Healthy masculinity – what is it and how can we achieve it?
Where do beliefs about gender come from? As with a lot of things that adults have learned, beliefs about gender are heavily influenced by childhood experiences. Traditionally, the messages that boys receive from parents, friends, and media are things like “boys don’t cry,” “boys are not sensitive,” “boys do not play with ‘girl’s toys’ or wear ‘girl’s clothes’,” or “be a man.” The problem with this is that these messages ultimately teach boys to suppress emotions, to keep their struggles, or even preferences to themselves, and to act the “right” way to be accepted in society.
The reality is that being human involves experiences of difficulty, hurt and pain, and when these messages are what boys learn, the way they cope is to either suppress honest emotions or express the one emotion that this toxic masculinity will allow them to show – anger. As a result, because men have not typically learned how to express anger, or other emotions, safely and healthily, the expression often comes out as physical or verbal aggression, violence or control. This is the danger of toxic masculinity continuing to go unchecked and why it is so important to take a closer look at what a more healthy masculinity can mean.
So instead, why not challenge some of these lessons we were taught as kids and start to wonder what difference it would make in your own life or the life of your children to begin to push back. What could it be like to raise a generation of men who, from an early age, were taught to be in tune with their emotions and how to express them safely without the use of aggression or violence? What if boys learned to engage in genuine and honest relationships without worrying about appearing weak, or like less of a “man”? We have the opportunity to teach our young men that they do not need to fit into the toxic masculinity mold, but rather can be tender, gentle, emotional, loving, open and vulnerable.
Thus I have a challenge for you: (1) ask yourself whether you have ever felt the need to perform a certain way because of your gender; (2) deeply consider the ways it has impacted your life; and (3) consider whether you can make efforts to live, learn, grow and teach in pursuit of a healthier masculinity, contributing to a world with less hurt and pain caused by men.
Learn more about ending gender-based violence by visiting: www.mentoraction.org
Opinion Submission by Lance Haverkamp – Chair, MentorAction