We live in a time when we are openly questioning how we perceive gender in our society, and as a result, questioning the traditional views of femininity and masculinity.
I sat down and read this Twitter thread. You should read it. To recap, a woman working at an event was getting ready to paint a boy’s face. He wanted a blue butterfly, but the child’s mother forbade it.
One thing that jumped out at me right away was this.
“Butterflies are beautiful, he said that’s what he wants, shouldn’t I paint what he wants?”
“No give him something for boys”
Keep in mind the boy who wanted the butterfly painted on his face was four years old.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting your child to be “tough,” but too often the mantra of the male in distress is “suck it up,” which is code for “suppress your emotions.” This doesn’t breed toughness within men, it breeds insecurity, and worse.
Going back to that very eloquent Twitter thread…
It starts young. And it’s more than just letting boys play with guns, it’s how we shame them for feeling anything that isn’t anger.
Our traditional notions of what defines masculinity are very much ingrained in our culture. Men are encouraged to be tough, strong, and fearless. Any emotions that betray any sort of vulnerability or sensitivity are wholly discouraged, and most boys grow up with a deep resentment of anything “girly.” It’s not a huge leap to say that when you learn to devalue things that are perceived as feminine, you also learn to devalue females themselves.
I think the reason this resonated so strongly with me is that I am by no means your traditional “Alpha Male.” As I very much wanted (and often still do) to be your traditional big, tough, invulnerable tough guy, I was (and still am) anything but. I consider myself lucky. I was born to a father who fit that mold a little better. He was handsome, athletic, and effortlessly charming. He was the captain of his football team in high school, and it’s easier to list the sports he didn’t participate in.
And then he went and had a son who wasn’t any of those things.
But if he ever cared, he has never let on. My father and I remain very close, and I’m grateful I learned a measure of respect and self-worth from him that was not ingrained in any traditional view of “manliness.” Not all young boys are as lucky.
It has also helped that I ended up marrying a staunch feminist. Just listening to my wife (which she says I don’t do enough of, and she’s right) has taught me many things about the tenets of feminism and how those traditional notions of masculinity are extremely outmoded, and sometimes even harmful to both women and men.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’ve been perfect, that I am perfectly comfortable with my masculinity, nor have I always been a great ally to feminism. I have been just as capable of meathead behavior as the next guy, but I’m trying to be better.
Look, I’m not saying everything about “Bro Culture” is bad. There’s nothing wrong with hanging out with the guys on a Sunday in November and cracking open a cold one, or cheering when Von Miller mashes yet another quarterback into the turf, or seeing Alex Ovechkin level someone with one of his trademark body checks. But when men are discouraged or even mocked when they venture outside the very, very limited emotional spectrum that our culture normally allows, that’s a problem. When little boys are heretofore taught to view anything “soft” and/or “feminine” with a certain level of disgust, that’s a problem. And when they are taught to view something (y’know, like a butterfly) and disdain its delicacy rather than celebrate its beauty, that’s a problem.
We currently live in a society where everyday gender norms and traditional mores of masculinity are being challenged, and the pushback to that movement has been quite unnerving. We see it in a sect of society that sees a big, brash bully in a suit spouting hateful rhetoric as something admirable. It’s not. That’s not strength. That’s weakness. That’s insecurity. That’s fear.
I’m happy to live in an age where masculinity is being redefined, but there is still much to be done. I think we are by nature very complex creatures. There are a lot of traits and quirks that make up the whole. Men are discouraged from expressing much outside a very narrowly defined set of “manly” characteristics, one central tenet being anger. I think a man should be allowed to love things like sports and cars and yet also be allowed to love something like butterflies or kittens. You get my point.
Men do not always have to be defined by their sharp edges, because some men, like myself, don’t have many sharp edges at all. Hopefully, someday, I will be a father to a son, and when that day comes when he might desire something a little more feminine than what most of us are used to seeing associated with a young boy, I will do the right thing and allow him to express that side of himself.
I benefited from a father who didn’t shame me because I didn’t fit the mold of a traditional man…I hope I (and others) share that same mentality.