**Trigger Warning: Abuse mention, rape mention**
How many times have you heard someone tell a young male relative that “boys don’t cry”? How about, “pink is a girl’s color”? “You throw like a girl”? These messages shadow boys growing up, chase them and corner them into narrow confines of how they can exist in society. “What do you mean you’re still a virgin?” “Be a man.” “You’re so whipped.” Masculinity is so fragile and tenuous that there is a whole Tumblr dedicated to instances of men going to ridiculous lengths to assert themselves. Even wholesome companies like Burt’s Bees have a “men’s line”--the containers and bottles are charcoal grey with red writing, because apparently yellow is for women.
Growing up identifying as a girl, I was up to my eyeballs in internalized misogyny. I’m still unlearning a lot of it as well. When I was younger, I didn’t want to “be like other girls.” I was proud to be a tomboy, and hated the color pink with a passion (save for one year around the age of six when I was obsessed with the pink power ranger). In middle school, I was critical of the more popular girls because of the way they dressed. This continued into high school, when I had my feminist awakening and realized what misogyny was and how it affected me. I realized that devaluing femininity was harmful.
Now that I identify as a non-binary trans boy and have recently started taking testosterone, I’m grappling with the place I occupy in society. I’m not a man; I don’t think I ever will be. My goal is not to pass as cis; it never was. I will continue to wear lipstick and eyeliner even if I end up with a beard (because, let’s face it, my genetics have doomed me to be hairy). Funnily enough, I have become more comfortable in my femininity since I have gotten to college and began expressing my trans identity. I now value the femininity that I tried hard to reject and push away from as a kid. I also notice myself consciously shying away from a lot of traditionally “male” things, because I do not want to fall into the trap of toxic masculinity.
“Toxic masculinity” does not mean that men are evil. It is how our society indoctrinates boys from a young age to believe that they can’t share their feelings, that they’re not allowed to cry, that they have to shut up and man up, that it’s okay to use violence as a way to express pain. It tells boys that it’s not okay to ask for help. When I say “toxic masculinity,” I’m talking about how this version of masculinity, of what it means to be a man, is damaging. I’m talking about how the patriarchy hurts men. We need to have more discussions about how we can improve society so that boys and men don’t have to endure this box that society has put them in which causes some men to snap, lash out, and hurt others.
It’s flabbergasting that the same men who insist they are more oppressed than women will turn around and deny that “toxic masculinity” is a real issue. True, it’s also a steady source of obscene levels of abuse towards everyone else, but let’s look at some of the ways the narrative of toxic masculinity affects men in our heterosexist society:
Men are afraid to cry or otherwise show human emotion because other men will only respect them as long as they seem aggressive and unbreakable. Crying and showing human emotion is associated with femininity, which is why it’s so taboo for men to engage in these behaviors.
Men are made fun of by other men for staying at home with children, baking for them or otherwise being a homebody.
Little boys are strictly forbidden from playing with “girly” toys or wearing pink by their dads.
Men are bullied and abused for being queer - or even suspicion of such - by the same kinds of straight men who fetishize lesbians.
Men get mocked for being abused or raped because they’re expected to be "too tough for that.” People think that it’s “impossible” for that to happen to men. Men are supposedly so hypersexual that they cannot be raped “because they’re always into it.”
These examples of “male oppression” are all from the same source: the patriarchy. They are all perpetuated primarily by men brought up so insecure and so saddled with stereotyped expectations that they have to lash out aggressively at anything breaking their rigid old fashioned rules for what “real” men are “supposed to be like.” Patriarchy backfiring on men is not sexism against men. It’s the patriarchy that says men are monolithic, unchanging and incapable. The patriarchy is what says men are animals with uncontrollable urges to have sex and harass and assault. It is not “man-hating” to want to examine and dismantle the ways in which violent masculinity limits and harms men and boys.
I look at this checklist, and look towards my future, my transition into some new form of masculinity that I get to create for myself. I will be as swift as a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon, and all the strength of a raging fire, mysterious as the dark side of the moon. I will continue to be a blubbering disaster who cries every time they watch a Studio Ghibli movie and listen to Act II of Hamilton. My love of flowers, Lush products, and wearing big sweaters with leggings is not going to be beaten down by the heteronormative cissexist patriarchy that imbues our lives. My masculinity does not devalue femininity; instead, they work together in my identity to create who I am. My masculinity will not be toxic -- it will be free-range, organic, and, most importantly, floral as fuck.