For the longest time, we have associated masculinity with domination, being tough, and bottling up emotions rather than talking about it. This is how gender stereotypes have trapped men in a self-defeating model.
This is toxic masculinity and Former President of the United States, Barack Obama recently talked about how it works, at a conference in Oakland for his My Brother’s Keeper initiative alongside NBA player, Stephen Curry, according to Huffington Post.
He redefined what it means to ‘be a man’, according to Huffington Post,
All of us have to recognize that being a man is first and foremost being a good human. That means being responsible, working hard, being kind, respectful, compassionate.
He then brings into question the problematic idea that you’ve to bring someone down in order to be respectful. It’s an archaic notion and doesn’t belong to this century. He says,
If you’re confident about your strength, you don’t need to show me by putting somebody else down… Show me by lifting somebody else up.
According to Independent, he also talked about how women create this safe space for each other to share, narrate and relate with each other’s experience. The same idea, however, seems off-limits for men.
He recounts how he would get together with his ‘boys’ to watch or play a game of basketball, without them saying much to each other. This is how genders socialise differently.
According to Huffington Post, Curry said that men need to be ‘open about their feelings’ and have a space to do so.
Obama also points out how things are doubly problematic for women of colour, as they have to live life at the crossroads of sexism and racism.
He talked about how racism also multiplies the problem of toxic masculinity…
Racism historically in this society sends a message that you are ‘less than’.
…which leads to a need to compensate for that lack. He says,
We feel we have to compensate by exaggerating stereotypical ways men are supposed to act. And that’s a trap.
This is an important conversation we need to have with men around us, especially with young boys who are still being socialised in a certain toxic way. The process to unlearn centuries old conditioning has to start and be sped up so that they don’t end up being trapped by the very stereotypes that are supposed to define them.