Empowering men

Decoding gender conformity among men

William Lyman, Features Editor

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Often in the era of female empowerment, popular culture forgets about the issues of toxic masculinity that limit self-expression in men and boys.

There exists a uniform, an unspoken contract imposed upon men in our school. Tennis shoes, khakis, a sweatshirt, nothing fancy. This uniform comes along with a strict code of rules and regulations. Instead of an expression of personality, as clothing is meant to be, it can often be the suppression of individuality.

Don’t wear your pants too tight. Don’t wear bright colors. Don’t tuck in your shirt. We have all normalized these standards, speaking them into existence out of fear of being labeled as “other.”

This judgment can materialize in whispers, strange looks, being labeled as “gay,” or exclusion from social circles. No matter what the response may be, they all enforce our ways of “doing gender.” The issue is not solely rooted in the way men interact with each other, but the ways in which everyone around them expects their conduct to follow.

Personally, gender expectations allowed me to convince myself I was happy conducting myself in one way, as I never considered alternatives. I was born into a world that had seemingly decided who I had to be, and I naturally assumed this role. As a child this led me to hockey rather than gymnastics or dance, sports pegged as feminine.

We all care what others think, and are conscious of ourselves in this light. Gender politics, most often discussed in expectations on women, affect us all. There is no immediate consequence to breaking these unwritten rules of gender, yet we are obsessed with their validity, deeply ingrained in the fabric of our being.Josh Power

For example, think of the way we sit. Women typically cross their legs, a traditionally feminine position. Traditionally, men either spread their legs or cross them out in front, even normalized to the extent media outlets will dedicate entire articles to “manspreading.” What about this simple position compromises our idea of masculinity? Why do we gender something as simple as the way we sit?

These questions are seemingly endless. Why do we consider it bold for a man to sit at a lunch table with women? Cross his legs? Or take an interest in fashion?

Ultimately, these unspoken rules of conduct are about freedom of expression and who we are allowing ourselves to be. It shouldn’t be ignored that women are allowed to dress in any way they please, while men aren’t afforded that right through internalized gender politics.

A cultural force in our community drives this divide. In Gender Studies, there are almost no men, whereas Economics CIS has almost the opposite ratio with only a few women. This gap is telling of the roles we enforce, allowing women to explore themselves and their society, while men are placed into an archetype reliant on making money and supporting their family.

Our perpetual images of men as strong, unbreakable beings allow us to assume their happiness and ignore the issues that face them. In these situations, we need to empower men to express themselves more fully without fear of judgment. 

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