Ever since I was a kid, I have been constantly reminded – mostly by male figures – that there are three-word sentences that I should keep in mind throughout my life. Those are, for instance, be a man or men don’t cry. It was always this constant pressure to be the male stereotype and to keep the masculine ideals high that eventually it was inevitable to separate from that negative atmosphere. What is it that makes society be so harsh on male teens in order to shape them like the men it wants them to be?
One of the first things that came to mind was the concept of religion. As seen in many religious doctrines, a man has to be a strong, fearless, emotionless person. His masculinity depends on how well he can fit in the stereotypical model of being a man, all according to the holy book of the religion he follows. Some religions can be so strict about masculinity that even crying or avoiding a fight can be seen as negative factors in the whole masculine spectrum. Not only that, but society often misuses these doctrines and use them in their favor, in order to punish those who are supposedly not following the rules of their religion. The relationship between religion and masculinity has become such a controversial correlation that it has affected the way we see males as a whole.
Another big contributor to the misconception of masculinity is the environment in which one lives in. There is this TED Talk by Tony Porter called “A Call to Men”, which describes the struggle against masculinity that he had when growing up, mainly because he was taught, and even forced, to act like the man everyone wanted him to be. He was told that men have superiority over women, and that it was disgraceful if a man cries in front of women. On a more personal view, I – coming from a conservative, patriarchal country – was taught that men have to also dominate over women, and we have to have the last word in an argument and we have to be the head of the house if we want to bring honor to our family. There is a lot of pressure when it comes to masculinity inside the family and your environment, and a lot of men encounter the debate of whether they should follow their family’s “code of honor” or if they should break away from that incarcerating environment.
Lastly, I would like to focus on the misconception of masculinity looking at society as a whole. By this, I mean what society thinks a man should look like, act like, and the activities that a man should do. Every man has a role model to whom they aspire to; it may be a soccer player, a boxer, or even an actor. It is strange, though, for a man to say that a ballet dancer or a model is their role model. The reason is the same as it has been discussed in the previous paragraphs; masculinity is defined by the strength, your sex appeal, or your “macho” levels, not by your sensuality, your elegance or your dance moves. Furthermore, the heterosexuality of a man can be severely damaged if a straight man is in the fashion or dance business. This is because society has created a stereotype for straight men so that they can only be in certain areas of work or aspire a certain life in order so that they can still be recognized as “straight”. Not only at a professional level, but if you have a friend that is gay, members of society could automatically assume that you are gay as well. Straight men can only do stereotypical straight things and interact with other straight men so that they can be straight. If not, they are facing a future with harsh criticism and misunderstanding.
If we are living in the 21st century, a point in time where many barriers have been broken, from women representation to racial equality to recently LGBT rights, why can’t we also redefine the concept of being a man? A ballet dancer can be as straight as a soccer player, and an american football player can be as gay as a fashion designer. Men shouldn’t be pressured into being the strong, fearless, emotionless man that they are expected to be. Will we be able to break from that negative environment that patriarchies and society have created throughout the centuries, or are we going to continue to be the slaves of a world were masculine stereotypes have ruled over vanguardist feelings?
To keep understanding the struggle in which men are put into every day throughout the world, I recommend watching the documentary “The Mask You Live In”, directed by Jennifer Siebel-Newson, who also directed “MissRepresentation”, and truly expresses all explained in this article and more.