International Men’s Day: Positive masculinity is the way forward
In the seemingly unending fight for equality, people sometimes tend to forget that the patriarchy and its resultant belief systems are toxic for men as well and not just women. Boys are consistently fed statements like:
“Boys don’t cry
Be a man
Boys don’t wear pink
Boys don’t play with dolls”
And the ever-so-toxic,
“Boys will be boys”
And then the world is surprised when these same boys grow up with problematic tendencies way into their adulthood.
So, this International Men’s Day let’s examine what this does to boys who grow up into men and what needs to be done to correct it at the start so that every boy has the chance to break out of the gender roles that toxic masculinity assigns and moves towards positive masculinity that will in turn help build an equitable world.
What is toxic masculinity?
Toxic Masculinity is a term that explains how many cultural beliefs and behaviours stick to gender stereotypes and fixed gender roles and thereby disallow young boys from experiencing and expressing emotions or themselves in an open and honest way. Because of this boys grow up with the false perception that they need to be macho and have no room for anything else.
The language one uses matters because when you say things like those stated above, it tends to communicate to young minds that they need to repress their emotions. It uses shame as a motivator, which in turn leads to using aggression to communicate and the normalising of problematic behaviour.
If people start teaching boys to be accountable for their actions instead of condoning bad behaviour under the umbrella of boys being boys, then we can make movements towards positive masculinity.
What society and parents need to do first and foremost is recognise the deeply ingrained biases and cultural beliefs that everyone has grown up with and recognise and admit that therein lays the base of the problem. Once, acknowledged, it becomes easier to catch themselves perpetuating any particular gender stereotype and question how it can be done differently.
What does positive masculinity look like?
Instead of coming off as emotionally repressed individuals that have a problem forming connections, caring and communication, a male displaying positive masculinity will be willing and able to do all these things because he has understood that it is human to display emotion and that softness does not necessarily equate to weakness.
When men and women both are able to deconstruct what it means to “be a man” and not equate it to running away from the expression of feelings and emotions, it automatically results in a man who is comfortable with himself and does not have any kind of emotional vacuum to fill with aggression or power displays.
Positive masculinity looks like men being accountable for their actions, owning their mistakes and holding other men accountable as well. It’s not just one or the other. By being able to introspect, a man might identify issues with his own behaviour and be able to correct it, and taking that one step further, he also wouldn’t then shy away from calling out another man, whether friend, family or otherwise on their problematic behaviour as well.
Freedom and responsibility
All of this comes from the openness to learning and understanding about the other side’s experience by listening to them about their experiences with toxic behaviours and the resultant effects whilst resisting the urge to mansplain issues that they have no direct experience in.
But also, as much as it is about learning, it is equally about unlearning certain things that everyone has been brought up to believe because these patriarchal misogynistic values are so pervasive and ingrained in everyone.
Possibly the biggest indicator of positive masculinity is when men can accept all people who identify as male and understand that gender is a spectrum and just because someone doesn’t conform to your ideal of what masculinity is or what being male is, doesn’t make them any less male themselves. A man can cry, wear pink, throw a ball however they want to and still be male.
Just as we have reached a state in 2020 where we are starting to teach girls that they can be whatever they want to be, we must ensure that we give boys the same freedom to feel free, express openly and not be afraid to always challenge existing gender norms.
Edited by Asha Chowdary
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)