As a youth camp counselor this summer I had a tender experience. Toward the end of the week, the directors, a married couple, shared with the youth that prior to the summer, their son had died tragically. After they told this story, a few teenage boys in my cohort approached them and, with tears in their eyes, thanked them for sharing. I was impressed with the empathy and sincerity that these teenage boys showed. Like Christ, they had mourned with those that mourned and comforted those that stood in need of comfort. Later, one of the boys, we’ll call him Mark, asked to speak with me. Mark was about 16 years old. He was athletic and large — the epitome of a high school football star. As we spoke, Mark told me that he wanted to experience more compassion in his life. He worried, however, because his family and friends adopt the mentality that men don’t empathize and “the boys” don’t discuss feelings.
I was grateful that I was able to witness this young man grow and abandon an aspect of toxic masculinity that burdened him. He is a good person and I’m sure his friends and family love and want the best for him. I am sad, however, that over the years this was the first time he felt like he could shed unhealthy pressures. He undoubtedly had been taught by, lived around and communicated with people who didn’t support “toxic masculinity” but whatever messages of Christlike love that were sent did not sink in. I believe this is because too often well-intentioned messages of feminism err dangerously close to anti-masculine and anti-man rhetoric that push men away.
This repelling force has devastating consequences for everyone involved, as young men feel threatened by the equal rights movement’s demonizing of manliness and are as a result more likely to be misogynistic. There has been a shift in recent years where most misogyny does not come from older men but from younger men. An article by StudyFinds.org explains that recent analysis shows “young men are increasingly working against women’s rights” and this “appears to contradict some previous studies which point to older men as the root of conservative, anti-equality efforts.”
In another article, The New Yorker columnist Idrees Kahloon writes that “the rapid liberation of women and the labor-market shift toward brains and away from brawn have left men bereft of what the sociologist David Morgan calls ‘ontological security.'” He continues to cite research that demonstrates how men are “flailing” in all levels of education, being incarcerated with breathtaking discrepancy, ending their careers early and are more likely to overdose or “(drink) themselves to death.”
Although this vein of issues exists for men due to similar gender norms that women are also facing, the only sources that talk about men’s concerns are alpha-man podcasts and misogynistic commentators. For example if you were to walk around campus today you would find posters, programs and panels that invite women to participate in male-dominated industries. From the Wilk to the Tanner, banners read “Women in Law” and “Women in STEM.” However, you would rarely, if ever, see a poster that reads “Men in the Humanities” or “Men in Education.” On the news, people and universities boast their gender demographics when they are predominantly female and hide them when they are predominantly male. Professors inadvertently silence male voices on topical social issues. Teachers commend female students on their handwriting, brilliance and behavior then turn to their male pupils and ask with venom why they can’t “grow up.”
The strides that women have made over the last few decades are commendable and need to continue but as women break down barriers and make progress, men and masculinity shouldn’t be vilified. The battle is not against “the other,” but against our individual and collective sin. Everyone should feel confident expressing their personality and gender openly, regardless of how masculine or feminine they are.
My call to action is this: the modern face of feminism at BYU and globally should not just be women and feminine men but everyone. Contradictory to insular extremists on both sides, the languishing of men does not help women nor does the success of women threaten men. Such dichotomous economic and social theory is damaging to society and inconsistent with reality. As the adage says “women’s rights are human rights.”
Plain City, Utah