The Hard, Steel Cage That Is Masculinity

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, "We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage." She was right.
Society has such a narrow view of what masculinity is that our boys are growing up believing they must look and act in a certain way in order to be accepted and to be considered "a real man." But what is a real man? To me, a real man is anyone who exists in this world and who identifies as a man. To society, a real man is tough, affluent, strong, made of stone and unwilling to express his emotions.

Archaic, stereotypical ideas on what it means to be masculine are forced upon boys from an early age, leaving them to be grow up with a distorted view of themselves and always feeling like there are parts of them which they have to conceal.

We teach boys to look a certain way. To be chiseled, toned, healthy, dressed in clothes of a particular fashion, hair styled in a particular way. We teach boys to say certain things. We teach boys to do certain things. We teach boys to like certain things. We teach boys to believe certain things. Anything else, anything outside of the "norm" is seen as not masculine...we see anything else as feminine and with feminine comes negativity and connotations of weakness and failure. And if it is not feminine, then it is "gay," another label synonymous with the lesser, with being weak and fragile. Where the connection comes, I don't know, but I know that we need to cut that connection. We need to end this idea that feminine boys are gay and that gay boys are feminine. The connection between femininity and homosexuality is non existent. Should boys be gay, that's okay. Should boys be feminine, that's okay too. Should boys be both, that's okay also. We need to stop forcing stereotypes onto our boys which are dehumanising, giving them the freedom to conform to them or go against them if they choose but, either way, not questioning it. We need to give our boys freedom to identify however they feel is best and stop imposing certain sexualities or identities onto them because of how they act. Boys are people and we should just let people be people. Why do things have to be "gay" or "feminine?" Why can't things just be...things? Why must everything we do be so gendered and labelled. Why does everything need a name? Why can't we just let boys act however they feel comfortable and still accept them as boys?

We teach boys they have failed as a boy should they refuse to conform to stereotypes. Boys who wear make-up, grow out their hair, paint their nails, have a high pitched voice, express their feelings, listen to certain music, watch certain TV shows, crush on certain celebrities, eat certain foods, drink certain drinks, play certain games, have certain friends...these boys are not boys in the eyes of society for they are not masculine enough. There is a strict list of rules to follow if you are a boy and, should you stray away from the regimented path you ought to be on, it's as if you aren't good enough.

Masculinity is a cage. It's a tight, hard cage made of steel and we place boys inside this cage from the moment of conception. We trap them in it, making decisions for them, forcing them to do things, socialising them to think a certain way. We do our damnedest to keep boys as stereotypically masculine as possible and, should boys find the strength and courage to break out of this steel cage, we look at them in disgust, shame and confusion. We attempt to squeeze boys back into the cage when they have outgrown it, rather than admiring the bravery it takes to force yourself out of something which is trying to keep you from being the freest, most authentic version of yourself.

We must end this delusional idea that to be masculine is to be made of stone, both on the inside and the outside. Boys do not need to have rock hard abs, huge biceps or jawlines which can cut someone in half. And boys do not need to have a wall up which prevents anyone from connecting deeply with them. Boys should be encouraged to talk about their feelings, deepest worries and highest joys. We must remind boys constantly that to talk to to be brave and suppressing emotions is not an act of bravery. We must dispel the awful myth that boys are not masculine if they cry or get upset. Crying and getting upset are signs of caring, not signs of weakness. Boys who cry and get upset are strong, especially when society tries to silence their sobs the moment they escape. Boys should not have to apologise for feeling things and by telling boys to "man up" and "get over it" when they do feel things is having a detrimental impact. Insulting our boys as if they don't have a heart and picking on them because they're born tough is killing them. Boys are dying. They're sinking into deep, dark pits of depression and anxiety all because they don't feel able to express how they truly feel. That is no life for anyone. Boys are allowed to have emotions just as much as girls, for everyone is a human being underneath. If boys want to cry, it should not be seen as abnormal and it should not tarnish their masculinity. Because, what is masculinity, truly? Surely masculinity is not being hard and rough but, instead, being yourself in spite of the steel cage that is built for you to inhabit the second you are born?

We are open when it comes to discussing the pressures on girls to be thin and flawless but it's about time we started talking about the harmful pressures facing boys which, because they are boys, they are just supposed to deal with. Yes, boys should be held accountable for their actions, they should be encouraged to work hard and be respectful but, not because they are boys, but because they are people. Raise boys and girls the same way. Remind boys that it's okay to cry, it's okay to look how they do, it's okay to be interested in the things that they are interested in, it's okay to be delicate and there no one is allowed to belittle them for feeling, no matter what, they are valid. Demolish the steel cage. Protect boys. Boys are worthy of a full life too.

Love, Emily :) xx

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