by Ella Deignan
The social stigma of men’s masculinity, created and upheld by lockerroom talk, paternal pressures (mental+physical abuse), and women’s dependency on men leave many men with little space, internally and externally, to show vulnerability. In The Atlantic’s The Miseducation of American Boys, Peggy Orenstein writes on multiple factors that lead to boys defining moments of their masculinity- the societal childhood suppression of emotions, the one-ups in conversations with the boys, and the bizarre, uncomfortable relationships many boys have with their fathers. Orenstein writes, “Today many parents are unsure of how to raise a boy, what sort of masculinity to encourage in their sons. But as I learned from talking with boys themselves, the culture of adolescence, which fuses hyperrationality with domination, sexual conquest, and a glorification of male violence, fills the void.” Many parents continuously instill, either consciously or subconsciously, this toxic masculinity that has dominated society since we can remember. Either the common physical abuse or emotional abuse from fathers (Both evident in The Work) is the first teaching to a son. The traditional teachings of parenting brave, strong boys who one day can provide for their wives and children is just as wrong as teaching little girls to be good housewives. The simple answer many are continuing to push for these days: Why can’t we teach our children to be good humans?
While women have worked to redefine feminity and create a movement in amplifying women’s voices and rights, men have not been given the same opportunities to reform suppressive aspects of masculinity. With the continuous pitting of men vs. the feminist movement, or the suppression of male vulnerability– whether from other men or from women– men have not been given space in society to show any sort of vulnerability, which ultimately perpetuates more internal toxic masculinity (domination, aggression- possibly forms of prejudice).
Justin Baldoni, a well-known actor who played Rafael in Jane the Virgin– and other macho-masculine characters, challenged this stigma, or status-quo, of masculinity in his Ted Talk titled Why I’m done trying to be “man enough”. He asks men to take these traits of masculinity –Strength, toughness, bravery– and “redefine what those mean and use them to explore our hearts”. While we can partially blame this continuation of toxic masculinity, and the suppression of male vulnerability on society’s lack of support– to end this cycle, the challenge is truly up to men.
I’ll leave you with this: in the words of Baldoni…“Men, are you brave enough to be vulnerable?”