A new documentary brought by the MissRepresentation movement is aiming to explore “toxic masculinity”, disguising certain soft emotions and as a result internalizing toughness as an inherently male identity. While I think the lady making the films tries a bit too hard (“join us in this movement!!”), there is definitely something to be said for the ways in which boys grow up in Western cultures feeling as though they often have to hide their emotions, and it perpetuates the stigma of expressing oneself as weak and by association, feminine.
The snippet of the documentary illustrates that boys grow up alienated from their feelings and are taught to think of traits like compassion and sensitivity as undesirable. The video touches on a very central point: the way in which male insecurity plays out in society is very concealed. We constantly hear about the young women that fall victim to social pressures about their appearances and attractiveness, but we don’t very often hear about the ways in which young men are pressured to cultivate an ideal masculinity that centres on directly opposing femininity.
I’m going to make it very clear that this post is a short opinion piece, no real research or cultural investigation at all on my part today. However I think that I make a valid point when I say that Generation Y is possibly the most conflicted generation of all: gender roles are changing at a light-speed pace. I think quite a bit about my parents marriage in comparison to my own current relationship. At the age my boyfriend and I are now exactly–22 and 25–my parents had just gotten engaged. This was 28 years ago. At this point in my life as important as my relationship is to me, I am by no means even close to that sort of commitment. I am only just completing my undergraduate degree this year, and figuring out my career goals. My boyfriend is in the opposite boat: he’s doing well on the job front, while slightly unsure of his educational aspirations.
30 years ago, he wouldn’t have to be thinking about his education, and I wouldn’t have to worry about finding a job; we would probably be close to getting married and purchasing a home. I think the main reason why young men are growing up unhappy, feeling isolated and concealing their emotions is because gender and career roles have changed, and men in their twenties are now conflicted about their place in the world.
Think about it: at one point in time gender relations were fairly simple and clear cut. Man was the provider, woman was the housekeeper. It was certainly this way in my household for a while. Although the modern day change of double income is a positive one, it complicates the relationships young men and women have with each other. The man who is interested in equality is supposed to simultaneously be the income provider AND the housekeeper/child-rearer, splitting these responsibilities equally with his female partner. He is supposed to be sensitive and compassionate, yet simultaneously manly and tough.
Young men also have to navigate many relatively new contradictions: they have to be there to care for a child when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, but they also have to be supportive of a young woman who chooses abortion because even though they both created the child, it is the woman’s body. Young men are pressured to be gentlemen and open doors, buy flowers and extravagant dinners without receiving anything in return but also have to engage in what was previously allotted to women as their domain: cooking and cleaning.
I’m not saying that I don’t believe men shouldn’t be taking equal responsibility for these things but what I am saying is that young men grow up confused about where they now stand in society. They still aren’t allowed the female emotions and courtesies but are expected to now carry out traditionally feminine duties.
It’s hard to overcome a historical dichotomy of masculinity vs femininity when the culture we live in still demands outdated and unrealistic expectations of young men while also denying young women the chance to realize their own emotions as mechanisms of strength. As our society places more and more emphasis on professionalism and the separation of work and home, we will continue to see a trend of any kind of emotional display as negative and feminine in the same vein, which ultimately hurts both men and women.