Written by Paulina Ukrainets
On Monday, the New York Times published an article called “Teaching Men to be Emotionally Honest,” which addressed the social conditioning that most young boys undergo and how that conditioning impacts them in later life—in college, for example. The article draws parallels between the societal image of masculinity that boys are taught to aspire to and the continuously worsening academic performance of boys, as compared to girls, in college. The author suggests that there should be more resources on college campuses for men, such as gender-tailored counselling, and, in general, more research into masculinity.
Out of curiosity, after reading the article I carefully ventured into the comments section of the NYT website. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of backlash: “Women are the ones that are emotionally limited!”, etc. While no one (or no one I could possibly take seriously) is saying the male gender has been institutionally oppressed for the past hundreds of years, I also don’t think it’s fair to disregard the societal expectations imposeaggrd on men, especially since those usually are in opposition to those imposed on women.
Men were traditionally expected to be the ones earning money and thus in need of education to a higher degree than women, which left them with a lot more opportunities. While our society is still very much in the process of equalizing those opportunities, I would like to acknowledge the privilege I have experienced that many boys I know have not.
I have not been conditioned to hide my emotions—if anything, I have been encouraged to lay them openly on the proverbial table, since clearly communicating your emotions leads to a higher degree of honesty. This has allowed me to develop incredibly close and unrestricted friendships. However, my most unrestricted friendships have been with other women.
There is a certain degree of emotional intimacy that, which, in my experience, quite a few boys have trouble reaching. But when boys meet that degree of intimacy, it usually happens one-on-one and very rarely around a group of other men. Perhaps this idea is just stemming from my observations (although the NYT article would disagree), but it seems as though a lot of men are inhibited in their outward expressions of emotions, mostly because of the perceived social pressure.
Men are often depicted as stereotypical “macho men” and are rarely represented as highly expressive, emotional, or sensitive, and while female stereotypes have been exiled more and more from today’s youth culture—in large part due to the recent increased popularity of the feminist movement—the male stereotypes still seem deeply engrained in our collective unconscious.
Some might argue that the average white middle-class male has not been oppressed enough to justify a safe space. But if the creation of such a space would help us to dispel stereotypes and to understand people as individuals, that’s reason enough for those spaces to exist.