You’ve probably heard the term toxic masculinity used in feminist discourse to describe the behaviors and reinforcement of those behaviors that is taught to boys and young men that actually harms them and women. Often this subject is very touchy and is misrepresented by men who are not actually all that concerned with whether or not men can change their gender roles or how they express themselves to other people. I am a feminist and believe both that men can be masculine without being toxic and that men can have feminine behaviors and roles as well. I see no problem with people being who they are and serving whatever role makes them happiest. However, I also do not fit the stereotypical masculine person either. I am a man but I am emotional and am comfortable sharing my emotions with others. I say that but I also fall into a toxic masculine trap like many other men.
It is subtle that sometimes I have trouble grasping that I am even doing it. Some men avoid conflict and this can not only be a problem for their confidence but can also be partly because of their own self-image and being uncomfortable being vulnerable in a conversation with others you care about. I fall into this too much and therefore this is a toxic behavior I need to work on. This happens despite me having open contempt with people who are obsessed with gender roles for men and women. These behaviors and mindsets are taught to us subtly by our environment and the people we interact with. It is nothing to be ashamed about but is worth being open about trying to make a better environment for boys to learn healthy ways of being social with other people and expressing themselves appropriately. Boys should be taught the same level of social adeptness that girls are drawn to at an early age. There is nothing wrong with doing this and we should be open to girls being able to do whatever they are drawn to as well.
Being vulnerable and having dignity is possible. There is a quiet strength that some men have that also is open to others. Men have many other roles they can play and there is something frightening to being subtly taught only some roles are acceptable and suddenly being told you shouldn’t do that and should be open to more things. I say this with all due consideration to both men and women when I say that it can be frightening. I have always considered myself a feminist and I still have to unlearn behaviors that backfire on me and the women I care about. But learning and changing are not things we should be ashamed of as men. It doesn’t make you weak it makes you strong because unlike some who just try to hide your weakness you acknowledge it and then say (with an appropriate amount of swagger) yes I can work on this WHAT OF IT. Then you ride off into the sunset atop a horse. (I kid I kid) But still you have the attitude that says, okay guess what I am human and I can still fuck up and THAT IS OKAY.