Will Boys Be Boys?
The Toxic Legacy of Masculine Ideals
I have a male friend who paints his toenails. He prefers glitter polish, usually in blues or purples. He is meticulous about his nails, refusing to wear sandals if his polish is chipped or grown out. He prefers shirts with beautiful abstract patterns and bright colors. He would really like to dye his hair a bright color - neon green would be his ideal. Since by now you have a good mental image of this 6’2” 250 lb guy, I feel like I need to clarify that he is straight.
Now, this friend works a pretty professional job. He wears slacks and a dress shirt every day for work. He’s been reprimanded before for letting his beard get a little out of control. He also wears closed toed shoes to every company event, or any time he might see his coworkers, because he can’t risk his job over nail-polish. He wears shirts in conservative colors and styles, because he can’t risk his job over a floral pattern. He has never dyed his hair, because he needs this job to pay the bills.
This friend of mine definitely benefits from his place in the world as a white, Cis, straight man. He’s got a lot going for him, and he is aware enough to acknowledge that. But, those same systems that support him financially and physically, also undercut his ability to exist as a unique person. He has plenty of male and female friends, but no one but his girlfriend is in a place to support him emotionally. He cannot discuss feelings with his friends, because they have been cultured to accept only anger as a valid feeling.
He is aware of the restrictions placed on his life, because they are limiting. He has looked at the options of traditional male expression, from plaid shirts to man-buns, and found that they don’t reflect his identity. He doesn’t want a traditional relationship that is about lies and games and trading romantic effort for sex. He wants to be able to wear glow in the dark hair and still be taken seriously in his field. He is done with being called “gay.”
But what about men who feel more comfortable in the role that society has given them? There are men who feel completely centered in traditional male culture. They love some form of sports and they love drinking beer. They love getting the girl and they like the rush they get knowing they made a girlfriend jealous. For guys who fit the ideal, how do you convince them that masculine roles are problematic? When the world has always been comfortable for them, how do you convince them that discomfort is necessary?
I really am asking. I’m not willing to play the game their way. I won’t withhold sex or love and attention until they realize how wrong they are (although I’m unlikely to want to be friends with guys who are too far in the toxic side). That just reinforces the idea that women are the enemy. We aren’t. We are teammates on the war against unhealthy social norms and coping mechanisms. And, I can think of a lot of insightful points about how the discomfort in their life is often because of gender-norms, but I can’t imagine a conversation where that argument is persuasive. It is simply too easy to blame everything on women and on feminism, especially when introspection is ridiculed and emotionality is boiled down to anger. We are talking about uprooting their whole world, when that world has done nothing but shape them into the person they are today.
So if anyone has any ideas on how to help people see what they don’t want to see, I’d love to hear your ideas.