I’m a big advocate for equal rights. It’s often said that equal rights for others doesn’t mean fewer rights for you, and I feel that wholeheartedly. In this fight for equality, we tend to focus on women, because let’s face it, guys, we’ve been feeding women a crap sandwich for a long time now.
Equal rights for others doesn’t mean fewer rights for you. It’s not pie! — author unknown
We force women to deal with a lot more stuff than we as men have to deal with. Admit it! But, that’s not what’s stuck in my brain trap today. I heard a story on Facebook about a face painter at a carnival. She talked about a little boy who wanted a butterfly on his face. His mother threw a fit and forced the painter to put a skull and crossbones instead.
It got me thinking about my whole life and the times I’ve come face to face with toxic masculinity.
The Male Standard
My parents were wonderful. I was a weird kid, no doubt about it. I was emotional — I cried a lot. I tended to keep to myself. I didn’t need other kids to play with; my imagination was good enough.
I played with anything I could get my little hands on. Sure, I played war and shot other little boys in the cornfield, but more often than not, I would be at the next-door neighbor’s house playing with Barbies. I’ve attended quite a few tea parties in my life, and girls have used me as a model for their makeup skills.
None of this seemed weird to me because my parents never forced masculinity on me. If I wanted to wear a pink shirt, I wore it. I remember my dad had the most beautiful pink dress shirt and tie. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to wear it.
Pink is a lovely color and perfectly acceptable for a male to wear.
I cried at the drop of a hat. I did it everywhere — at home or in public. Never once did my dad seem embarrassed by a son who expressed emotions differently. He never told me to shut up.
At home, I didn’t have to conform.
But school was different. The kids bullied me because I preferred to read instead of playing football at recess. The boys ragged me on because I got good grades — most of the top students were girls.
My family couldn’t afford to buy me designer jeans and name-brand t-shirts. In the 3rd grade, my favorite outfit was maroon bellbottoms and a disco shirt.
It’s hard to remember how many times they called me a fag. Yes, in third grade.
The teasing got to be too much for me, and I tried my best to conform. I sometimes played baseball and football, but I never liked it, and the kids never picked me because I sucked. I tried to be like other boys and chase after the girls in my class, but I really just wanted to have friends.
I kept getting good grades because I refused to dumb myself down for people I never liked anyway.
As I got older, the pressure to be a “real man” intensified. Other guys loved watching sports and expected me to as well, but I hated sports with a passion. I couldn’t think of anything worse to do with my time.
Put me on the couch with a book, and I was happy.
Other guys expect us to treat women a certain way. While I admit to bad behavior at times, I would draw the line at doing anything that would harm someone else — emotionally or physically.
I had severe mental health problems but didn’t feel right talking about them because real men don’t talk about their feelings. I pushed my emotions down with anger, drugs, and alcohol like a real man is supposed to.
When I went on Social Security Disability, they told me I was no longer a real man because I couldn’t work. It didn’t matter that I supported my family — if I couldn’t work, I was worthless.
I was affected by toxic masculinity my whole life, but it was much worse for many of my friends. Their family forced them to hunt, even when they opposed it because that’s what boys do in the south, they kill. They had to play organized sports, where they wasted all their free time practicing and doing the things at school that football players do. They had to do what boys were expected to do, or else their parents wouldn’t be proud of them.
Many of the guys I knew had abusive fathers and grew up in a culture of violence. They were bullies, and they ended up being the same way when they got older. I knew teenagers that now you would call incels. I saw toxicity with my own eyes every day.
Not an Excuse
I’m not writing about toxic masculinity to use it as an excuse to explain away why men act the way they do. I experienced the same level of dysfunction that everyone else did, but I didn’t grow up to be a bully, troll, or incel. I love all the women in my life and would like them to live in a world where everyone is equal.
The point I want to make is the negative things about men we see, like misogyny, sexism, and mansplaining, were forced on us, and only a few of us were strong enough to break from the mold and take a new path. Some men stayed on the wrong track because it was easier. The hard way is treacherous. Those of us that believe in equality are a target for the toxic people as well.
There is a strange gulf between men and women — there is no doubt about that — but everybody needs to be doing that much better of a job learning how to make the world a better place.
Despite the treatment of men in the name of masculinity, it shouldn’t be an excuse for bad behavior.
Men, don’t let the mistakes of the past dictate our future.