Why We Should Break Down The Barriers Of Gender Labels, Casts, And Stereotypes

In 2017, research reveals, an outstanding multitude of 5,790 Americans under the age of seventeen are shot each year. Around three-quarters of all suicides in 2016, in the UK, were male. Four in five anti-LGBT hate crimes go unreported, with younger LGBT people particularly reluctant to go to the police. Why? Has the grotesque, distorted, misshapen saying of boys will be boys, and the expectations from callous gender stereotypes, led to some select, twisted individuals to assume that violence is deemed appropriate? Because as men… aggression is expected? Ladies and gentlemen. I speak to you today, with the desire of erasing fallacious ideologies of what it means to be a man. What it means to be a father. A brother. A son. I speak to you today, to inspire you, to encourage you, to aid you… to alter your perspective. The angle may require adjusting. I address today, the young gentlemen in the room. I speak to you – the new generation. Because it is you… on whom we must lean. To whom we must trust to ensure our freedom, peace, liberty. Ladies and gentlemen, I ask those of you, who would be keen to break down these gender stereotypes enclosing in on us in the 2nd decade of the 21st century; to lend me your ears. Accompany me. Join me on a journey in the modern 21st century, to understand two words: toxic masculinity.

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I know. You’re seething at my blinding injustice. But masculinity isn’t toxic, I hear you cry, as quick as a flash! No way! And valid arguments are here to say – it’s not! You are right! Masculinity: desirable, formidable, powerful. Non-toxic. Defined as the possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men, such as good-looks, muscles, and drive. But non-toxic. In masculinity, we see strength. In masculinity, we see courage. In masculinity, we see valour. Non-toxic! Men do not want to be abandoned, isolated, angry. They want to feel what they feel at the present moment, in their own right, without judgement! If they want to disregard their feelings – then so be it! Who are we to judge? Men are not toxic. The man-box we fit them in must be to blame. And so it is. Men helped to build our world, through masculinity, it may be said. Needless to say, masculine attributes are not to be faulted. Not to be scorned. Men do not need to be converted or changed… in any way. Men do not need to be women, to be taken seriously. Men should be free to work hard. Be smart. Be ambitious. Be goal-driven. How can we classify such social-virtues as toxic? Men should be free to wear these virtues like a golden badge, and not be found at fault. Strength. Confidence. Protective instincts. Good leadership. Loyalty. Assertiveness. Masculinity provides us with these virtues; and deserves to be applauded, not blamed. A man punches another man in the face. Should he punch back? He has the strength. He has the power. He has the courage! So why not? Toxic? I don’t think so! Men should not be pointed at, as if to say, tiptoe around your gender please, you are too strong, you are too brave; it’s toxic! Demeaning! Masculinity helped build our world, but through society’s incline to blame toxic masculinity, we will be led to our own destruction. Our annihilation.

But let’s break it down, shall we? Toxic masculinity. Not pointed at all the males in our generation. Not saying all masculinity can be defined as toxic. Barak Obama. Masculine? Yes. Toxic? No. Men, I agree, are not toxic. But the nature of our single-mindset society conforms them to be so. The man-shaped box conforms them to be so. So who should we speak to? Who should we warn? Men? No, their masculinity is too fragile, too delicate, I hear you say. Society? No, don’t demean the men in society! Oh, yes, good point! So don’t speak at all must be the obvious solution. But, as goes the famous words, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” Should we voice our sentiments when the world falls into ruins? No. If we fail… we fail. My mother always told me, life without failure is like an empty canvas. My friends, the time has come. We must dare to pick up the brush. There can never be a better time than the present, than today; so bear with me, ladies and gentlemen.

Boys will be boys. I presume we have all come across the saying. When my brother got into scraps at school and my mother heard these all-explainable four words. When little boys used physical violence to replace what the verbal could express. When teachers dismissed their bad behaviour for our favourite mantra. Boys will be boys. But have we got it all wrong? Is this the small-minded attitude inhibiting our growth? How will we prevail over these toxic stereotypes together, as a generation; if as always: boys will be boys? If I know one thing, if I want to express to you, ladies and gentlemen, only one thing today; I hope you will leave knowing – it is okay to cry. Gentlemen. Ladies. It is okay to cry. So why are we force-fed contradictory ideologies? At six, I watched, as my guy friends were dismissed when they were distressed, because “big boys don’t cry”. Now, I see these same boys, 10 years later, now fully-grown, desperately trying to accomplish “being a man”, through hiding their emotions. Because as well all know… boys don’t cry. I read a book, a couple of years ago; a book that stayed with me. Left a message. Made a mark. A book I would truly recommend, to all those in the room who would like a taste of what it truly means to be a… solicitous, compassionate, brave… hero. What it means to be a father. A brother. A son. Malorie Blackman. An author that will be remembered throughout the ages. Adamantly tackling pressing issues of racism, homophobia and gender stereotypes through her words, since the 20th century. Representing noughts and crosses alike. I first came across this book 2 years ago, at 14, as my best friend at the time recommended it. I felt her emotions as she turned the pages beside me, in the hushed library. I listened to her speak about the book with a passion. And I felt it deserved a read. I was right. The book, consequently named: “Boys Don’t Cry”, moved me. I followed a young boy in this story. Watched him battle and break free from gender stereotypes and truly “be a man”. I watched as he became a devoted single-father and an affectionate brother, with huge responsibility. I saw his transition from a boy, to not just a man, to more than a man… to a true hero. Nevertheless, his journey wasn’t easy. But I found it never will be. “Shall I tell you something I have recently discovered? Boys don’t cry, but real men do.” Even the “strongest” of men in our room today, must admit the young man is right. To my ears, nothing could be more poignant. More resonant.

Go and challenge it, ladies and gentlemen. Go and tell me I’ wrong.”The most dangerous phrase in English history, is to be a man”, said Eva Wiseman. Yes. And the second: male pride. If being a man, requires not communicating our feelings with one another, we must free our men. If being a man, means being superficial, not taking things below the surface, we must free our men. If being a man, means collapsing at the thought of feminism, we must free our men. Like Louise Brealey once said, “I’d like every man who doesn’t call himself a feminist to explain to the women in his life why he doesn’t believe in equality for women.” Don’t interrupt. Hear me out, gentlemen, before jumping on the bandwagon of the #NotAllMen defense. I realize. Not. All. Men. But how can we persuade those select few, without addressing the majority? “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Good men, you must do more. Good men, you must teach your sons to be gentlemen, instead of “manning up”. Because if you, the gentlemen in the room; are free from masculine prowess, masculine pride, toxic masculinity – our women are free too. As the young man in my book realised – “You have a life that will be anything you make it. You have a world out there just waiting for you to conquer it.” Ladies and gentlemen, I advise you to push the bars of any gender stereotypes confining you in a cage; and conquer your limits every day. But I urge you to remember. To consider. Men are NOT monsters. But toxic masculinity can be. Conquer toxic masculinity. Conquer the world.So, although initially, I presented an argument to show, masculinity is in fact, non-toxic; and we should let men be men, I leave you with some food for thought. If “being a man” means being fearless, would there be any “real” men? Fear can be harnessed, but can it be erased? Gun shooters, anti-LGBT hate criminals, sexual harassers. Are these men fearless? Are they strong? Are they achieving their purpose of showing their courage? Or are they simply cowards without an ounce of reputable, commendable, creditable masculine attributes?

I hope I triumphed in encouraging you to question the predominant dogmas of what it means to be a man in the 21st century and inspired you to break down the barriers of gender labels, casts, and stereotypes.

11 February 2020

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