By Atang Bowe
In many societies and cultures, men and boys are taught from an early age that showing emotions is a “sign of weakness.” Statements such as “real men don’t cry” or “stop acting like a girl” teach boys they should not express their emotions and reinforces the idea that they should be “strong,” while girls are “weak.” These sentiments could not be further from the truth. However, such statements can shape the way boys and girls, not only think of themselves, but each other, and as they advance into adulthood, society further reinforces gender stereotypes and norms through media, education and other areas of culture.
According to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, the definition of a gender stereotype is a “generalized view or preconception about attributes or characteristics that are ought to be possessed by, or the roles that are or should be performed by women and men.” Gender stereotypes are harmful when it limits men’s and women’s capacity to develop their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers, and make choices about their lives and life plans. These stereotypes can be hostile and negative. or even benign, but they can restrain individuals both personally and professionally.
In regards to men and boys, society teaches us to be strong and tough, but does not teach us that women and girls are strong and very capable, too. At times, these norms discourage men and boys from being in tune with our emotions. When you pick up a magazine or go to a movie, what do you see? From magazines to television, men and boys are portrayed in war-like scenarios, in action movies, as the protagonists who ultimately “save the day” by protecting the “damsel in distress.”
While these images consciously and subconsciously teach us to be “tough,” sometimes the issues of our hearts are not addressed because we are told not to show emotions.
It is critical that men and boys have outlets to not only learn about gender equity and positive gender representation, but to be able to address our hurts and pains and be transparent about our feelings. It is now, more than ever, we challenge society’s definition of “masculinity,” and realize that manhood and boyhood is not all about being “machismo” and in control. It is about showing love, equity and respect for everyone; and acting in this way is not a sign of weakness, but a signal of true strength.
We must challenge the status quo of masculinity, so that we can break the cycle of gender stereotypes and have a more equitable and less gender-biased society.
About the author: Atang Bowe is a 23-year-old student at the University of Botswana.