If I learned anything from reading (and then watching) Big Little Lies, it's that toxic masculinity is most often the result of deep-rooted insecurity. This insecurity manifests in a man's need to somehow prove just how manly he is, then demonstrate his manliness by being emotionally and physically abusive. Insecurity breeds toxicity and parents sometimes unintentionally do things that perpetuate toxic masculinity. Both men and women are responsible for raising strong and kind men, but to say both will, in all likelihood, have the cards stacked against them is an understatement. After all, parents, themselves, were raised in a patriarchal society.
My brother wasn't allowed to cry when he was a little kid. My dad forbade it. Whenever my brother would cry, my dad would yell at him and tell him "boys don't cry," "real men don't cry," and "you're crying like a girl." When my brother was a little older, my dad made him cut off the leather bracelets he and his skater friends wore because "boys don't wear bracelets." Even as a kid I knew this wasn't right. I quickly identified the double standard, too. No one told me not to cry. In fact, as a girl I was expected to be emotional. Boys, however, are held to a different standard. Boys are supposed to be tough and "manly."
For a while, many people in our society seemed to be moving away from these "macho-men" archetypes. The emergence of hipster men, the Millennial men, the equal-partner men, and the sensitive-lumberjack men brought hope to women all over the world (or, well, at least women who value equality). Then, the "traditional men" decided such "emasculation" of men was intolerable and started strongly opposing this progress. Suddenly, people were vilifying these men and implying they are not "real men." And now we are seeing the re-emergence of toxic masculinity, which, according to Psychology Today, is "associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Such toxic masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions." Honestly, though, I don't think toxic masculinity ever left.
Recently, I read a story about a woman who works as a clown and who was painting faces at a child's birthday party. During this party, a boy came up to her and asked for a butterfly. Both parents, mom and dad, vehemently refused to allow their son to get a butterfly and requested a skull and bones instead. As I read this story, my heart broke into a billion sad, lonely pieces. I pictured this little boy, who so badly wanted a beautiful butterfly, and his parents who so erroneously told him he couldn't have one for no reason at all, and my body ached in empathy. He wasn't allowed a butterfly, nature's beauty, just because he was a boy. And that, friends, is what breeds toxic masculinity. That and, well, the following:
They Trample On Their Son's Self-Esteem
There are many ways to kill your kid's confidence, but some sure ways involve criticizing your kid, never praising your kid, and calling him names. According to Psychology Today, a lack of confidence can, "slow development by limiting experience, it can lower self-esteem by raising self-doubt, it can lessen motivation by reducing the willingness to try, it can foreclose on progress by resisting goal setting, and it can foster failure by justifying giving up."
When insecure boys grow into insecure men, they turn to violence and rage to prove themselves. And toxic becomes their normal persona, the facade they keep. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, across race and ethnicity, "women are twice as likely to experience depression as men." But psychologist Terry Real, author of the 1998 book I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, believes "men’s acting-out behaviors primarily serve to mask their depression, which goes largely unrecognized and undiagnosed."
They Don't Let Boys Play With Dolls
Letting your sons play with dolls may actually make them better fathers. The Let Toys Be Toys campaign asserted, "Toys are for fun, for learning, for stoking imagination and encouraging creativity. Children should feel free to play with the toys that most interest them."
Why would parents limit their children's imagination and creative play by limiting the toy aisle their children are allowed to choose toys from? Boys playing with traditionally "girls' toys" will not end up "confused", emasculated, or "gay." (And, for the record, "ending up gay" isn't a bad thing that parents should be terrified of.)
They Tell Boys To "Man-Up" & "Be A Man"
Joe Ehrmann, a former coach and NFL football player, one said: "The three most destructive words that every man receives when he’s a boy is when he’s told to 'be a man.'"
Telling boys to "man up" does not actually create strong boys, it damages them. When parents tell their sons to "man up" they are telling them that girls are inferior because they're expressing their emotions. They're implying that being a man means pushing feelings and emotions deep inside and, essentially, disassociating oneself with the very thing that makes us all human. This message, of course, can and does have damaging affects. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "men are more likely to drink to excess than women." Men are twice as likely as women to suffer from rage disorders, according to researchers at the University of Chicago. And according to Psychology Today, strict connotations of masculinity can lead to problems with dating and interpersonal relationships, greater depression and anxiety, abuse of substances, problems with interpersonal violence, greater health risks, and greater overall psychological distress.
