As young babies, if it was not for the physical gender differences, it would be hard to describe any behaviours as specific to boys or girls. For example, if you shout aggressively at a tiny baby, regardless of gender, they will cry. When they are toddlers, if they fall and hurt themselves, they might also cry. Babies are tender, sensitive, fragile and very vulnerable regardless of the gender assigned at birth.
What informs our parenting as they get older, that tells boys they do not have these same qualities as girls, that they feel things differently and have to express how they feel differently?
Boys get this message reflected to them explicitly and implicitly through messages via media, society, family and then friends at school. Everywhere they look and all they tend to hear is that boys need to be tougher than girls, and boys certainly don’t cry.
Are we influenced by society and its ideals so much so that we prepare our children to fit into a world that sets them up to be bullied?
Children are conditioned to ‘fit in’ and they know they get picked on when they are different, whether it be the colour of their hair, skin or some other physical difference. In the end, anything can be used as a trigger to make another feel small and bad about themselves. Often, these differences are not something you can do anything about. Being sensitive and certainly too sensitive is often touted as a reason for not having the resilience to deal with humour that is targeted and offensive and easily brush it off, or come back with a witty repartee.
So a tough outer shell is built. The ‘big and tough’ exterior often bellies the sensitivity which is innate within us all but reserved for relationships we feel ‘safe’ in or buried so deep that there is a bullying of anyone who dares reflect any level of sensitivity with name-calling and accusations of being ‘gay’
This is gender profiling and creates a sense of ‘boys need to toughen up’ and where ‘girls can be the sensitive ones’.
Most of us have been raised with this attitude and have accepted and lived with these beliefs for so long, as have our parents and their parents too, and so it is a fairly engrained picture we are seeing and accepting daily. Nonetheless, it is a lie and the lie is not true.
Just because a way of life is repeated a billion times, it doesn’t make it okay.
Too many generations have promoted the ‘tough’ myth, yet in fact boys and men, by their very nature are as tender, sensitive, fragile, vulnerable and caring as any girl and woman.
To value and treat boys and men as the sensitive beings they are, is a start in disassembling the myth that is causing so much harm to a man’s mental and physical health.