“They are trapped and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to express the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine.” - Michael Ian Black
For whatever wrong reason, I have in the past been guilty of perpetuating the myth of the “man cold” and commenting that “men are babies.” As I get older, it’s one type of sentiment that I have nixed from my vocabulary.
When we talk about toxic masculinity and mainstream culture, it seems to me that both men and women have been subject to different and varying degrees of infantilization.
Yes, we need to quit treating women like infants who can’t make decisions for themselves. But we also have got to quit treating grown men like babies who can’t handle any bit of household responsibility.
An equal opportunity offender
Toxic masculinity doesn’t only hurt women. It hurts men too. It not only mocks men who show emotion, but it portrays too many men as Neanderthals who can’t possibly navigate housework or caregiving without a comical disaster worthy of a Kevin James (or Jackie Chan, or Ice Cube, etc.) film.
The way men are so often portrayed in the media, it’s a wonder that any can handle the bachelor life at all. But like so many other cultural scripts, both men and women are guilty of the attitude that men are buffoons.
The concept of male buffoonery has been around for ages--likely rooted in the hypocrisy and double-standards of toxic masculinity itself. We’ve all seen this on TV--men laughably hold up their hands claiming they are “useless” when it comes to anything remotely domestic.
We even see it happen in real life.
It’s always fascinating to see the way we (supposedly so modern and woke) internalize gender roles as crutches or excuses. It’s frustrating then, when we find bits of truth in the bad behavior we want so much to move on from in order to embrace a more egalitarian worldview.
“Well, the tyranny of masculinity and the tyranny of patriarchy I think has been much more deadly to men than it has to women. It hasn’t killed our hearts. It’s killed men’s hearts. It’s silenced them; it’s cut them off.” - Eve Ensler
Equality is complicated
Gender roles can be familiar and oddly comforting. Wives don’t really need to nag their husbands, right? Yet there are husbands who continue to play the role of the buffoon who can’t remember to do anything around the house, or the man who refuses to be told what to do. Nagging women are often tired women. Tired of all the invisible labor which keeps a household running.
Likewise, women shouldn’t manipulate men--the wrongness is a given. Yet in a world where women have long been treated like a man’s property, there's a sort of natural aspect at play. Virtually every woman alive has known at least a handful of men who had to think an idea was his own before they could call it good. I know plenty of women who have used such things to their advantage when they feel they have no other choice.
The truth is that we are all accomplices and survivors of mainstream gender roles. And since we've grown up in this larger culture where certain expectations are placed upon both men and women, none of us know what the other half endures. At the same time, the fact that men do suffer doesn't mean that certain men haven't also benefited from those cultural scripts.
I’ve been hesitant to bring up the now infamous Gillette commercial and add to the current noise. But to be honest, I was surprised by the extent of the backlash toward an ad which did little more than encourage decent behavior.
In the weeks that have followed, men of every political persuasion have complained that they don't need a company telling them what to do. And at the end of the day, I have to admit I've got this really bad taste in my mouth because every argument against the ad amounts to "don't tell me what to do."
Some men have gone so far as to say that marketing should never encourage certain behavior, but that's exactly what marketing was always intended to do. Maybe some men forget this because they haven't been as overtly marketed to like women. Companies routinely zero in on women with the message that we need to be a super woman who purchases the right stuff--or else risk letting down everyone she loves.
Women grow up being told what beauty is, and that we're nothing if not beautiful. We are encouraged to go to any length just to attain a picture-perfect image. Collectively, we are now pushing back against the sexist notions of everything a woman should be, and people are listening.
Certain types of men are even angry about it. The type of man who feels outraged by a razor commercial which would dare tell them what to be. (Kind.) Ironically, the same dudes have had no problem with commercials telling men how to be cool and get the girl. They're not up in arms about ads which objectify women.
Goodness in tiny doses might not be goodness at all
For me, the most frustrating thing with hearing men complain about the Gillette ad is the way it feeds into all of the stereotypes about men which I don't want to believe. Like the idea that men are babies. Or the rumor that they need to believe that any new suggestion was their idea, all because they can't stand to be told what to do.
Let's be honest. Men are not babies. Nobody should have to spoonfeed men goodness in teeny, tiny, manipulative doses, all in an effort to get them to think they thought of that goodness first.
Is there a war against men? In some ways, yes. But perhaps it's not the war so many men complain about. It's not women who are ganging up against men. It's not anyone claiming that masculinity is wrong.
The war against men is coming from two sides. First, those who wish to perpetuate toxic masculinity as inherently good and male. These are the guys who taunt their fellow man for being somehow weak. The ones who insist it's not cool for men to reveal their feelings. Or show any vulnerability.
But there's another side of the war against men that's simply an effect of any change of power. Some guys are uncomfortable with the idea of more women taking charge. They don't see #MeToo as an issue of equality. Instead, they fear to lose whatever it is that they think they've got under the long held and heavily marketed gender norms.
“Brittle masculinity, in the right setting, becomes political atrocity. Strength brings problems; weakness brings others, but weakness posing as strength is the most dangerous of all.” - Timothy D. Snyder
Women are not bitches, men are not buffoons
There's no doubt that society is shifting as we women push back against the expectations which have been thrust against us throughout history. But just like women aren't crazy, men aren't babies.
Men also aren't buffoons.
We all need to make space for men who cry, feel insecure, and express their vulnerabilities. We need to quit perpetuating the myth that men can't handle illness, or that housework is somehow beyond them. Stay at home dads are not weird.
The reality is, of course, that some men do coast on the side effects of toxic masculinity. They may do it subconsciously. Playing the role of an awkward buffoon keeps them from unwanted tasks like housework. Some claim utter ignorance prevents them from even understanding sexual issues like consent.
If we are ever going to kill the stereotype that men are big babies, we'll need to stop expecting so little from them in some ways, and then far too much in others.
“Why should men be constrained by antiquated stereotypes of masculinity? What does it even mean to ‘Be a Real Man’ anymore? Shouldn’t we all be celebrating a wide range of definitions of manhood?” - Andy Dunn
Forget about the ideal anything
There are no perfect pictures of masculinity or femininity. There are only spectrums of healthy expressions and toxic ones. Women are making headway in terms of acknowledging wider expressions of femininity. But changes for men and masculinity are moving much more slowly, likely because women collectively feel a much greater urgency to break free from our gender roles.
Men, on the other hand, have got to get to the point where they want to break free. Not because masculinity is wrong (it isn't!), but because our toxic ideal of masculinity which says that men must be "strong" and self-reliant serves no one in the end.
Seriously, no one.
Change is scary, and often uncomfortable, but men are not babies who need good ideas slowly spoonfed to them so they don't spit them up or throw a fit. Is it offensive to suggest that men might be kinder? Surely it must be more offensive to suggest they are buffoons around laundry, children, and anything else that's too " domestic" or emotional.
Just like women are not fragile fine china, men are not bulls in a china shop.
As long as marketing exists, we might as well demand more from the messaging. We might as well demand messaging that matters and benefits humankind. I suspect we’re going to see more commercials like the Gillette ad.
It's okay to call men to action, and here's hoping they find a collectively more positive voice.