How to Stop Toxic Masculinity By Raising Boys to Embrace Femininity

We've taught men to reject traits like gentleness, empathy and sensitivity. But if men don’t have the means to deal with their anger and frustration in a healthy fashion, it can have deadly consequences.

The genders aren’t treated equally. You can tell, because it’s the 21st century and we’re still living in a world where the feminine is seen as inferior to masculine.

Want proof?

“You’re like a guy, you’re not like other girls.” “You can hang with the boys.” “You’re able to have sex like a dude.”

Those are all, at least, intended to be compliments. I’d be lying if being told that I could hang with the guys did not give me a certain amount of pleasure in my younger and stupider years. I saw it as entrée to a powerful circle that was exclusive to men. And I thought that was great, because I had fully absorbed the message that boys are fun and cool, and women are prissy and dramatic and un-fun.

That was before I realized that I was exactly like other girls. Namely, I was like them because most other girls were as funny, smart and interesting as any men I knew.

I had fully absorbed the message that boys are fun and cool, and women are prissy and dramatic

 

But it took me a while to realize that. Because you know what are not compliments?

“You run like a girl.” “He’s such a pussy.” “Don’t be a girly man.”

Add that to making fun of every cocktail or movie or seasonal coffee or TV show targeted towards women, like this review of Sex and the City, filled with quips like “Part of the problem is Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. I don't want to sound ungallant, but if a male has to sit through a show about women talking a lot, the women should at least all look like Scarlett Johansson.”

Suffice to say, if there is anything out there that women seem to enjoy, rest assured, it will be mocked. Meanwhile, women keep gamely donning those NFL jerseys to symbolize their enthusiasm for a game they will probably never participate in.

"Feminine things are for losers" is a message that manages to impact both men and women.

It’s a bit like if there were a bunch of cats and dogs running around. The dogs all had cool doghouses. The cats were not allowed in. After a few thousand years of saying “we would like some houses, too,” cats were allowed into doghouses. Inside they found dog toys, dog food and everything else attuned to dogs. Then everyone exclaimed, "Okay, you're allowed in to doghouses, you can do dog things, you don’t have to do those dumb old cat things anymore, everyone is equal now!"

It's not. Until we see the qualities associated with gender as equal, and the things people of each gender enjoy as equal, it’s not.

Because boy, hating on “girly stuff” sucks for men, too.

In the past century we’ve made a ton of progress in terms of letting women embrace their masculine sides. We’ve made essentially no progress at all in terms of letting men embrace their feminine sides.

You can see a little girl dress up as Luke Skywalker, and everyone will think it’s great. But in most places in the world the idea of a little boy dressing up as Princess Leia from Star Wars is going to cause a lot more hesitation.

On a thread where a boy did, in fact dress up as Leia, you can see responses like:

“My brothers would have beaten me up and made fun of me forever if i chose Leia over vader or han solo or boba fett etc. Thx bros”

And

“I saw two boys about 10 years old dressed liked fricking ballarinas [sic]. It amazed me that no one kicked their arse at some point.”

Rejection of all things feminine isn’t born into boys. We teach them to reject traits traditionally associated with femininity, like gentleness, empathy and sensitivity. And we teach them to do so early. We teach it every time we tell them to toughen up when they’re hurt. We teach it when we tell them that big boys don’t cry. We teach it when we tell them that girl stuff is never for them. We seemingly teach it to them through kicking their asses until they’re ashamed of ever having liked something “girly”.

A recent Twitter item expressed disbelief that young boys wouldn't go see A Wrinkle In Time just because it featured a lot of female faces and (the horror!) pastel colors on its poster. Well, little boys likely won't if we keep implying that female stories are not for them.

I’m reminded of Susan Hale’s essay about visiting schools to promote her Princess Academy series. After a presentation where third grade girls who bought the book met with Hale, one boy stuck around. She recalls on her blog:

“... he leaned forward and whispered in my ear, “Do you have a copy of the black princess book?”
It broke my heart that he felt he had to whisper the question.
He wanted to read the rest of the book so badly and yet was so afraid what others would think of him. If he read a “girl” book. A book about a princess. Even a monster-fighting superhero ninja princess. He wasn’t born ashamed. We made him ashamed. Ashamed to be interested in a book about a girl.

That story makes me deeply sad. It also makes me angry. The little boy who wanted to read a book about a princess didn’t learn to be ashamed on his own. He learned that from someone, perhaps another group of boys who would mock him if he showed any signs of sissiness.

This behavior is pretty well documented by bell hooks, who talks about how the patriarchy forces kind, tender boys to become stoic men of action in The Will To Change. She writes of how:

Patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.

They too are the victims of the patriarchy. I rarely see any women rushing to call men cucks (shorthand for "cuckold") or soy boys (lacking in masculine qualities) when men do anything other than stand around sternly clutching a gun. There are plenty of men waiting to call them those names, though.

And teaching men to be wary of all things feminine, including traits associated with femininity—again, like sensitivity, and tenderness, and openness—has grim effects on men down the road.

Early on, academic performance suffers when we restrict them to traditionally masculine activities. The New York Times noted that a report from Thomas A. DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann, based on the book The Rise of Women, found that “boys involved in extracurricular cultural activities such as music, art, drama and foreign languages report higher levels of school engagement and get better grades than other boys. But these cultural activities are often denigrated as un-masculine by preadolescent and adolescent boys.”

I take it the man who felt outrage at the boys dressed up as “fricking ballerinas” would probably not support his son’s interest in dance.

Men are lonelier than women. While boys often develop very close relationships with other boys as children, as they grow older a culture of masculinity pushes them towards becoming more isolated (a topic Naomi Wade explores in Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection).

Being lonely isn’t good for people. Feelings of isolation might help explain men’s higher suicide rate. Men also tend to respond with greater despair in the case of divorce or break-ups. Big Think speculates that’s because, “Whether married or single, women tend to open up to friends and family about their troubles and build a strong network of support. Whereas men generally don’t. If they open up at all, it’s usually to their partner.”

If men don’t have the means to deal with their anger and frustration in a healthy fashion, it can have deadly consequences

If men don’t have anyone to open up to, or the means to deal with their anger and frustration in a healthy fashion, it can have deadly consequences.

Even when it doesn’t, all of this makes for a seemingly more isolated life than men should have, and a more isolated, self-loathing life than women ought to have. Nobody is benefitting when we reject the feminine. No gender is winning under the current system.

How do we change any of this? Well, the easiest approach would probably be to stop saying that anything associated with women is shitty and beneath men. Stop treating the pleasures marketed to women as such. We could discuss as much over a pumpkin spice latte. I hear they are lovely.