As a member of the Engaging Men Committee, I teach youth how masculinity plays out in our society and why masculinity is important to understand if we want to change ourselves and the social rules. As it is, many of the youth I teach too often ask, “Why can’t we just let everyone be who they want to be?”
It’s more complicated than that. Society can seek to destroy you if you do not follow the rules of your gender. Being different can cause people to belittle your existence, wanting to change you as if something is naturally wrong with you.
First of all, let’s talk about masculinity. According to Ayana Murakami-Freeberg, a gender, sexuality and women's studies major at University of California, Davis, masculinity is a societal understanding of characteristics that are usually associated to men. It is socially constructed and portrays what traits every male should have.
Let’s take the saying “to be a man,” as an example. Society says you have to act tough, strong, and emotionless in order to be considered a man. Boston Latin Academy junior, Tyler Vantha, notes that men are generally characterized as “Strong, large, and violent. They usually take action [rather than] speak words and are biologically stronger.”
But, not all of us can act “like a man.” Not everyone who identifies as a man has these traits or characteristics. On the other hand, others take this idea of masculinity to a toxic level.
What is toxic masculinity? Murakami-Freeberg describes toxic masculinity as when “masculine traits are used to control and gain power over others.” Women can be mistreated due to toxic masculinity. Often, the media portrays women as “sex objects,” lesser, or even submissive, while men are portrayed as superior and dominant. Both women and men are affected by toxic masculinity, as men are taught to stick with society's rules of what it means “to be a man.” Men have to show no emotion whatsoever, wearing a form of “mask.” As a result, men are less able to seek and receive emotional support.
While gender in general is a very complicated idea, we should not let society control us. Decide what you want to be, rather than be shaped by what others think. Jonathan Duque, a junior at the John D. O’Bryant said, “We should treat everyone the same and incorporate everyone by who they are, instead of their gender roles.”
It is okay to follow the path of masculinity, but not to take on traits that are toxic and oppressive to others. If males do not act as they are expected, we should accept them for who they choose to be - not make assumptions based on the way they act. This is a new generation and we need to change the way that society views gender roles. We can make the change if we are willing and educated.