For years there's been a common misconception regarding feminism.
Since prominent feminist activists Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon popularized the idea that men as a class were privileged to the point where women needed special treatment, it has commonly been thought that feminists, as a whole, hate men. But, feminism is not about man-hating, but rather about, as prominent feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie would say, the pursuit of social, political and economic "equality between the sexes."
I believe that for one gender to truly be free, the other cannot be systematically oppressed. There are respective differences between female oppression and male oppression, but both are relative to the standards put into place.
Working as a local lifeguard over the summer, I observed how feminism isn't solely a women's issue, but a male issue as well. I watched many young boys get teased by their friends with phrases like, "Don't be such a pussy" or "Be a man, stop crying" and my personal least-favorite, "You throw like a girl."
Since when was doing anything like a girl an insult?
Gender is a cultural construct, and from the moment we are born we are educated about masculinity and femininity from the standards around us: pink, blue, trucks, dolls -- you get the deal. These archetypes about masculinity and femininity are damaging: it argues that while women are weak, delicate, fragile, emotional, men should be strong, dominant, and aggressive. In line with this thought, femininity and womanhood are immediately made synonymous with weakness and submission.
In his TED Talk, "A Call To Men" Tony Porter talks about his own experiences with this rigid and tough idea of masculinity. Porter tells the story of a young boy who says that being told, "you play like a girl" by his coach in front of his teammates, would destroy him. Porter then says, "If it would destroy him to be called a girl, what are we then teaching him about girls?"
Not all men are born believing that women are inferior. If we put two babies into a crib, one male and one female, let's be real, they probably wouldn't give a shit about cultural archetypes stemming from their gender. Pink diapers on a boy? Superhero diapers on a girl? Who cares? Not the babies, that's for sure.
But somewhere amidst all the diapers, rattles, and bottles, these boys were taught that the girls around them were weak, subordinate, and ultimately a symbol of everything they shouldn't be. To move forward, as a society, we need to teach young boys that it is okay to defy gender stereotypes of masculinity and femininity.
And some men have already begun to take it upon themselves to defy stereotypes of masculinity and femininity. I recently stumbled upon a group of men, who refer to themselves as "Bronies" a.k.a. "My Little Pony Bros." Basically, adult male fans of My Little Pony.
One of the self-described, "manliest bronies," who goes by the name Dustykatt, told The Daily Beast, "We're supposed to chug beer, ride motorcycles, be degrading to women, and like explosions. That's what's ingrained in our brains from the minute you're born and put in a crib. Well, I like what I like. I don't need society to tell me what I like. And that's all there is to it."
Could "Bronies" be the face of a new type of man? These are men who likely grew up being taken down the "blue aisle" of stores, but they defied all standards and pursued their love of typically feminine My Little Pony dolls. These are men who were told "men don't play with dolls" and went against the status quo to pursue their interests.
That is feminism.
In her article "What Does It Mean to 'Be a Man'?" Huffington Post blogger Sutheshna Mani writes, "Just as the masculine gender constructs puts down females, its first victims, are in fact males, starting with the way they are raised." Men are taught that they should be tough, brave, dominant, alpha-males. They should not express their emotions or anxieties--a lot like Mike Heck on "Modern Family." The "Man Box" confines men, telling them what they should and should not be--if they want to be "real" men. But putting things away in a box like this is only oppressive.
These ideas are perpetuated by our nation's biggest influencer--Hollywood. In the documentary, "Tough Guise 2" Jackson Katz examines mainstream culture and the role it plays on violence in men. He talks of the old western and mobster films, pointing out that they often depict, "Men hardened by the world who knew the power of a few clipped words and a few rounds of ammunition." Mass media often cements the "True Grit" standard of male dominance, and looks down upon males who don't meet that standard. We even see this unfair standard in animated films as well. In "How To Train Your Dragon," Hiccup, a teenage boy is practically disowned by his father, a Viking warrior, because he does not want to be a fighter.
Examples like this are what we call "taught masculinity."
But just as something can be taught, it can be undone as well. We need to start teaching boys--the next generation of men--that it is okay to wear their hearts on their sleeves, it's okay to cry, it's okay to be a pussy.
Ultimately, we need to teach them that in the end, it's okay to be human.