Conceal, Don’t Feel: the Gender Roles of Men

male ballerina

In the last several years, there has been an enormous influx of public conversations about gender roles, primarily those of women. Women are finding their voices and asking to be heard, and changes are starting to happen. A post went around about newly designed stock photos of women that show them as strong, independent, beautiful, and loving people. There is a satirical commercial that pokes fun at the ways advertisers pander to what they think women are interested in, and there is a real commercial advertising young girls as future engineers.  We are making strides, slowly but surely, to tell the world that women are much more complex than the roles we have been placed in for decades- even centuries. I think this is absolutely wonderful.

But, what about men? I am not denying the fact that our culture is still overwhelmingly patriarchal, but I wonder if that will change by only focusing on making women stronger. I think men also need to be encouraged to step outside of their prescribed gender roles, and I think the way women view and treat the men in their lives can drastically change that.

I am constantly seeing commercials portraying men as the big buffoons in the relationship, where the woman just rolls her eyes at her silly husband who would never survive without her. Men in the media are either the strong, silent, Robert Redford/Don Draper type, or the guy who sits in front of the TV watching sports, calling to his wife for another beer. Where are the images of men drawing with their kids, or boys stopping someone from bullying their friend? Where are the images of men and women enjoying being in a relationship? Why are we always shown couples who nitpick at each other, ignore each other, or plain make fun of each other? There needs to be a mutual respect between men and women under ALL circumstances. Relationships and friendships are for honesty, love, respect, and that feeling of being safe and known by another person. If one person makes another feel like they cannot share all of themselves with them, or that they are inferior in any way, something needs to be fixed.

Why is it that the very qualities people desire most in a relationship- vulnerability, honesty, respect, and kindness- are the ones that are looked down on or ignored by culture? If a man gets too angry, that’s ok because men just are more hot-tempered than women (supposedly), but if he tells you that his feelings are hurt, or he-God forbid!- actually cries about something (no matter how truly upsetting), he gets labeled as “weak,” a “sissy,” a “faggot,” or any other number of derogatory, belittling terms. Maybe without even knowing it, we put so much pressure on men to be in control, be the provider, be successful, be the leader that it leaves no room for any kind of failure, emotion, or anything else that can be perceived as weakness. And, if a man does speak up against the people who are harassing or deriding him (like Dolphin’s player Jonathan Martin), he is told that the behavior is just part of the culture he needs to learn to accept. We expect men to be tough, and to be able to take any kind of normally intolerable behavior, because that’s what men do. “Man up” is what every little boy (or grown man) is told when they start to feel too much. “Conceal, don’t feel” applies to men, too. Stuff it down, “be a man,” and get back in the game.  If something is going wrong, it’s their job to fix it and not complain about it; just figure it out. As one man said to Brené Brown after a talk, “My wife and daughters would rather see me die on top of my white horse than see me fall off it.” (Daring Greatly). That statement should shock us. No person should ever be put in that position, especially in a loving relationship. Women ask to be treated as equals, but they don’t treat the men in their life in that same way.

We have become pretty good at identifying when women are being stereotyped or kept in a prescribed role. Now, I want to be the one to encourage men to fight against their gender roles, as well as be the kind of woman who makes a man feel safe enough to feel weak, or sad, or scared, who encourages a man to express those things without fear of rejection. I’m tired of seeing men being verbally knocked down by their male peers, and the women in their lives.  I want to see a man who follows his passions- whether it’s poetry, basketball, teaching drama class, or fatherhood. I want to see a man who tells me when I’ve upset them, because he wants to be heard, too. I want to see a man who is respectful of women, and verbally encourages both his male and female friends. I want to see a man who owns up to his weaknesses, and draws on his strengths. I want to see a man who nurtures his kids’ passions, even if he doesn’t understand them. I want to see a man who is 100% himself, unapologetically. And I am looking forward to the day that the media shows us men like that. But I don’t think they will, until people start changing their ideas of what a man should be, and we start treating each other like the complicated, loving, sensitive people we all are.

What are your thoughts on male gender roles? How do you think we can change this?


(photo via Tumblr)

One thought on “Conceal, Don’t Feel: the Gender Roles of Men

  1. I really appreciate this post, Lindsey! I think the kind of joking married people take part in often perpetuates these stereotypes- the emotionally disconnected man who doesn’t have a clue and the emotionally super charged woman who over reacts to everything. Sadly, I have even participated in these jokes before! But they are simply not funny. Another favorite role for the man to play on tv is the idiot in the delivery room, apologizing to his crazed wife for the pain she’s going through. I have known men, my husband included, who were knowledgable (because they made it a priority during pregnancy) birth partners. I want to see that on tv. Thanks for your thoughts.


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