Despite how much awareness has been raised about the issue, the fight to end toxic masculinity is still very much ongoing. As we, little by little, learn to adjust our thinking to go beyond the cultural norms and toxic behavior we’re used to, we also need to learn how to adjust more than our thoughts and opinions. It’s no longer simply a matter of awareness, but a matter of action. The actions we take and things we might say that unintentionally and subconsciously continue to reinforce sexist ideas in the backs of all of our unfortunate minds, need to be actively worked against.
So, take this as a reminder, a call to action, or maybe a mini-rant that simply aims to jog you from your passivity. Just a little attempt to perhaps shed some light on a few phrases that we all need to stop using when we talk to (other) guys. Here goes.
- “Man up”
Starting with this classic, we’ve got the implication that, in every context it’s being used, the given (often false) portrayal of masculinity is a virtue. That to become a man is a quality to strive for – one that adds to your points as a human being. Now I hate to break it to you, but no matter the situation, this is simply not the case. Not because there’s no difference between a boy and a man, but because we never use this phrase as a means to direct towards the maturity and responsibility of growing up – we use it almost exclusively to discourage guys from having any sort of emotional reaction to whatever they’re going through, and that is truly a prime example of what toxic masculinity entails.
2. “Suck it up”
Very similar to being told to “man up” except this time you’re directly suppressing the emotion. I won’t even begin to go into how damaging this can be for a boy to be consistently told from a young age, but let’s just say it’s not a coincidence that most middle-aged men you know will probably have anger issues – or at least more men than women. Emotional repression is a serious matter and it is psychologically damaging on the long run.
3. “Men/Boys don’t cry”
Again with the emotional suppression – it’s almost like we’re beginning to notice a pattern here. Now yes, I understand how important it is to be able to stay calm in emergencies and tough situations and to be able to handle things logically and not let emotions cloud your judgment, but that does not mean completely shutting down – or rather bottling up – any semblance of emotion that is trying to exist. Besides, how many situations will a guy experience that are emergencies of this scale? And why is it that we expect the guy to rescue the day if such a situation were to occur?
That’s all not to mention, of course, the fact that there is inherently nothing wrong with crying. No, it’s not a sign of weakness, and no, it doesn’t make you any “less of a man” whatever that means. But seriously, what does that even mean? Crying is a natural process/reaction to pain or grief or sadness, in fact, it is healing in many cases.
4. “Boys will be boys”
Before you try to oppose this in your head while picturing all the memes of guys just doing stupid shit (which happens to be harmless), and a caption about “the boys,” do remember that there are the memes. You know, the memes made to poke fun at the phrase without actually using it in a toxic manner, so no, there’s nothing wrong with that at all. What is pretty problematic, though, is using the fact that a guy is a guy to excuse any kind of actually harmful behavior.
This is particularly tricky when it’s not even being said to guys, because you’re just slowly allowing yourself, and people around you, to be used to this way of thinking, even if they disagree with it. You can find something wrong but accept it as true simply because of the “state of the world” or you can try your best to play an active part in changing whatever tiny part of the world you have influence over, starting, at least, with your own words. Boys will be held accountable for their actions. Boys will not be allowed to oppress or harm or abuse anyone because they are boys.
5. “Stop acting like a girl”
In what I consider to be the epitome of glaringly meaningless stereotypes, we somehow manage to, in just one mere statement, associate femininity with being overly emotional, associate being emotional with being weak, and then shame guys for being either. A true achievement and force of pure negativity for all of humankind.
6. “A real man doesn’t need help”
As a matter of fact, any real man, as all men equally are, will often require help. This sort of comes with being human, which I’d say isn’t usually something to be ashamed of.
There’s probably more to say – or rather to stop saying, but I think by now my point will have made it across.
Be mindful of the words you use. It takes a tremendous amount of awareness and persistence to unlearn certain mental biases and phrases that we’re so used to, especially when we convince ourselves they’re harmless, but the first step to making progress is acknowledging that they aren’t. From then on, as with most things in life, practice makes perfect.