Many things we have learned, grown with, taught in schools, taught by commercials and television, taught by movies, are social constructs. The idea that someone is a “real man” if they do X, Y, Z, is absurd, because that means that someone else is not a “real man.” The idea of a “real man” only does these specific things puts an unrealistic pressure on men to be perfect… fitting into societies standards no matter who they are or what they feel.
Often these ideas of “real men” come from society; perpetuated by people around us (family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers), and by television, and movies. So what are stereotypes we find in media.
- The joker: The one that uses humor to get through every situation, even those that are hard and emotional.
- The Jock: The one always willing to fight others when they think it’s necessary. Avoids being “soft.” Must be aggressive.
- The strong silent type: This type reinforces men should always be in control and talking about feelings is seen as weak.
- The big shot: The epitome of success and has the traits that society sees as valuable.
- The action hero: Strong, often angry, aggressive, often violent.
How are these stereotypes harmful?
Having stereotypes about what it means to be a man has a physical and mental toll on boys and men throughout society. Often it creates extreme situations where men overcompensate to fit the societal norm. Hyper-masculine men believe they must compete with other men, dominate feminine people and be aggressive, they’re more likely to be physically and emotionally abusive to partners.
Fighting these stereotypes for boys and men can change this psychological toll on our loved ones.
How can you help your boys feel comfortable to fight against stereotypes of “real men”?
- Point out the stereotypes in media. When you point them out and the flaws in the stereotypes it’s easier for boys to move past the pressure to fit those roles.
- Be an example and surround your boys with such examples. My husband is great at showing his emotions. He’s very communicative, loving, and caring and outwardly so. My son will see this daily. This also includes for us teaching them and surrounding them with more feminine men, cisgender, trans, non-binary and any other “man” across the spectrum.
- Speak up against sexist jokes. Make sure it’s not seen as acceptable to make sexist jokes towards any gender or sex.
- Do not tell your son to “stop crying.” If your son is upset help him work through the emotions and teach him the tools to understand them, express them, and regulate them. Just stopping behavior that is their first response in sadness or anger teaches them that their intuition to express those emotions is wrong. It is not wrong ever for them to express their emotions productively.