Be a man. Man up! Boys don’t cry. Nearly every guy has heard these words from parents, coaches, and bros alike. The question, then, begs to be asked: what does it mean to be a man?
Among thesaurus definitions for “masculine” are the words macho, muscular, bold, gallant, rough, hardy, powerful, and virile. Conversely, “feminine” synonyms include soft, dainty, and tender. And even while the feminist movement fights to break those gender stereotypes, backlash against feminists from “Meninists” reinforces traditional masculinity– often for worse.
Meninism as a concept actually has a lot of potential: men suffer restrictive gender stereotypes in their own right, and equality is not a women-only effort. However, the actions of social media meninism–rather than pursuing equality for trans men, gay men, and men of color–seeks only to undermine the efforts of feminism. (I should note that feminism by definition embodies gender equality as a whole, despite the common misconception that feminism is synonymous with misandry).
Meninism’s somewhat embarrassing attempt at men’s rights only further proves the deeply rooted social norms of gender. Instead of addressing the issues that matter (unfair paternity leave, the shameful dismissal of male victims of sexual abuse, unrealistic body standards), many of the loudest arguments for men’s rights concern their rights to mistreat women. When legitimate issues of oppressive masculinity are drowned out by general hatefulness, men’s rights fall even further backward.
Meanwhile, the media continues portraying dads as clueless and inept, idealizing young men as cocky and womanizing, and airbrushing body builders to muscular perfection on magazine covers. Boys are reminded that emotion is weak, pink is for girls, and sex goes hand in hand with masculinity.
While strength is a trait that should be encouraged regardless of gender, the connection we make between testosterone and power is bordering on oppressive Yes, men have a lot of privilege in the world. But gender is a complicated thing, and boxing traits into “girl” and “boy” based solely on genitalia hurts men as well as women. We need to remember that next time we tell our boys to man up.