlier and more emphatically than girls, to be more emotionally reserved. "Don't cry" is, in sentiment, synonymous with "man up." "Emotional" is another word for "hysterical" which is rooted in the Greek word for "uterus." Boys are to suppress their emotions, good and bad, except for one.

... Unless They're Angry

Giphy

In a world of toxic masculinity, it's basically the only acceptable emotion they can have... and, honestly, there's so much bullshit that they're expected to perform and not perform at this point that it's understandable that they'd be really, really angry.

Ad failed to load

Men Should Be Completely Self-Sufficient

Giphy

Whereas women are socialized to be dependent (on men and each other) for not just physical and financial support but emotional support as well, men and boys internalize a "man of the house" or "your own man." American culture also has a long history of promoting fierce independence and the myth of a self-made man as being the pinnacle of success and prestige.

This can lead to deep feelings of isolation, insecurity, and extreme reluctance to reach out for help, particularly mental health help. Couple all this with the fact that men have been left with one emotion — rage — in their arsenal and, well, there's a reason this brand of masculinity is so toxic.

Like so many toxic things, this sludge has spread far and wide. It's spent centuries oozing deep into the foundations of our society and will sometimes creep up in places we don't necessarily expect it. That's why it's so important to be aware of what it is and how it can infect our boys, and critical of our own potential complacency in its promotion. Because it starts early and its effects can last a lifetime.

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at Names.org recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

7 Things A Mom Really Means When She Says She Doesn't Want Anything On Mother's Day

Every year my family asks me what I want for Mother's Day, and every single year I tell them the same thing: Nothing. So, by now, they know that when I say "nothing" I absolutely do not mean "nothing." In fact, there are more than a few things a mom …
By Candace Ganger

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

13 Unique (& Totally Not Mainstream) Mother's Day Gifts For The Hipster Mom

Hipsters thrive on being outside the norm and not really digging anything considered "mainstream." Whether it's in their fashion, what music they listen to, the books they read, or how they enjoy beverages, there's just something that makes them dist…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Here's How To Introduce Your Pet To Your Baby & Make Everything As Calm As Possible

Our home, which we lovingly refer to as “the funny farm,” is filled with four-legged family members. We have two crazy beagles and two cat jerks, and boy are they loved and spoiled. (As they should be.) But we are now finally having a baby of our own…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Here's The Right Birth Method For You, According To Your Zodiac Sign

If you're pregnant, you've probably given childbirth some serious thought. Some moms-to-be prepare a meticulous birth plan, while others are comfortable just going with the flow. And me? Well, I made a plan... but that plan was useless when faced wit…
By Steph Montgomery

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills
)}