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Princesses Get a Bad Rap, but the 'Hero Narrative' Is Just as Damaging to Our Sons

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How does media affect young boys growing up and shape a "hero" narrative expectation in them? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Great question [How does media affect young boys growing up and shape a "hero" narrative expectation in them?]. What you're getting at here is the backward, unhealthy portrayals of "masculinity" that are damaging to everyone.

I go into this in depth in my book, All In. Portrayals of manliness as stoicism and solitude -- traits that generally go along with the "'hero narrative" -- cause boys and men a great deal of damage.

They learn to suppress feelings rather than process them. They see normal mental health experiences like anxiety and depression as being personal failings, and see seeking treatment as a form of weakness. Perhaps worst of all, they don't talk about these things because they think it's unmanly.

This way of thinking leads to all kinds of problems, untreated mental illness, substance abuse, and even suicide. (I discussed this when I keynoted the Men's Mental Health Forum.) See some of my articles on this and read the book's intro for free here.

Studies show that men don't recognize themselves in the portrayals of manliness that show up in pop culture. In real life, healthy men value being caring and loving above all the machismo of the "'hero narrative." In this column at Medium.com, in partnership with Dove Men+Care, I explain how men actually view real heroes.

You asked how parents should handle this. The most important answer is by example. Men and women displaying real gender equality makes a huge difference. Men being caring and loving, unabashedly so, and not hiding it in public is essential.

It's also important to pay close attention to the images our children -- both boys and girls -- get about this at school and in social activities. (See the powerful documentary The Mask You Live In. I was honored to be a part of its L.A. opening.) Parents should talk with our kids about what they're learning about men and women, and help kids understand the truth: that we're all human, with strengths and weaknesses. And that there's never any shame in that.

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