Male Gender Expectations Still Influence Youth

Isabella Wartzenluft, Reporter and Editor

Early one morning as I sat in my British literature class, an interesting topic came up: femininity. We were in the midst of discussing Macbeth when our teacher brought a specific line to everyone’s attention. In this line, one of the male characters, while dealing with the death of his family, said, “But I must also feel it as a man.”

To hear those two words together—‘man’ and ‘feel’—was odd for many of us in the class. This is not because those words should not be in the same sentence, but because it has become unusual to hear them strung together. Our male gender expectations involve acting tough and strong—and not being emotional or vulnerable.

I have seen so many males attempt to suppress their emotions because they didn’t believe that it was masculine or okay to express them. It makes me extremely sad that people believe their feelings are invalid because of their gender.

According to Colorado State University, boys and men learn gender roles based on masculine expectations they perceive from society.

The most prevalent form of manhood is known as hegemonic masculinity. This form may be familiar, as it includes what many consider the stereotype of being male: distancing oneself from femininity, acting aggressively, being extremely sexual towards women, and restricting emotions.

Brooke Birkland, a junior at Arrowhead High School, says, “Males have to be strong and are put down for having any type of emotions. They are told to be big chunks of meat and testosterone and that their sole purpose in life is to build and protect the world. If they aren’t jocks or star sports players, they are told to feel weird. If they aren’t over six feet tall, muscular, and have a sharp jawline, they are told they are unattractive. Male expectations are out there.”

“Boys don’t cry” and “man up” are two phrases I have heard multiple times from parental figures and my peers. According to Colorado State University, these messages stick with children, and when they feel as though they can not live up to the societal expectations, males become nervous about being the center of ridicule and violence.

I think the way males are currently raised is too harsh. Being told to man up or be a man or be manly makes no sense to me. Why a man? Why is a man the picture of strength? It is because society says it is that way, because that is how the world was raised. Also, telling a male to man up can lead him to believe his emotions are invalid which can lead to a lot of mental illness down the road. Males are not allowed to express themselves in any way that doesn’t seem tough and rigid. To me it seems unfair,” says Birkland.

While continuing to discuss femininity in relation to males during class, my teacher mentioned a woman by the name of Jennifer Siebel Newsom. She wrote and produced a film called “Miss Representation,” which focuses on female empowerment. My teacher showed this to a previous class and said that the reaction of the students was one of whooping and cheering, making females want to stand up and fight. However, she later showed another documentary by the same person called “The Mask You Live In,” which is about America’s definition of masculinity (the trailer can be seen here). The reaction was quite the opposite: silence, while many struggled not to cry.

Brandon Szpot, an Arrowhead junior, says, “In modern times, these structures [gender expectations] are completely superficial, and their usefulness is made entirely redundant by the fact that humans have reached higher levels of thinking and organizing, and no longer rely on just what’s observed in one’s genitals or hormone production. This higher level of organization gives me a negative outlook on gender roles. While it still holds true that, on average, men are physically more resilient than women in certain aspects, it is no reason to label people or prevent them from being who they want to be in life.”

The day of being told about the documentary, I began to watch it. Only a few minutes in, I  got a sinking feeling. I saw the pain in the eyes of each of the men and boys being interviewed as they struggled to talk about how they were raised to not express emotions.

I honestly see no point in labeling people based on their gender. Calling someone male, female, boy, girl, lady or gentleman makes so sense. It has no value. No matter the gender, they are a human being that should be seen as an equal. By giving them a name there is cause to see them as different, as unequal,” says Birkland.

I hope to one day redefine masculinity. Nobody should feel unable to be themselves, to show anger, sadness, joy, or sympathy based on their labelled gender.