It all starts from birth. “Dolls are for girls, play with those trucks boy” …… “He ain’t wearing no pink” ……” You better stop crying like a little girl!”. Adults immediately begin to project their own preferences and internalized prejudices onto these blank canvases robbing them of their individuality. Young boys grow up within this toxic culture of masculinity where they are treated like men before they can fully enjoy their childhood. By nature, young boys bump into things, fall and cry yet somehow are expected to suck it up, bottling in obvious pain, “You a big boy now huh?”. In return we release that pent-up frustration and anger at whoever we perceive to be weak including bullying other kids, rebelling against authority and the mistreatment of women especially. Expected to be the man of the house perpetuates patriarchy by essentially telling them “You are the most capable person in this house when I’m gone”. This encourages boys to view woman as docile or dependent on a man which down the line contributes to the objectification of woman and emotionally abusing them. These gender stereotypes ingrained into a kid’s mind at an early age slowly define what kind of person he will grow to be possibly leading him into his own destruction for the sake of masculinity. Fathers who grew up with similar childhoods pass down these same problematic life lessons under the illusion that it will make their son(s) stronger, better prepared for life when it has quite the opposite effect.
It’s evident when you look around that many men weren’t taught emotional intelligence from an early age by how we go around mentally damaging others (especially women) without contrition. Many carry emotional baggage, unaware of how to process it, no sense of conflict management. This does nothing but breed dangerous grounds where men feel tense around people ready to lash out. Guys ice-grill each other, mentally prepared to test each other’s fearlessness, meanwhile catcalling at women only to respond brazenly or violently if their advances are turned down. Coldhearted and empty, we fill ourselves with vices of self-medication, temporary sexual conquests and surround ourselves with friends with similar exploits. We are taught by society that showing emotion makes you less of a man so we keep everything in private for fear of showing weakness. We’re told nobody respects or desires a weak (or sensitive) man so we remain stoic. We cling to those we can express our emotions in private to possibly leading us into creating toxic relationships. What we can perceive to be love could just the first time anyone ever made us comfortable to effectively communicate our inner thoughts and feelings and thus we cling to that person. Some men, out of fear of losing this source of therapy will go to extremes like mental, emotional and physical abuse to keep said person around which causes domestic and intimate partner violence to be one of the leading causes of death for women at around 4,000 total per year.
Another facet of this toxic culture is homophobia and transphobia and how fragile masculinity is. Due to our upbringing in a gender binary society, we view everything as either manly or feminine with clear distaste for anything that may even suggest that we aren’t the manliest. You see it in the supermarket aisles, where you can find car engine oil scented body wash, men’s toothpaste (because we have “special” teeth I suppose) and men loofahs in the shape of footballs. We obsess with sports and binge drink and listen to the wildest music as constant reassurance of our masculinity by surrounding ourselves in it. We repeat phrases like “Pause” or “That’s gay” as behavioral stop signs for when things are going down a road that makes us uncomfortable making homophobia/transphobia easily transferable within this cult of patriarchy. This discomfort generates fuel for hate crimes and LGBTQIA murders with 2015 having the highest number of transgender people being killed than any year on record for example. Men can go years without telling their close male friends that they love them or even hugging them out of fear that their sexuality may become questionable. We tend to hold onto this outdated idea of what makes you a man and it’s clear the toxicity of forced masculinity affects everyone.
As Valentine’s Day approaches it’s important that men especially learn and practice self-love before attempting to love a partner. Boys who haven’t been shown how to love themselves can do nothing but harm others as they get older. We uphold this atmosphere where it’s taboo to be in tune with your emotions and convinced ourselves that being sensitive is weak when really it takes a strong person to be just that in a world full of man candles and “Bro code” culture. Out of selfishness, we perpetuate the disrespect for our women in addition to our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters who really need our support given their double minority identities. We have only ever been more loyal to other men ironically and our community suffers because of it. We promote rape culture and slut-shaming while practicing colorism in our idolizing of light-skinned (or “exotic”) women and yet still expect women to contort themselves to fit our ideal requirements. Many of us don’t seem to be actively working on becoming better men or holding each other accountable for the mistreatment of others. We laugh and joke with guys who go home and possibly beat their girlfriends and we retweet each other berating women whom we decided hasn’t earned our respect as a human being. We went from young bullies to grown bullies which is toxic given the fact that many have kids of their own to raise. For 2017, I ask that we as men task ourselves and each other with the duty to be decent human beings capable of showing healthy love, not just for ourselves but for others in the community especially women. Redefine what it means to be a man.