Sometimes I feel like I live with a tiger in my house.
I’ll wake up on days when both of my parents are home at the same time, and before I even go downstairs I can sense that the atmosphere is different. Sometimes shouting can be heard, sometimes stony silence. When I go downstairs, my dad will usually be planted in his usual spot on the sofa, staring at the television. My mom will be bustling around the kitchen, sometimes angrily muttering to herself. One wrong move, and he could be provoked. I never know if this will be the day the house is tense for days instead of hours again, if this will be the day they both scream at the top of their lungs again, if this will be the day he raises his hand again. Sometimes it’s once a week where I have to tip-toe around, listen carefully while in my bedroom, sit in the kitchen to make sure nothing serious happens.
But a man is not a tiger. Men are men; nothing more, nothing less. So what does it say about society when men are able to act like this, and have certain types of control over others, with little to no repercussions?
In Indian culture, it’s the norm that the man is more dominant in the house. Hindus will sometimes tout that “husband is God”. But this type of male-centered mindset is persistent across the globe, whether it’s to the same degree or much less extreme. Certain ideologies are instilled into men right from the start; boys learn that it is okay for them to play rough. They learn that they should be able to get what they want, and that a real man is confident and assertive. As the age old saying goes, boys will be boys.
This is a double-edged sword for them as well; boys are told that they can’t be emotional, and that they must be strong*. When you tell your son that boys don’t cry, he is forced to find other outlets for his emotions. Maybe he’ll see a violent television show, or learn from other boys at school, and just maybe he’ll learn to take his emotions out in aggression rather than tears. I have a genuine question for you: why do you think that 70 of the last 71 majors shootings were done by men? I’m curious. Why do you think that is?
On a side note, when I use the word ‘you’ in this post, it is not a direct attack towards anyone. This is a societal effect that bleeds through into all of us. The only way to combat it is through awareness and positive direction.
We are telling our boys the wrong things. They grow up thinking that they are entitled to certain things, whether it is success, happiness, or the hot girl at the end of the movie. They think they have to force certain emotions, the ‘weak’ ones, down into the depths of themselves, but that is where they could erupt in the worst ways possible.
We as a society have a tendency to label people who do awful things as monsters; we villainize them so we won’t have to acknowledge that they are human, and relate-able to us in some small way. We do this with rapists, murderers, terrorists, and more. We use words like ‘monster’ to relinquish any responsibility we had towards making someone the way they became. Rapists are not just creepy thugs who corner innocents in alleyways. They can also be boys in college dorms, brought up in nice neighborhoods by nice families. We need to start recognizing that people, perfectly sensible people that we know and love, can do bad things. That is the only way we will be able to start conversation with our boys and girls over what is right and what is wrong; when we realize that any child could become a so called ‘monster’ if we are not careful.
There is no white and black. There is so little, in fact, that sometimes I feel as though I am drowning in a sea of gray. Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things. And sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. If you have any young children in your life, cast away preconceived gender roles. Don’t let them fall prey to any stigmas, and always listen to what they’re feeling. Please, before you tell your boys to be men, think about what you want that to mean first.
*For the purpose of this blog post, I generalized boy’s/men’s individualized experiences based on overall societal constructs. Obviously many boys will not be taught things like “don’t be emotional”, but enough are that it needs to mentioned and discussed.