They Model Sexism
Parents may accidentally model sexism at home by taking on traditional gender roles while performing household chores. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to Parents, found that "the quality of a child's parents' marriage had as much influence on his or her future mental and physical health and wellbeing as his or her own relationship with either parent."
So, if a boy sees his father not lift a finger in the house, he may believe that is what a man supposed to do. If the boy hears his father talk down to his mother, or disrespect his mother, he may believe that is how a man talks to a woman. Modeling gender positive relationships will allow boys to be men who value themselves and those around them.
They Applaud "Boys Will Be Boys"
"Boys will be boys" is as archaic as it comes. It's also dangerous. According to Psychology Today, this phrase promotes students to construct gender stereotypes that allow unconscious biases to form and proliferate. The site goes on to state it's "misinformed thinking" that "oversimplifies the problem" and "limits the full expression of children."
Whenever I hear that antiquated adage, I feel like I may explode. No, people, boys will be good humans. That's that.
They Teach Gaslighting
Gaslighting, a term used a lot in the news lately, is defined as “an effective form of emotional abuse that causes victims to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity," thereby giving the abuser ultimate power and control. Sometimes, parents teach boys that if they like a girl, they need to be mean to that girl. Boys are taught that girls "like bad boys" and that "nice guys finish last." Boys are taught, by their parents and sometimes their friends, that girls want a chase, and that when a boy is too nice to girls, the girls will lose interest. Now, what kind of message do you think that sends?
They Force Them To Hide Their Emotions
Why can't boys cry? Seriously. What is wrong with boys who cry? It's a natural physical response to an overwhelming emotion that is experienced by all human beings. According to Psychology Today, "Study after study shows that boys and girls differ in some parts of their temperament, but not in others. Boys and girls don’t differ in how shy or fearful they are, or in how angry, sad, happy, or emotional they are. Young boys and girls don’t differ in how much they cry. "
Telling boys to hide their emotions makes them put on a mask they can never take off out of the fear of being seen as weak. It makes boys be afraid to be vulnerable, which creates a plethora of issues. According to Psychology Today's Christina S. Brown, Ph.D., "We teach boys to repress it and we teach girls to dwell on it. So we get men who need to attend anger management classes and women with high rates of depression." Since boys are discouraged to be emotional, they turn to physical expression of their feelings rather than talking about those feelings without conflict and confrontation.
They Say "Like A Girl"
"You throw like a girl."
"You cry like a girl."
"You act like a girl."
So, boys know that doing something "like a girl" makes them less than in the eyes of their parents, teachers, peers, and, let's face it, society. So they spend their lives trying to prove they are nothing "like a girl" which, as we have since established, also means tapping into their emotions and expressing their feelings.
They Don't Teach Empathy
The question as to whether or not boys are as empathetic as girls has been asked countless times, and numerous studies have provided contradictory answers. Psychology Today explains, reporting:
One study followed the social development of over 500 teenaged boys and girls for six years. The measures they looked at included empathic concern and the ability to see emotional situations from another person's perspective. Girls outpaced boys on both measures.
We might conclude from this that females are indeed more empathetic than boys. But the difficulty is that this study (like most studies on empathy) relied on self-report: Participants simply reported how distressed they felt or how easy or hard it was see things from the other person's perspective. When physiological measures are taken, however, these sex differences tend to disappear. For example, in another study, male and female teens gave self-reports and had several physiological measures taken while they viewed animated clips depicting people being hurt. Female participants scored higher than males on self-reported empathy, and this sex difference increased with age. But no sex differences were detected in blood pressure, heart rate, or pupil dilation — all measures of emotional responsiveness. These results suggest that males and females feel the same thing, but report what they feel differently.
In other words, one can surmise that boy and girls naturally feel empathy at the same rate, but are taught differently. Women are encouraged to show empathy, while men are encouraged to suppress it. In order to be good human beings, all boys and girls need to be taught how to be empathetic. They need to understand how to put themselves into someone else's shoes and how to be kind and caring. In order to stop toxic masculinity, parents should teach empathy to their sons as often and as consistently as they teach it to their daughters.
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