“Boys don’t cry, son!” I remember overhearing an ailing father say this to his toddler on one of my usual bus rides to work. But what struck me as unusual was the father’s desperate attempt to curb the crying and the misguided ideology that he was impinging upon the kid in the process.
Home is where the idea of masculinity and femininity starts shaping up for a kid. It’s also the place where they learn about the ‘Boy Code’. Boys are teased if they are outperformed by a girl at school. They are led to think that being a man means being dominant and invulnerable. They are forbidden to show signs of mental distress and emotional instability because it exposes their weakness. These traits are regarded too feminine to society. Men are supposed to bottle up their emotions and never even dare to open up because if they do, it means that they are too soft. As a result, it drives the emotional balance of a man underground. Due to this isolation from expression, boys struggle to perform in academics and engage in violent crimes and suicide. William S. Pollack called this downward spiral a result of the “silent crisis” of misguided masculinity in his book Real Boys. This flawed ideology does nothing more than shrouding a kid’s perspective with a misplaced concept of manhood at a very tender age.
And this is where parenting can play a role to shape up a kid’s perception of healthy masculinity. As parents, ask them to share their feelings. It’s more important to acknowledge those feelings and encourage them to open up instead of turning a blind eye to their emotional impairment. Let your kids vent, let them know that you are approachable when they hit rock bottom. Let them get it out of their system and while they do it, make an attempt to listen to them. Transparency is the key to ease out the hesitation that children feel before sharing their thoughts. Teaching the boys to swallow up their feelings is what gives them the wrong idea about masculinity in the first place. Let them let it out. Educate the boys that being tough to have nothing to do with being devoid of sentiment. Convey the utterly important message that being expressive of their vulnerabilities doesn’t make them weak, it makes them grow. Emotions are strong tools. It’s what makes us humane. So before being a man, help them figure out what type of human they want to be.
Children need to learn about compassion and empathy instead of preparing to wage war over the powerplay of genders. The phenomenon of toxic masculinity is a result of biological, cultural and social influences. But in order to crash that cultural misandry, children need their parents to be on the side of the expression, not emotional exile.