I had always planned on writing a complementary article to my piece a few days ago, “What The World Teaches Women.” But upon skimming through some of the rather predictable responses, I didn’t want to anymore. In the first place, I was always going to be uncertain about writing in detail of an experience that I cannot claim. Secondly, I do not want to appear to be appeasing some men based on their responses to my first piece. Because I am not. I stand by every single word I wrote in that original piece.
When I discussed with a male friend about writing this article and explaining my hesitation as a woman, he said quite simply, “For a long time, men have told women what to think, act, and feel as women; it’d be nice to for men to be on the other side.” Of course, my friend said it because he’s my friend and he’s very supportive. But I think he gave me just enough encouragement to recognize that the construction and societal discourse of men and women are ultimately tied together, and they cannot be removed from each other.
And thus, without being a man, but having several that I am related to, that I love, that I am acquainted with, and that I am surrounded by, I owe it to them as much as myself and other men and women, to share my thoughts on the subject. Because while I believe that what the world often teaches women does them a disservice and can leave them at a great disadvantage, I also believe that what the world teaches men does them a disservice as well.
Men are taught to be strong. They are taught to be too strong. They are taught to see emotions as weakness and to forsake them as much as they can. This often leads to men believing expressing emotions are wrong and to bottling themselves up inside, sometimes for an entire lifetime. Men are taught to think, to believe, and to act. But they are rarely taught to feel; and to allow themselves to believe that their feelings, even the ones that make them feel at their weakest, are legitimate.
Men are taught to be dominant and oftentimes to assert their dominance over women. To prove themselves as being “real,” men are taught that it takes aggression, physical power, and control. Men are taught to see women not as their equals, but as people whom they should have an inherent authority over. And should a man not live up to these ludicrous standards of what constitutes him being seen as a “real man,” he is viewed as being less than what he is.
Men are taught that they cannot be vulnerable – not with each other, and not with women. Men are forced to only associate themselves with certain characteristics that box them up and place them in a cabinet called “masculinity.” Men are taught that they are the ones who must provide, they must be financially able, they must be the breadwinners; and should they not be, society will view them as failures, and women will perceive them as inadequate.
We narrow men’s view of the world as to what constitutes being a man. We give them false ideas about who they have to be virtue of being born male. We construct their egos around these false ideas and then we wonder why underneath it all, those egos are really fragile. If being a woman is walking a blurry line between pretense and reality, it would appear that being a man is deciding which mask to put on every day for the world to see. It would appear that these masks that men wear leave them looking in the mirror constantly, making sure that their human faces which are ultimately a collage of many emotions, go mostly unseen.