HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.
What it means to be masculine is a topic of much debate and is something that has changed throughout the decades. We consistently find that young people are restricted by gender stereotypes. Not conforming to said stereotypes can often lead to bullying and discrimination. This poses huge implications upon how people identify both themselves and others around them and is seriously damaging the self-esteem, performance and welfare of thousands, if not millions worldwide.
From an early age, people are conditioned to believe that they have a specific role within society. Women are taught to be emotional, compassionate and family orientated, whereas the men are told to be strong, brave and promiscuous.
We find that young men are far less likely to open up about issues that upset or worry them because that's something 'only girls do'. They are told to 'man up' and to develop a 'stiff upper lip'. It all feeds into the societal beliefs we have about men and their ability to communicate. It's a vicious cycle and masculinity is presented as a conditional thing: you can only be masculine if you fit the mold and you can't be masculine if you're emotional, sensitive or compassionate. Apparently. This therefore makes masculinity an aspirational thing, which is only amplified within the gay community. Masculinity is seen as the ultimate goal and I would argue it is only a label desired by the people who have been made to feel emasculated by their own individuality and ability to express themselves.
Anecdotally, from my own experiences - I was never interested in "typical boy stuff" like sport or cars. My peers in primary school branded me as a girl. At the time, it was really hurtful, but now I ask the question - what is wrong with being a girl? The answer is that there is nothing wrong with being a girl, because your gender does and should not dictate who you are as a person or restrict your ambitions for the future.
I anticipate that gender will continue to be a major frontier in the sphere of equality. In the world of marketing, brands are shifting away from a reliance on "lad" and "girly" branding in response to consumer backlashes. There is a huge amount of progress being made for children's toys to be non-gender specific which is something that has really inspired me.
Both men and women are equally restricted by gender norms and stereotypes. It is apparent that the stereotypes no longer serve us as a society because they are certainly not inclusive of the wonderfully rich and diverse community we live in. In order to overcome gender norms, we must each challenge our own beliefs and the things that we see and are exposed to on a daily basis. We must encourage future generations to embrace their own individuality and to teach everybody that it's okay to talk about things. It's okay to be upset and by lord, it's even okay to cry at that one scene in Titanic when Rose eventually lets go.
Find out more about Ditch the Label and get support at www.DitchtheLabel.org.
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