From unequal pay to sexual assault, women are empowered to be strong individuals who can stomach any pain rather than fighting for themselves. 

But what if they just didn’t have anything to fight? 

I’ve previously argued that we should empower our women to fight back rather than endure, but that’s ignoring the root of the problem. My former argument does not address the elephant in the room: the existence of the injustices. 

Women make up 50.8% of the population in the United States. We should hold 50.8% of the power, yet we live in a nation where:

How do we stop these inequalities from happening?

Currently, we try to do so by empowering our women. We tell them if they want a seat at the table, they have to pull up their own seat. But this is dismissing the issue. 

We are attempting to solve gender-related issues by empowering the wrong gender. We are trying to remedy toxic-masculinity-induced inequalities by overpowering it with strong femininity rather than eliminating the exaggerated, dangerous masculinity. We’re fighting fire with fire. 

If we focused our attention on educating our young men and empowering them to overcome toxic masculinity, we wouldn’t have to continue empowering our women to be so resilient and complacent. 

Women have been putting in the work for decades. From webinars to empowerment groups like the national organization CHAARG, women have worked hard to become an empowered faction of society, knowing we have to show up to the table as the best versions of ourselves if we want society to succeed.

Can we say the same for men?

Women have been sitting at the table for decades. Men haven’t even found the restaurant we’re sitting in. 

Perhaps it’s time we give our men the directions to the restaurant and invite them to join us at the table. 

To do so, we need to educate men and society as a whole about toxic masculinity, explaining the horrendous effects. From there, we need to change our language, teaching our children to just be children rather than glorified personifications of their gender. 

From a young age, men are taught to embody this man-made concept of masculinity. Justin Baldoni, an actor known for his role in “Jane the Virgin”, speaks about his experience with toxic masculinity in a TedTalk, explaining that “as a boy, all [he] wanted was to be accepted and liked by the other boys, but that acceptance meant [he] had to acquire this almost disgusted view of the feminine, and since we were told that feminine is the opposite of masculine, [he] either had to reject embodying any of these qualities or face rejection [himself].” 

From a young age, men are taught to put on a performance. To be macho, embodying exaggerated masculinity to ensure that other men won’t question their manliness. They are competing in a never-ending challenge to prove themselves worthy of society’s praise, and they think being masculine will earn that praise. 

In order to help women relate, I’d like to discuss the role that’s forced on us from a young age, helping us understand that men are likely experiencing the same pressure as we are — it just presents itself in different clothing. From a young age, we as women are taught to be kind and people-pleasing in order to keep the peace, causing complacency. We are encouraged to be the girl who says, “if that makes sense” or “I don’t know, though” at the end of every sentence in order to quell any skeptics and diffuse any tension. 

As women, we’re taught to downplay ourselves.

In the process of downplaying ourselves, we accidentally raised our men to a dangerous height.

Now, men are constantly trying to climb to that impossible height, and many inevitably fall short. They put themselves in harm’s way just to reach that standard. Society has unrealistic, dangerous expectations for men. They’re meant to be brave, courageous breadwinners and protectors, which means suppressing their own emotions to appear strong. 

In his TedTalk, Baldoni says that, according to the deformed viewpoint of men, it’s okay if they follow his social media accounts and respond to his posts about stereotypically masculine content — lifting weights, playing sports, fishing, hunting, etc. — but as soon as he posts about how much loves his wife and kids, or how he struggles with body dysmorphia or fighting for gender equality, only his women followers show up. 

In fact, his following is 89% women when he’s authentically vulnerable about his emotions — a “feminine” quality. 

This genderization of universal human emotions is dangerous. 

White men in America account for nearly 70% of suicide deaths.

Obviously, societal standards are not the only reason this is true, but it is a component of this larger issue. This issue is global, too, with doctors around the world citing men’s inability to address their mental health — which society has taught them so that they can maintain the appearance as being unshakable — as a main component of the gender-disparity in suicide. 

We’re trapping men, stunting their growth and thus society’s growth as a whole. Let’s let emotions be human rather than female. If we want to see societal progress and our own progress as women, we have to help our men work through and destroy toxic masculinity.

Like all things, the first step is admitting that there’s a problem. In order to begin dismantling a culture of toxic masculinity, men first need to admit how this toxic culture is affecting their well-being, and women need to admit our roles in the propagation of toxic masculinity. 

I recently had a chat with three friends, one female and two male, about toxic masculinity. Our male friends were discussing the effects of toxic masculinity on their own mental health and social upbringing. After listening to their stories, my female friend said, “I just don’t think that’s toxic. That’s on you, not on society.” 

But, if a man said that same thing to her, she would lose her mind. If a man told her that it was just her own perception and that women don’t actually face inequalities, she would be deeply offended. Women need to work through this double standard, accepting that men can also be hurt by the environment we live in. 

We need to understand that just like how we are taught to be strong enough to endure any inequality, men are taught to be strong enough to conquer or ignore any emotions. 

It’s time to be gentle with ourselves. Because, at the end of the day, who are we even putting on our brave faces for? Who is it benefitting?

Maria Ferrato is an opinion writer. Contact her at mferrat1@kent.edu

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