When I was a little girl, my sister and I did “boy” things: We had sword fights and beat each other up and set up matchbox car races and played video games. No one seemed to mind that I refused to wear bows on my socks or in my hair, or that my sister thought tutus and dancing were a waste of time.
I wasn’t a typical little girl, and neither was my sister, but no one was concerned about our mental health because of it.
When my brother was younger, he liked to play with dolls and wore napkins tucked into his diaper as a makeshift skirt or on his head so he would have “long hair.” He made friends with girls because they liked playing house and dressing up dolls like he did.
Our neighbors were concerned.
“It’s not normal,” they would say. “Shouldn’t he be playing with the other boys?”
American culture has a double standard when it comes to gender roles. Thanks to the advent of feminism over the past half-century, the idea that women can do everything men can do is widely accepted.
But society tells men they can’t do everything women can. Nurse and teacher are still considered careers for women. Stay-at-home dads are mocked. Hobbies like knitting and baking are given a feminine connotation that makes them unavailable to men.
It stems back to the idea that the American definition of femininity is less desirable than masculinity. It’s acceptable now for women to have qualities typically considered masculine, but feminine traits are still subconsciously considered less-than. Despite advances toward gender equality, misogyny remains a pervasive trend in American culture.
Han Solo can be my childhood role model, but my brother can’t aspire to be like Princess Leia, despite her admirable characteristics that have less than nothing to do with her gender.
Women can be tough, but men can’t be gentle. “Real men don’t cry.”
My brother has always been freer with his emotions than I have. His so-called “boyness” is constantly called into question because of his open enthusiasm and frequent tears, but no one ever accuses me of being any less a woman for not expressing my feelings in a way that’s traditionally considered feminine.
This doesn’t even mention the emotional stunting that often results from this social repression. Emotions are a natural part of life and everyone should be encouraged to experience them freely, but society tells us that emotions are for women, and there’s something wrong if a man wants to express how he feels.
Feminism isn’t just for women. Men need it, too. People like my brother shouldn’t have to grow up feeling ashamed because they cry when they’re sad and dance and sing when they’re happy.
Bringing balance to the ideas of masculinity and femininity can’t happen overnight. It’s a change that will take time, but needs to happen.