From the time I was five years old, I had already witnessed the stereotypes that were being imposed upon my male peers. Within the early childhood of a boy, they are reinforced to embrace aggression and impulsiveness by a single phrase. How often do they hear, “Boys don’t cry”, or “Don’t be a girl”? Little do we know, these phrases are carried into our adulthood and manifest into toxic behaviors that reinforce the same stereotypes.
We need to recognize that not only women face dangerous social norms, but men do as well.
The most crucial part of understanding these restrictions put on men, is that it prominently stems from misogyny and puts emphasis on hypermasculinity, the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior. In a broader perspective, these restrictions contribute to emotional suppression, damage to personal relationships and personal identity, and leads to one dimensional portrayals of men.
The reinforcement of these behaviors primarily start with characterizing emotions as feminine and weak while emphasizing stoicism as a sign of strength and self control. When we characterize femininity as weak, we encourage men to focus on power and aggression, even going as far as to associate strength with homophobic behavior. The fear of being characterized as feminine causes some men to avoid emotional behavior with other men, calling those who show feminine traits as “sissies” or “f*ggots.”
However, there is a clear difference between having emotional maturity and being emotionally hardened to the point of ineffective communication in personal relationships. When men are constantly encouraged to suppress sadness but freely display anger, it creates an unhealthy personal identity. In other words, anger becomes an emotion to mask other emotions, like humiliation and fear. In interpersonal relationships, hypermasculinity prevents men from being vulnerable, and dismisses their feelings of uncertainty, fear, or sadness. Thus, they have difficulty forming intimate bonds with friends.
On a more specific level relating to socio-economic issues, men face problems such as discrimination in the selective service, family courts, the sentencing gap, and lack of male domestic violence shelters.
Judicial bias against fathers in family courts exist because women are engendered to be the caretaker. The same reason applies with prison terms; according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 93% of people in prison are men. A study by Professor Sonja B. Starr from the University of Michigan Law School showed that men receive 60% longer prison sentences than women for comparable crimes; a major difference that emphasizes the gender bias.
In the feminism movement, we need to be more inclusive to men and stop looking at the issues as a backlash from a system that men engendered to privilege themselves. Not all men may be affected by these norms and masculinity is not innately dangerous, but the emphasis of overly masculine traits that tie into aggression is what’s harmful. To make strides in change, women need to acknowledge that there are women gender-based advantages and there are male gender-based advantages to sexism.