Here Are 4 Bad Messages About Masculinity We Should Stop Telling Young Boys
Here Are 4 Bad Messages About Masculinity We Should Stop Telling Young Boys
By Alex Mierjeski /

Masculinity is having a moment — but it's not a good one.

Traditional notions of manliness — they typical characteristics that are purported to make men "Men" — are now being labeled as "toxic." Supposedly masculine traits like an innate emotional stability, individualism, steely resolve, and dominance are just a handful of characteristics that have been increasingly criticized as being damaging to both men themselves and those they interact with.

But where and when do these ideals latch on? Much of the recent coverage of toxic masculinity has focused on lessons learned in early childhood. Here are some of the ways we reinforce these potentially harmful characteristics in boys.

1. "Be a man!"

frank ocean boys dont cry frank pls

In a recent popular New York Times article, Andrew Reiner, a writing, literature, and cultural studies professor at Towson University, recounts an anecdote that displays how even at a young age, boys are taught to suppress or reinterpret outward emotional displays — be they psychological or physical — in the pursuit of fostering an "I-can-take-it" manliness.

The account revolves around a home video of a distraught toddler being vaccinated. His father can be overheard saying, "Don't cry!...Aw, big boy! High five, high five! Say you're a man: 'I'm a man!'" As the video ends, the boy, his face contorted in anger, pounds his chest and says through his teeth, "I'm a man!"

To Reiner, the video captures, with "profound concision, the earliest stirrings of a male identity at war with itself."

2. Dominance


Men and boys are often taught that they should define themselves against "girliness" and femininity, but those teachings can have unfortunate consequences, and enforce a divide between the sexes. As educator Tony Porter explains in his TED Talk, these notions teach us "that men are in charge, which means women are not; that men lead, and you should just follow and just do what we say; that men are superior and women are inferior; that men are strong and women are weak."

3. Suppress your emotions

cry baby movie crying johnny depp tear

Writing in The Times, Reiner notes that the video of the boy's vaccination shows "how boys are taught, sometimes with the best of intentions, to mutate their emotional suffering into anger." Others have noted that these patterns of teaching men to suppress, deny, or mutate their emotions start early, and are often unwittingly enforced.

In "I Don't Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression," psychologist Terry Real writes that "[a]t the youngest ages, both boys and girls are more like a stereotypical girl." However, as Real notes, research suggests that mothers and fathers bring preconceived notions of masculinity to baby boys — often to damaging ends. In one instance, parents were shown video of the same baby crying, but described the emotion on display differently — anger for boys, fear for females — depending on what sex they believed the baby to be. Real concludes:

“[F]rom the moment of birth, boys are spoken to less than girls, comforted less, nurtured less."

Teaching boys that natural emotions are somehow unmanly and should be repressed can have obvious psychologically damaging impacts. But suppressing emotion can also have more tangible, dangerous outcomes, leading to potential outbursts of aggression, and even shorter life spans.

4.Discouraged from seeking help or treatment

Blunt Talk season 1 starz therapy 01x01

Potentially harmful notions of masculinity are, of course, multifaceted, and tend to bleed into one another. The "tough guy" male caricature, for example, might be hard pressed to open up emotionally — both to themselves, and to others that would be able to offer help. At the risk of looking vulnerable or weak, men might chose not to go to therapy, seek out help with mental health issues, or even lie at the doctor's office. But at least some studies show that those tendencies could be detrimental: According to one recent study from Rutgers researchers, male aversion to seeking out medical help, paired with a propensity to be less honest with their doctors, could cause an earlier death.

3.5 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 19,170 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 11,791 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
No Moral Superpower: Arundhati Roy, Edward Snowden, and the Crimes of Empire
Jake Johnson · 8,317 views today · When Arundhati Roy was preparing, in 2014, for a trip to Moscow to meet Edward Snowden, she was troubled by two things. One of them was the fact that the meeting was arranged...
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 6,410 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
And After the Election, The Reaction
Ret Marut · 4,828 views today · Could there be any better illustration of the shortcomings of representative democracy than this year’s Presidential campaign? For months upon tiresome months, the whole world...
'The Climate of Fear Is Unacceptable' - Ken Loach on I, Daniel Blake
6 min · 3,959 views today · Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or-winning film I, Daniel Blake tells the story of a man who is denied disability benefit after a heart attack and who is then subsequently caught in a...
Men Loving Men
Bianca Vivion · 2,779 views today · When my father was seven he and his best friend Phil cut their index fingers open and placed them together to create a “blood pact” that they would always be brothers. To this...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 2,238 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Three Massive Mergers - Millions for One Bank and a Disaster for Food, Water, and Climate
Wenonah Hauter · 2,077 views today · In addition to advising on all three mega-mergers, Credit Suisse is playing a big role behind the scenes of the Dakota Access pipeline.
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 2,063 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Writers Tom Hayden and Naomi Klein Talk About Journalism and Activism
27 min · 1,822 views today · Author, Activist and Former California State Senator Tom Hayden talks in depth with the author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein, about the state of the fourth...
Social Geographer Shows How Much of You is Determined by Where You're From
3 min · 1,423 views today · The Professor of Geography examines social inequality and the geodemographics of the UK, using maps created by Oliver O'Brien (UCL, CASA) in 2012 and updated in 2015. You can...
Grow Heathrow: Residents Resisting Eviction Over 3rd Runway
4 min · 1,145 views today · On March 1st 2010 Transition Heathrow members swooped on an abandoned market garden site in Sipson; one of the villages to be completely tarmacked to make way for a third...
A Beautiful Reflection on What It Means to Be Human
8 min · 992 views today · Hello! We are Oh Wonder, a musical duo from London. We believe that everyone is equal. We are all human. We all deserve the world. And we can build that equality by sharing...
Heartbreaking Animation Reveals Plight of Animals Under Threat of Extinction
3 min · 939 views today · This stunning and heartbreaking animation gives voice to animals under threat from human activity. Made as part of the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, it features a...
Speaking Out Against Australia's Unforgiving Refugee Policy
42 min · 817 views today · The Forgotten Children: More than a hundred child refugees are stuck in asylum limbo on the island of Nauru as a result of Australia's harsh and unsympathetic border policies...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 736 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
How Big Banks Launder Money and Get Away With It
9 min · 683 views today · 'I wrote about how money laundering was actually done... they spiked it.' Parliamentary Candidate David Malone was a popular second choice in the UK Green Party leadership...
Why I Didn't Vote Trump or Hillary
Joe Brewer · 576 views today ·   This is my ballot. It arrived in the mail where I live in Washington state — and I’ve already sent it back to the elections committee. Note how I didn’t vote for either...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 543 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Here Are 4 Bad Messages About Masculinity We Should Stop Telling Young Boys