Gender norms discourage authentic expression

Expectations limit men

When I was 12, I was loading my suitcase into a trailer, preparing for a road trip. My friends and I were talking when I said, “I packed five outfits; one for every day.” An older gentleman interrupted me saying, “Harry, we’re men. We don’t pack outfits. We pack shirts and pants.”

That man was wrong. Did he know I carefully matched corresponding items of clothing that both looked good and brought out my eyes? He probably didn’t and he didn’t care. He just wanted to make sure I knew what a “real man” was.

Now, this wasn’t my first time at the rodeo. I’d been navigating the rocky waves of gender expectations for the better part of a lifetime. I learned at an early age how I should act and then I swiftly disregarded all expected behavior. Activities deemed masculine simply didn’t intrigue me. Though my parents gave me G.I. Joe’s, toys meant to portray America’s honorable armed forces, I simply made them the love interests of my sister’s Polly Pockets.

This liberated attitude didn’t come easy; I used to really stress out about fitting in. I would look at my outfit for the upcoming day and change it if I thought it would bring too much attention to myself. I would turn off the TV so no one would see me watching “America’s Next Top Model,” which is a shame because I probably missed some amazing photoshoots. Maybe I could have learned how to ‘smize’ at an earlier age.

A worldwide study by Ad Vingerhoets found that women cry 30-64 times a year, while men cry only 6-17 times a year. It seems that men are expected to bottle up emotions, resulting in unhealthy expressions of feelings through violence or aggression. Not only that, but they are robbed of the experience of crying at movies, which is scientifically proven by me to be the most satisfying feeling in the world.

Beyond the suppression of emotion, there is an expectation that boys will be intrinsically aggressive. We are bombarded with these pressures at an early age when “boys will be boys,” a saying used to justify the unhealthy expressions of emotion. We create a culture where excessive aggression is not only permitted but encouraged. By trying to live up to these impossible expectations, boys are forced into small boxes with little room for eccentricity.

Feminism to me means freedom from gender expectations. If the roles of men and women are completely equal, then a male exhibiting untraditional traits would not be looked down upon. I’m not less of a man because I wear tight jeans and revel in dance sequences. I’m just being who I want to be. You should try it.

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