Healthy emotional expression is key in developing men’s identities

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Outdated and toxic expectations of masculinity discourage men from emotional self-expression. But it doesn’t have to be this way—we can change these harmful values.

Everywhere—in films, social media, literature—men are represented as unemotional and tough, the stoic support of the family. Any behaviour outside of these values is too often thought to be an affront to the definition of manhood.

This is why it’s still ‘controversial’ for an NFL player to come out as gay in a deeply masculine sports league. Because toxic masculinity is a breeding ground for homophobia, where queerness is seen as the opposite of masculinity, queer men can feel pressured to hide their identity for the comfort of fitting in.

The fact is, queer culture doesn’t devalue masculinity. The prevalence of the traditional male stereotypes simply makes us forget that.

This stigma comes straight from one’s childhood.

Oftentimes, sons see fathers setting boundaries as the head of the family, while mothers are the comforters in the aftermath of the fathers’ decisions. But being punished for showing fear or sadness can lead young men to think of emotional expression as a sign of weakness.

Strict gendered roles in parenting enforce these same norms in the heterosexual romantic relationships of the next generation. Children’s actions reflect the actions of their parents: boys behave stoically, while girls grow up to desire unemotional men.

These harmful stereotypes are often reinforced in a cyclical nature, sometimes unconsciously.

This isn’t okay.

Knowing how to communicate emotions is important in becoming a well-balanced person. Suppressing feelings leads to sons lacking emotional maturity. Without understanding your own emotions, it’s difficult to build confidence in who you are.

Yet, in an age where queerness and gender fluidity are widely celebrated, many men still feel pressure to solidify their straightness and hypermasculinity. Meanwhile, social media spawns criticism towards male celebrities for not being queer or vulnerable enough, similar to how fathers have criticized their sons for showing too much of these qualities.

No one needs to be forced into or restricted from expressing their emotions. Both have negative effects on an individual’s expression of their identity.

Our generation is more aware of this truth than those before us. As a result, we have a greater opportunity to make sweeping change.

We, as potential future parents, need to be mindful of our own identities and understand how different aspects of these identities were impacted by how we were raised. Future fathers can set an example for their sons, showing them that emotional intelligence isn’t an inherent feminine quality.

Most importantly, we need to re-evaluate how we will interact with our own kids and the kind of expectations we may have for their future. Kids of all genders should be raised equally, defined not by outdated stereotypes, but by their characters and interests.

Through a united effort, we can initiate a new cycle of positive norms—one that allows men to be themselves.

—Journal Editorial Board

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