Yesterday I watched an incredibly powerful Ted Talks called “Why I’m done being man enough” by Justin Baldoni. During his talk he discusses how society shapes men to be tough, powerful and confident. He continues on to highlight how anything feminine, such as showing sensitivity or talking about emotions and struggles is seen as weak. It made me think of a phrase I hear often, but refuse to have in my house. The phrase I actively voiceover whenever I hear it muttered to my boys. The phrase “Big boys don’t cry.”
The messages we give to children help strengthen their perceptions of the world around them and helps them understand their place within it. When we tell little boys that “big boys don’t cry”, we are effectively telling them that it is not okay to show their emotions, that is not okay to talk, be sensitive or vulnerable. We are effectively telling them that their role in this world is to be strong, tough and a protector.
There has been amazing progress over recent years when it comes to the messaging we are giving girls and young women. Yet, we aren’t really changing the messaging we are giving to little boys. We are still playing the same record. We are still telling them that they have to be brave, that they have to be tough, that they should bottle up their emotions and that “big boys don’t cry.
Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the United Kingdom. This statistic is evidence that we are failing. We are failing to tackle gender roles in equal measure. We are failing to tell little boys that it is okay to be sensitive. We are failing to teach boys that it is okay to be vulnerable. We are failing to teach boys that it is good to talk about their emotions and struggles, that talking is cathartic. We are failing to open new doors to them. We are failing in equality.
While we are still implying that vulnerability and sensitivity are only reserved for girls and women, we are implying that they are weak characteristics only suitable for women. Therefore, we are implying, whether consciously or not, that women are weaker. In order for, equality to happen we need to put as much praise on vulnerability as we do on strength.
We are praising strength from places it was once ridiculed and suppressed, now is the time to do the same for vulnerability. Let’s tackle gender inequality in all its forms together, because if we want equality, true equality, it is not enough to just be raising strong women. We also need to be raising sensitive men.