I found this video linked on my facebook feed and had to give my two cents. It’s about the definition of “masculinity” in the US, and how that’s affecting boys as they grow up. This is an issue I feel very strongly about.
I was terribly disappointed in many of the responses the post got. So many people didn’t agree, thinking that the video implied that people should raise their boys to be weak, to not work hard, and to not stand up for themselves. But they got it all wrong. The problem with how most parents in the US raise their boys is that they teach them that they can’t have certain emotions. When did emotions become part of gender roles? Girls are allowed to be sad, empathetic, tender, and kind. They can be shy or brave, excited, anxious, or scared. Boys can be stoic or angry. That’s not a lot of choices. And perhaps when these boys get to be grown up, they can figure out for themselves that it’s ok to have more emotions, but when you’re young, it’s hard to see more than the black and white. And many men never get past those issues.
What really gets to me is how different our perception of a “strong woman” and a “strong man” are. A strong woman feels many complex emotions, but she uses these emotions to fuel her determination to improve things. She feels sad, then picks up the pieces, more determined than ever to move on and overcome what’s happened to her. These emotions, and the experiences that cause them, are teaching tools for her. They don’t stop her from her goal of becoming a better, stronger person.
A strong man, on the other hand, never allows himself to be sad or scared. He’s somehow “too strong” for those emotions, supposedly immune to them. He can’t discuss pain that he has inside him for fear of looking weak. So any emotions other than anger are pushed deep down inside him, never to see the light of day. But they’re never gone. They just tear at him inside.
Why can’t we teach our boys that they are allowed to feel emotions? They’ll have them whether we acknowledge them or not. They shouldn’t have to feel guilty about feeling. And we can still teach them to be “strong” if we redefine what that is for a man. I strive to teach boys that everyone has emotions, and that’s completely healthy. I teach them that though they can’t control their emotions, they can control how they react to them. I teach them that even when something gets hard, you have to be determined to follow through. I teach them that every time you challenge yourself, you become a better person. I teach them to be kind, to empathize, and also to stand up for yourself when you need to. “Strength” isn’t ignoring the things you feel and pretending you don’t care. Strength is feeling every emotion, but not letting them overcome you.