The documentary The Mask You Live In claims that the phrase, “Be a man,” is the most destructive phrase in our culture. Young boys are taught to toughen up, to not be a sissy, to not be like the girls, to not let them see you cry. We’ve created a culture that makes young boys feel insecure, feel as though they have to prove their masculinity every day. They prove their masculinity by locking down their emotions and putting on a mask of anger when what they truly feel is sadness and hurt. Not only does this teach boys that it’s not okay to express emotions, it also teaches them that it’s okay to be a womanizer. They’re taught that men use dominance, control, and violence to solve problems. Why are we teaching our boys that athletic ability, economic success, and sexual conquests are measures of masculinity? None of them have anything to do with masculinity, and this belief sets everyone up for failure. Men and women are far more similar than they are different. In these three areas, we need to change the narrative we pass to our children, especially our young boys.
Sports offer boys an avenue to show dominance, control, and violence. Boys talented in sports are elevated over others. In the sports arena, we need to delete phrases like, “you throw like a girl,” “man up,” “be a man,” and “don’t be such a wuss,” from our vocabulary. These phrases are used to convey the message that a boy isn’t good at a specific skill. Rather than label them as a girl, we should instead take this opportunity to teach boys to have a growth mindset. We should teach them that they may not be good at something yet, but with continued effort and determination, they can develop that skill and grow their ability. We’re comparing our boys to girls, whom we’ve taught them are slow, weak, and less than boys. We’re using this comparison to encourage our boys. In what world does this make sense?
As one of the men in the documentary recalled, he was taught, “get a good job, get a lot of women, then you’re a man.” We have to be more purposeful about how we raise our children. What that boy should’ve been told was, “get a job doing something you love, make a positive impact on others, then you’re a man.” As they mature into men, many boys will take jobs they dislike, they hate, or that cause them incredible amounts of stress solely for the social status that comes along with it. A man is measured by the size of his bank account. By taking a stressful job that he despises, a man will probably feel more emotions that he has to suppress and put a mask over. What we should be teaching boys, and men, is that they should seek a job that allows them to do something they enjoy, something that makes a positive impact on the world around them, and that helps them provide for themselves or their families.
In regards to personal relationships, we have to divorce sexual conquests and their determination of masculinity. The boy in the example above should’ve been taught, “create meaningful connections and respectful relationships, then you’re a man.” When boys are taught that the quantity of their sexual conquests serves as a measure of their masculinity, they’re also being taught that women are objects to be dominated. In reality, women are their equals. And women have fought long and hard for that distinction (of lack thereof). Rather than teaching our boys that women are possessions, we have to teach boys that women are their equals. Women are humans that can help them build and create. Women are to be collaborated with, not to be claimed as possessions.
When we raise boys into men who feel the need to hide or suppress entire parts of themselves, namely their feelings, we don’t raise whole people. It starts by changing what we’re choosing to teach boys in regards to relationships, jobs, and sports.
about the author...
Elisa helps sports coaches build athletes who are empowered by sports, prepared to win on, off, and beyond the field of play.