What defines a man? In other words, what makes a man, a man? Since the dawn of civilization, societies have had men conform to a definition of masculinity that enforces stoicism, aggression, and many other negative qualities that led to the creation of emotionally-stunted men who harm not just themselves but also everyone around them.
Regardless of who you are and what you do, if you were a man growing up in the middle east, chances are, you’ve been subjected to phrases such as “Man up,” “Boys don’t cry,” and “Stop acting like a girl” at least once in your life. While these remarks may seem insignificant, they are, believe it or not, a big part of the reason why toxic masculinity is so prevalent in today’s society.
Phrases like “boys don’t cry” suggest that men cannot feel hurt or express their emotions, preventing them from seeking help when needed. They imply that the only acceptable way of expressing one’s feelings is through anger or physical action, which cannot be further from the truth. They also shame being vulnerable, suggesting that strength is having physical force or being insensitive when, in fact, it takes the strongest of people to rely on others and open up to them.
As you can probably tell, the existing definition of manhood is, in fact, highly problematic. Men are more likely to develop substance abuse, suffer from depression, go to jail, and commit almost two-thirds of suicides globally.
Aside from harming themselves, individuals who identify with this toxic definition of masculinity harm other people too. A common example of said harm is oppression and violence against women, which, at its very core, is a product of the socio-cultural depiction of manhood. Sayings such as “boys will be boys” use gender norms as a petty excuse for intolerable behavior towards women. Those phrases allow the continuity of such actions by blaming victims for “overreacting” instead of targeting the perpetrators. This means that the existing definition of “Manhood” literally encourages men to oppress and violate women’s rights.
With all that said, it is high time we start reevaluating what masculinity stands for and removing its negative aspects. We owe it to ourselves to change the image of what a strong male is supposed to look like. Despite what we’ve been taught, being a man is not about being “tough all the time”; it’s about being honest, reliable, and dependable. Certain parts of masculinity are positive, but certain parts are not suitable for men or society as a whole, and those negative aspects of masculinity have to be challenged and gotten rid of.
Masculinity in the twenty-first century has to prize equality and emotional literacy the same way that strength and stoicism have been celebrated in the past. Today, there are many pathways young boys can take that should all be seen as equally masculine. Ultimately, we have to accept that there is no single definitive answer to what being a man is and that the old-fashioned stoic aggressive “man” is not necessarily all that boys could aspire to be in the future.