From the moment of birth, we are divided into two separate and distinct genders. Blue and pink caps for new born babies, toy cars and kitchen sets for kiddie Christmas presents, and denim shorts and frilly tutus for a child’s clothing options are only some of the ways that gender roles have been ingrained into our subconscious from before the moment we could even recognize the isolating social constructs society set up for us. Consequently, we conform to these social pressures in order to fit in, thus maintaining the status quo. We played cooties, ran away from the touch of the opposite gender with a scream or a holler, as if the contact between a boy and a girl would not only mesh our gender identities together, but destroy them as well.
Today, our generation takes pride in its strides for progress, in its march for change, in its fight for equality – whether it is between the sexualities, races, or genders. Often, the youth of today also discuss the role of feminism, and – whether or not we agree on its ideologies – it is indisputable that the world we live in is largely patriarchal.
Therefore, in a patriarchy, it would be largely assumed that men reap the benefits that women, because of social circumstance, are unable to sow; it would make sense to constantly stress the injustice that women experience as a result of masculinity. But, is it righteous to assume that men hold no negative consequences, despite their gains? Is it true that men do not also struggle because of their gender, and because of restricting gender norms?
“The majority of me growing up, up until I was thirteen years old or so, I was always taught to repress my emotions,” senior Alfredo Hernandez said. “That whole span of thirteen years, I was always taught to not cry.”
Hernandez isn’t the only one who struggles with expressing his emotions. “I don’t talk to anyone when I’m upset,” senior Richie Hong said, “except when I’m angry. Me being angry is a normal thing.”
Being emotionally inept is a trend found in many teenage boys today – and the side effects are undeniable. According to the U.S. Department of Education, boys are more likely than girls to be suspended from school, and are also more likely to be bullied/harassed on the basis of their sex. Additionally, Jennifer Siebel’s 2015 documentary, “The Mask You Live In,” revealed that boys under 17 drink more heavily than any other population group. These statistics indicate the possible toxicity within masculinity.
“Masculinity is a concept that is enforced, but implicitly,” Hernandez said.
Senior Nicholas Logan expressed how masculinity subversively affects the way he lives. “I have to be a man,” he said. “It’s a lot of responsibility. If I’m not the dominant one in the relationship, it’d just be weird. I don’t think I could do it.”
Pent up frustration can result in huge psychological effects in a boy’s mental health. Siebel’s “The Mask You Live In” also revealed that boys in late adolescence are 7 times more likely to die by their own hand.
“Most guys don’t really know how to talk about emotions, so if you approach them with a subject like that, they don’t know how to respond,” Hernandez said. “They want to help, but they don’t really know how, because, when they grew up, it wasn’t standard for them to talk about their emotions.”
In Western culture, it is eerily normal and common for boys to be less expressive about their feelings. “I like when guys show emotions, because it’s easier to communicate,” senior Michelle Mangona said, “but not to the point where everything is dramatized.”
Different cultures also have different expectations for how boys should think or act, which can impose restricting emotional boundaries upon America’s diverse youth. Asian cultures tend to downplay emotional connections between men, which can hinder personal relationships, while Latin American cultures usually exalt machismo, which can pressure boys into feeling like they always need to prove themselves.
The social definition of what it means to be a “man” has not changed much from what it probably meant during the age of our grandparents. When asked what the phrase “man up” means to them, Hernandez, Hong, and Logan all conveyed ideas of hiding one’s own emotions, and of not complaining about one’s own struggles.
It is important to recognize misogyny in our generation, but it is also important to recognize the toxic effects of masculinity and to recognize how we may contribute to this social construct. Without such recognition, we allow masculinity to invalidate and dehumanize men; we allow social norms to deny men the right to feel unashamedly human. Masculinity, femininity, and anything else between or beyond all represent a facet of humanity, and it is necessary for us to stress the importance of all of its many faces.
Fortunately, many people are also beginning to realize this. Senior Darrel Rahhardian said, “When people say ‘man up,’ they mean ‘suck it up’ and ‘go through it,’ but it’s not really the way things are right now. Times have definitely changed. That saying is out of date. It’s still around because it’s been around since forever, but it’s out of date for sure.”