by Sage Marmet
Peggy Orenstein’s article “The Miseducation of the American Boy” unpacks narrowing male archetypes, revealing the ways in which the youngest generation of men feel those affects. When growing up, boys learn that it is socially acceptable to objectify women, casually use offensive language in everyday lexicon, and joke about sensitive–and sometimes triggering–topics. They are discouraged from showing emotions and in a moment of “weakness” their manliness is certainly questioned. The upcoming men of today were cultivated within this toxic environment, further perpetuating a dangerous male culture.
It’s difficult, though, because men are not the only ones who have a shifted perception of what constitutes maleness. Orenstein explains that “my first reaction was Oh no. It was totally unfair, a scarlet letter of personal bias… if I had closed by eyes and described the boy I imagined would never open up to me, it would have been him.” She, too, succumbs to her own predisposed biases about how men act, according to society’s expectations.
The article’s sections, “Learning to ‘Man Up,'” “Bro Culture,” “W’s and L’s,” and “How Misogyny Becomes ‘Hilarious,'” call upon those preconceived societal norms for manhood. Our culture thrives on narrowing what it means to be masculine, limiting men to feel forced to act a certain way. Whether or not young men actually want to act within that expectation, social pressure coaxes them into thinking that is what “acting like a man” is.
Toxic male culture teaches men that harmful actions are socially acceptable and encouraged. How can we possibly deconstruct this harmful construct, healing our notion of what constitutes male norms? Just as Orenstein listens to them, speaks with them, and learns from the upcoming men of our society, we need to take a step back and listen to their experiences. We need to demonstrate that it is ok to show their emotions, it is acceptable to stand up against misogyny, and that they are not expected to showcase their sexuality, pedestalizing their sexual “conquests” and objectifying the women involved. Today’s men define themselves through violence, harmful language, misogynistic ideas, and emotional indifference, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
We–as female bystanders–cannot settle for reconciliation; we cannot submit to their toxic control; we cannot forget that they are humans too. If we are unable to feel empathy for the men hopelessly caught up in a broken system, how can we ever unify, showing them that toxicity isn’t the only way?