6 Things We Tell Boys that Perpetuate the Cycle of Sexism

In the wake of the recent election of Donald Trump, a man who’s been formerly accused of sexual misconduct 23 times, sexism and misogyny has been brought front and center as an age-old issue that is finally getting the attention it needs. As women, it’s almost impossible for us to go even a day without experiencing sexism, whether it be getting turned down for a job that’s then given to a less-qualified male applicant, having vulgar words screamed at us as we walk down the street or being told we’re bossy when we rightfully command control. It’s no secret that women face these kinds of violations, as upsetting as they are.

But men face sexism too, just in a different form. They are constantly held to strict cultural standards that define masculinity in very narrow terms and if they do not fit perfectly into this mold, they are often punished by being bullied and stripped of their value. Now, I am in no way saying that men face the constant and deeply-rooted sexism that women do for obvious reasons: men, no matter where in the world, have a lot more perks than women do. But as a feminist, and even if you don’t define yourself as one, I think it’s important to remember that gender inequality negatively affects us all.

Consider the messages you’ve heard taught to boys from a young age: “Be a man!” “Boys don’t cry!” “Don’t be such a girl!” Women are seen as the weaker sex and femininity is viewed as less than. So if boys are told they’re not real men if they’re not tough, financially sound (at least more so than their female partners), and authoritative, it’s not only hurting them, specifically those who don’t fit those parameters, but it’s also hurting women. When boys are taught to act a certain way to oppose qualities traditionally viewed as “feminine,” then the cycle of sexism will never end.  Here are seven harmful statements we tell boys that only perpetuate this cycle and desperately need to stop being said:

1. “Big boys don’t cry!”

Oh yeah? 

Society doesn’t seem to realize just how unnatural it is to discourage males from expressing their honest emotions. But not only that, it can be dangerous; because men so often go without articulating their feelings, depression in males is harder to diagnose and treat, leading them to self-medicate by using drugs and alcohol. They are also three times more likely than women to commit suicide. I’m not trying to scare anyone, but this is the honest truth. Demoralizing boys from expressing their emotions is toxic to their growth as human beings and also supports the mindset that because many women are not afraid to show their emotions, that they are somehow weaker.

2. “You need to cut your hair.”

Guys can have long hair too, Channing.

Personally, I find this damaging because guys with long hair can be really hot. No, that’s not a scientifically proven fact, that’s just one girl’s opinion. Example A:

The fact that men and boys are criticized for allowing hair to do what it does (grow!) is kind of hypocritical, you know? Women are celebrated for their long hair while men are judged for it; but society also gives men a hard time when they start to lose their hair. I mean, honestly, they can’t win. And on the other side of things, women with shorter hair often have their femininity questioned. Why do we feel the need to categorize people by the way that protein grows out of their heads?

3. “Boys wear blue, girls wear pink.”

It can't be a coincidence that she's always wearing blue when she's playing her brother. 

Actually the exact opposite was true up until the 1940s: "Pink is for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." I mean, considering that both boys and girls wore dresses throughout history because it was just easier, who’s to say that a certain color is for a certain sex? Colors belong to everyone.

4. “Be a man!”

This is kind of a loaded statement because it’s said often and refers to a lot of different “masculine” traits; it could mean don’t cry/show emotion, be chivalrous, you must take care of the women in your life, you must be successful, whatever have you. So often this statement is telling guys that real men prove their masculinity by objectifying women.

Remember this scene from She’s the Man? She was trying to convince her comrades she was cool and masculine so she has a bunch of girls fawn over her/him (I can't even keep it straight at this point). 

5. “Don’t be such a girl!”

Yes, while this might be similar to the previous one, it raises a completely new set of issues on its own. Much of what we refer to as “masculine” simply means “not feminine,” and when boys are told not to act like females, it reinforces the widespread cultural attitude that being female is repugnant. Saying this crap to young boys is hurtful for several reasons: 1) You’re saying that women are bad at sports, which is absolute bull. I mean look at Venus and Serena. I don’t think they got where they are by sucking at sports. 2) Attempting to motivate boys by insulting girls, just preserves that age-old misconception that women are the weaker sex. And 3) It pressures boys to be good at sports and other “manly activities” whether they enjoy them or not. Why do we define masculinity as being fast, strong and violently knocking people to the ground for the sake of entertainment?

6. “Boys will be boys.”

By suggesting that boys should not be held to the same behavioral standards as girls, you are perpetuating rape culture from a very young age and teaching males that they can do whatever they want without consequences or even having to apologize. This double-edged sword of a saying fundamentally conditions boys to believe that they don’t have the power to control themselves, that self-control is a sign of weakness, and that women should automatically forgive them, as we are to blame for the violent actions of men.

As Gloria Steinem, writer for the Huffington Post, said “I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons — but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.”

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