Is The Wave of Girl Power Forgetting About Boys?

One of the most noteworthy progressive movements of the 20th century that continues to thrive today is the feminist movement: the crusade to improve the station of women politically and socially. Yet, in this wave of women’s empowerment, what if we’re forgetting about the other 50% of humans on this earth? Men. Of course, it sounds absurd to say “What about the men?” as males have been running the earth for the better part of its 4.5 billion years of existence (that is, until Beyonce single-handedly dismantled the patriarchy in 2011 with her hit song “Run The World (Girls)”). Though men have been politically privileged since the beginning of time, the emotional toll of being a man in a society that promotes hypermasculinity can be unbearable. This may be why men frequently object to feminism but are wary of explaining their reasoning: “[O]f course women have a justified grievance, but most men believe- and with reason- that their lives are just as bad” (Theroux). The ideal of masculinity in America, the fantasy that a 'real man' is a flannel-wearing, gun-bearing, emotionless being, is socially and emotionally harmful to everyone.

Such extreme masculinity is particularly detrimental to young children’s emotional development. As early as preschool, kids become familiar with the phrase “be a man." On the surface, this age-old idiom may seem like a harmless call of encouragement to “toughen up.” In reality, however, the phrase is more of a call to arms. It tells a young boy that he is not enough; that he needs to evolve into some otherworldly, all-powerful, unfeeling being: a man. This concept places boys in a perpetual cycle of inadequacy that traps them well into their adult years. Because this hypermasculinity can’t be measured, not even by a number of guns owned or scars earned from bar brawls, males are continually forced to prove their masculinity. And how do men prove their manliness in America? They reject anything that is even slightly associated with femininity. This behavior is ingrained in a boy's mind the from the moment he can comprehend language, “and he spends the rest of his life finding women a riddle and a nuisance” (Theroux). What society recognizes as “feminine behavior” --showing emotions like sadness, empathy, or sensitivity-- is truly just human behavior. Emotions, happy or sad, are there to be expressed. Yet, in this hypermasculine world, boys are urged and are eventually accustomed to hiding their emotions. They are told “don’t be a sissy” and “boys don’t cry.” As a boy get older and his emotions remain pent up, his responses to his feelings can be limited to anger, usually in the form of violence.

America’s extreme masculinity inevitably comes with the counterpart of extreme feminization. Young children must make the choice to associate with being a boy (camo, Nerf guns, and sports) or a girl (pink, dolls, cupcakes, sparkles, and more pink). Neuroscientist Dr. Lise Eliot has stated that sex is biological while gender is a social construct expressing masculinity or femininity. It is crucial to note that both masculinity and femininity are on a spectrum and they overlap. Young boys are asked to fill shoes that simply don’t fit and make them insecure in their masculinity and social role. In her essay “Putting Down the Gun,” author Rebecca Walker explains her son’s struggle to fit in with boys at school, There are only two groups of boys, the computer game-playing nerds and the athletes (Walker). Within the boxes children are put into based on their gender, there are increasingly limited compartments and roles for boys to play within society. To compensate for this lack of comfort, boys attempt to emphasize their masculinity and, in the process, suppress their authentic personalities and relationships. As boys get older, intimate friendships with other boys with whom they can express feelings and share struggles with weaken, due to a fear of seeming effeminate in the eyes of other males. “I love you” is unsurprisingly and commonly followed by “no homo.”

Skeptics may claim that the American ideal of manliness is not at fault. They may remark that boys and girls are biologically different, resulting in what they might actually believe is normal male behavior. This is simply not true because the brain is elastic and changes based on experience. There are no genes that make boys stronger or more stoic than girls. Though there is still work to be done, progress has been made to suppress harmful ideals of masculinity and replace them with ideas of openness and acceptance. One such example is #BlackBoyJoy, an empowering movement for black men and boys to express themselves doing what makes them happiest. This trend has aided in eroding the stigma that men shouldn’t show emotion.

America's idealized hypermasculinity promotes unrealistic standards, violence, and the suppression of self-expression. Working to change a culture of high expectations will foster safe learning and growing environments for young boys who will eventually lead the world alongside their female counterparts. Ultimately, children living in an accepting and stereotype-free environment will ultimately make this planet a safer place for people of all genders.

Text by Amanda Gordon
Photo by Bianca Wilson

Works Cited

"Hypermasculinity." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 01 Apr. 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.

The Mask You Live In. Dir. Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Perf. Caroline Heldman. Jennifer Siebel Newsom, 2015. The Mask You Live In. Web. 01 May 2017.

Theroux, Paul. "Being a Man." Sunrise with Seamonsters: Travels and Discoveries, 1964-84. London: Penguin, 2011. N. pag. Print.

Walker, Rebecca. "Putting Down the Gun." Introduction. What Makes a Man: 22 Writers Imagine the Future. New York: Riverhead, 2005. N. pag. Print.

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