Men are hurt. It doesn’t justify their actions, and I’m certainly not making excuses for them. But they’re hurt, and we need to talk about it.
Most of the campaigns I see that focus on breaking down gender stereotypes typically refer to teaching girls that they are just as good as boys. That they can be anyone or anything they want to be.
This TV spot from Bumble is a favorite of mine:
I hope it’s obvious I support this message. And I will do everything in my power to raise my son to know that boys are no better than girls. That they’re powerful. That they’re equal.
But there’s another crisis happening as a result of gender stereotypes, and we have to start paying more attention to it: men are hurt.
From a very young age, boys are taught the importance of masculinity. That they must be tough. Have courage. Be protectors. That it’s not okay to be weak, or to show emotion.
The effects of this are profound, both mentally and physically.
In a recent study in the American Journal of Men’s Health, four researchers examined the relationship between rigid adherence to the norms of masculinity (which broadly include “dominance, violence, anti-femininity, emotional control, and self reliance”) and undesirable outcomes like “negative emotionality, including depression, aggression and hostility, and poorer overall psychological well-being.”John D. Rich, Jr., Ph.D., Strict Gender Roles Hurt Men, Too
A lot of the men in my life are very kind people who are well-liked and have wide networks of acquaintances. But they don’t have many close male friends. I started thinking about the reason behind this and realized, how could they? If you don’t know how to process your emotions, or truly open up to someone, then it’s impossible to develop deep, meaningful friendships.
The other day, a now-former co-worker of Chandler’s got laid off. I asked if he had texted him, and he said no.
“What would I say?” he asked.
“That you heard the news and you’re sorry, or something to that effect,” I responded.
He texted the guy, and I could tell by his response (which Chandler read to me) that it meant a lot to him. I could also tell Chandler was glad he did it.
I think a lot of times men think that expressing their emotions has to be this big, grand gesture with tears and whaling hands. But in actuality, it’s just putting words and/or actions to your existing feelings. In Chandler’s case, he did feel bad the guy was laid off. I know, because he told me. But he still wasn’t sure what to say.
Men — and boys — are trapped by a model of masculinity that clearly isn’t working. It’s hurting them and it’s hurting the rest of us, too.
So, where do we go from here? How do we fix this problem?
The truth is, I don’t know. I know that raising my son without strict gender norms will help. I know encouraging him to share his feelings will help. I know that he will learn by example from his dad.
But he’s just one kid.
Men are hurt and it’s time for us to talk about it. Talking about it sure doesn’t feel like much, but it’s a start. And starting is far better than standing still.