I’ve talked a lot in the last couple of weeks about the hassles and hazards of being a woman in 2017. While those articles are still useful for Brock’s male identifying bunch, they didn’t address the specific issues men might encounter while just trying to get the world to remember that they are only human.
There is a very pervasive myth that makes some men treat women poorly, attack gay people, and commit various acts of violence, among other things. That myth is masculinity. What does it mean to be a man? Which qualities do you have to possess in order to be considered one? What are you if you don’t have those qualities? Part of toxic masculinity is the idea that the worst thing a man can be called is a woman. It devalues femininity, putting it as the bad side of a dichotomy that doesn’t really exist. Good versus evil. Light versus dark. Male versus female. Men are good and women are bad, making any man who expresses ‘femininity’ a bad man.
Just like women, men have this enormous pressure on them every single day to perform their gender properly. It’s starts young. Baby boys are referred to as a ‘ladies man’ or put in onesies that sexualize their mothers’ breasts. The first thing people want to know about a baby is whether it’s a boy or a girl so they know what to buy it. Boys wear blue and have clothes with little dump trucks all over them. They don’t play with dolls and they certainly aren’t allowed to have the princess toy that comes with their McDonald’s happy meal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a child’s mother take the toy back to the counter and say “Do you have any boy toys instead?”
When it comes time for these little men to grow up and get jobs, the myth rears its ugly head again. ‘Steve is a nurse’ is not correct. Steve is a male nurse. Steve is a male stripper. Steve is a male nanny. These jobs are either sex work or caring for people, and those types of fields are specifically thought of as feminine. You have to point out that Steve is a ‘male’ because nobody would guess based on his occupation. Men are taught that their jobs say a lot about them. If their job is too feminine, it says that they are feminine.
Masculine jobs involve high power, high stress, and high pay cheques. This leads some men to attempt to keep women out of those positions, simply because of the idea that if your boss is a woman, you are less of a man. Also, if your female partner makes more money than you, you are less of a man.
That’s where the idea that a man can ‘babysit’ his own children came from. Taking care of kids is a woman’s job, according to the masculinity myth. Men don’t have to do it except as a favour to women. The idea of the house wife/breadwinner dichotomy is so pervasive that in 1983 a movie called Mr. Mom came out about the ‘role reversal’ a man when through when he was laid off from his job and had to be a stay-at-home dad, a job he had no idea how to do because he’d never had to take care of his own children before. The movie was meant to be funny, but that’s half the damage. The film has been followed up with others that represent the same thing in a more modern setting. The 2003 film Daddy Day Care shows how ‘funny’ it is when men decide to take on the role of child care, and 2012’s What To Expect When You’re Expecting which involves a group of men walking through a park discussing how their lives are over now that they are fathers.
Another part of the myth is the masculine look. While it doesn’t seem to be strictly defined what clothing is masculine, it has definitely decided what is not. Flower patterns, pink tones, skirts, and makeup all fall into the ‘feminine’ category, and therefore any man who chooses them does too. If a man wears makeup, everyone assumes he’s gay — because gay is feminine, of course — and a skirt or high heels push him into the ‘woman’ category. This gives other men the task of proving their own masculinity by punishing the ‘feminine’ man with name calling, ostracizing, and sometimes even physical violence. Photos circulate online of young boys in skirts or wearing makeup with the tag line “would you let your son go out like this?” Some of the answers are just disturbing. Some people talk about disowning their male children for wearing makeup or even dressing up as a princess or female superhero for Halloween. Teen boys who do makeup tutorials deal with ridiculous comments on their videos that include gay slurs and death threats.
The thing about gender is it’s all in your head. Gender roles — the ideas of masculinity and femininity themselves — are social constructs that in the end don’t really mean much when it comes to clothing and feeding ourselves and taking care of our families. Putting pressure on men to believe in the myth of masculinity is not only damaging to those men themselves, but dangerous for society as a whole. To perform their masculinity, some men will go to any lengths. Remember that violence and physical power are thought of as masculine too. This kind of masculinity keeps white, cis, straight men as the standard. This makes the pressure to perform masculinity even more unattainable for racialized, rans, or queer men. How about instead of asking men to be ‘manly’ we ask them to be themselves. If you are a man, what you do is manly. Nobody else gets to decide.
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