On Oct. 1, a man opened fire on thousands of concertgoers enjoying a country music festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 and injuring hundreds. Since 1966, there have been 134 perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States. 131 of them were men — an astonishing 98 percent. So why aren’t we asking ourselves the obvious question: What’s happening to our men?
When the term “gender equality” is used, it is most often associated with feminism and the many movements dedicated to obtaining equal rights for women. However, this is only half of the matter. Although we constantly talk about how our girls and women are forced to conform to the constrictive gender stereotypes that society assigns them to, we rarely talk about how our boys and men face the same issue.
From a very young age, boys are trained in what, I like to call, How to Be a Man 101. They are taught that masculinity equals strength and dominance. They are encouraged to be boisterous and to show a level of aggression that we don’t expect from our girls, evident in the plethora of Nerf Guns, weapon-wielding action figures and violent Call of Duty videogames marketed specifically to boys.
Perhaps worst of all, our boys are taught somewhere along the way not to acknowledge or express the very feelings that make us human: our emotions. In an unspoken code of masculinity, men aren’t expected to regularly show any emotions that are typically considered “weak” or “feminine,” such as sadness, fear, anxiety, worry or others of the sort.
A study conducted a few years ago and published in the British Journal of Development Psychology found that mothers use more emotive terms and language when speaking with their daughters than they do with their sons. Another study undertaken earlier this year by researchers at Emory University discovered that fathers sing and smile more to their daughters and use language that acknowledges their sadness much more often than they do with their sons.
In the television programs and films our culture consumes, the majority of male characters tend to be dominant personalities with a multitude of tactical traits — assertiveness, self-reliance, ambition, leadership and decisiveness — while female characters tend to possess more expressive traits — warmth, tenderness, compassion, kindness and the ability to connect emotionally with other.
These differences in emotional interactions and presentations of the different genders emphasize and prioritize the importance of girls’ emotional intelligence over that of boys’, telling them that their emotions are not worthy of acknowledgement in subtle ways. We don’t even allow them to have expressive traits or particularly good emotional and social skills.
If they do display any of the aforementioned negative emotions, boys and men are often berated and mocked by their peers.
It is incredibly disheartening to see. I have observed male family members hide secrets that are often obviously causing them much worry or pain, but that they feel they cannot express. I have witnessed male friends endlessly get made fun of for revealing fear to their peers. I have never seen my father cry. I rarely have the same deep conversations about my feelings and emotions with the males in my life as I do with the females.
The ability to acknowledge and express emotion is an essential human trait that allows us to empathize and connect with others. No matter your gender, we all experience the same feelings and the need to express these specific emotions is universal, yet half our society is denied this unalienable, basic human right.
With no outlet for these powerful emotions, what choice do we give our men but to release them in the “acceptable ways” that society has encouraged — through over-displays of dominance and force.
Last year, in the United States, 60 percent of murderers were men. The majority of perpetrators of sexual assault are men. More men are incarcerated each year than women. Men seem to commit most of the violence in our communities.
In no way am I attempting to discredit the female struggle for gender equality. As a matter of face, these two parts of a whole complement each other. When men realize that they don’t need to be aggressive, perhaps there will be less violence and hostility towards women. When men don’t always feel as if they have to be dominant and controlling in order to be considered a “man,” then maybe women, and those who identify on other parts of the gender spectrum, will no longer feel controlled.
It is time we realize that the issue of gender equality is a universal one, and one that everyone should care about. It is an issue that affects each and every one of us, and therefore, we should all be working to resolve it. Because once we do, we can all enjoy a more inclusive, safe and happy planet.
Marina Williams is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .