For many men in America, childhood was spent navigating a multitude of different expectations of masculinity reinforced by authority figures in their lives, like parents and educators, as well as consumer culture, the media and the world in general.
And for many LGBTQ people in America, childhood was also marked by repeated failure to fulfill those expectations ― often leading to cultural and personal consequences as a result.
On Thursday night, I tweeted out a joke about a memory I had of a time that I failed masculinity as a child ― by not wearing shorts that fell below my knees.
Followers soon joined in with their own memories of times that they failed masculinity as children ― and an idea for a hashtag was born.
What followed was an emotional, telling and oftentimes painful series of tweets where people, mostly men, shared memories of moments from their own childhood when they, too, failed masculinity.
With responses ranging from memories of parents forcing kids to take part in sports against their will to kids and adults policing human responses considered feminine ― like crying or expressing too much emotion ― the hashtag #FailingMasculinity painted an important ― and sad ― portrait of what expectations of masculinity can do to children in American culture.
These painful memories filled with social repercussions for “failing masculinity” have long-standing consequences that can range from negative self-image to violence ― and that, for some people, can play a role in shaping human beings as they develop into adulthood.
Our society is moving towards a time where we are largely rethinking what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman, and creating space for gender expression as a spectrum rather than a masculine/feminine binary.
Parents should consider how policing actions and activities for their children based on the gender they were assigned at birth are actually affecting them long-term.
We need to let kids be kids ― no matter their gender expression.