Playing with Barbie: escaping toxic masculinity

barbie beautiful beauty bench
Photo by Pixabay on

the school environment was teaching me a very different way of coping with emotions, simply not to.

So to explain this particular title, ill have to tell you a little about my life growing up. I’m the youngest child of three and the only boy, so when me and my sisters where playing together, it was typically dominated by them. The choice was play Barbie’s with them or don’t play, although I was frequently told off causing car crashes (I just wanted some drama and to see how Ken would cope with caring for a disabled Barbie, you know real life shit; Not how Barbie was going cope buying Christmas presents on tight budget). Needless to say I was raised in a very feminine environment, arguing and certainly physical conflict was never tolerated or really a problem between us. This was fine and even very healthy within the enclosed environment of the family home, I only really started having issues with my feminine upbringing when I enter secondary school. My home life had taught me to wear my feelings on my sleeve. However the microcosm that was the school environment was teaching me a very different way of coping with emotions, simply not to. In school any sign of difference or weakness were often attacked (there a few creatures more imaginatively cruel than a teen who’s just discovered wanking). The school environment teaches children to guard themselves emotionally at any cost and constantly takes a mallet to round pegs in square holes. I dare not imagine how this has been amplified in schools today in the age of social media. The idea of there being no retreat for the frankly oppressive hormone fuelled cluster fuck of school, as the days drama bleeds into your home life thou Facebook is enough to give you bleed.

instead of resolving many gender issues that typically only affected women, we’ve merely ported them over so men are affected by them as well.

rear view of a boy sitting on grassland
Photo by Pixabay on

Sadly there is no escape from the fuckery of societal programed emotional repression in the “adult” world either. Today the very concept of masculinity has become so contrived with conflicting messages its no wonder that male suicide rate has skyrocketed; As young men are instructed to stoic, yet emotional accessible, respectful yet assertive in their quests to find acceptance, love and status. All the while still clinging to the age old pressures of finding a high enough paying job fulfil the expected role of finical provider. Not to say that the paradigm shift of traditional gender roles hasn’t yielded some good, it has; There’s more emphasis than ever for fathers to play active roles in the raising of their children and women are contributing more than ever to the finical stability of the family unit and in many cases are the bread winners with fathers taking up the majority of the childcare. But there have been a lot of failings as well, instead of resolving many gender issues that typically only affected women, we’ve merely ported them over so men are affected by them as well (I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve called myself a fat fuck in the mirror like a crazed next top model contestant). We live in an age where men are buying more cosmetic products than ever before and advertising exclusively perpetuates a Nye impossible male body image, that has to be attained if you’ve to be found attractive, or have any self belief that someone could actually love the grey matter carried around by fatty love handles you call a self. The idea of possessing a body that is anything less than in a state of perfection is now a harmful trope subjected to both genders. Although there are more and more campaigns to drop airbrushed photo’s of female models, there is little sign of a body confident movement for men. I think there are quite few women who might think that turn around is fair play and all, but all this is doing is damaging  both in almost equal measure. The point of equality to me was to raise each other up until we are equal, not to denigrate the other in a race to the bottom as both sides snipe about how the other side has it better.   logo2

“it should be for everyone to help each other regardless of gender”

I believe In  many ways that this idea, or the belief that mainstream feminism is about denigrating the male to reach equality has given the so called men’s rights groups the oxygen with which to flourish. But all this is serving is widening the gap between both. I myself had a thankfully brief foray into what now is ominously called the manosphere. Not to detract from some of the genuine issues raised in blogs and websites like these, I happen to believe that there is some credence to these problems and it should be for everyone to help each other regardless of gender with gender issues and not blame the young men of today for male oriented system that they themselves did not create; Nor to attack young women for being finally able to succeed in life and in the work place.  But this is a view that would earn me scorn and ridicule in both camps and that it I find that shameful on both their behalf’s. During my time trying to rediscover my masculine identity, the main problem I found was that a lot of these groups and life coaching companies were offering advice based on looking at the past and not the future. A lot of the advice to young men looking to find their courage and self worth was to fall back on the same toxic male archetypes that oppressed women in the first place (placed self worth and confidence as important as appeasing the libido). However they clung to this idea that all men should be emotionally resilient and tough enough not to let emotion get in the way of getting what they want (which was usually orientated around how to bed women). I actually found this more damaging to my mental and emotional well being than my feminist upbringing. Emotions are import, they warn us from danger and stop us from getting into situations and aren’t right for us as people and help us to chose to right partners to build our lives with.

“growing up and finding yourself and your place in the world is hard regardless of what equipment your carrying”

173798295All ideas and ideologies, both sides of this argument have the flaws and there failings. But fatherhood has been the catalyst for me to examine these arguments and pick which parts ill use when raising my son. I worry a great deal for my son’s mental well being as he grows up and finds out what’s its like to be a man in the twenty first century. Growing up and finding yourself and your place in the world is hard regardless of what equipment your carrying, but I have a quite sense of optimism for what my daughter can achieve in this world now. There are more and more opportunities for women to prove and be proud of themselves as people today and I’m immensely grateful for that. I promised myself early on that I would treat both of my children the same regardless of their gender, I call both of them smart and beautiful in equal measure (ok my current nickname for my son is little fatty man, probably should pack that one in before he’s old enough to remember that). I think I worry more for my son because I don’t want him to make the same mistakes that I did and I don’t want him to be judged as less of a man for having a heathy relationship with his emotions, which is an all to common stigma. I worry for my daughter to, but not for the same reasons. She’ll have her own trials and struggles, but it is greatly more socially acceptable for women to express feeling outwardly than it is for men. When my eldest sister was considering moving her family to France my other sister cried at the dinner table in front of the whole extended family, I was just as cut up at the prospect of her moving away, but chose to go outside and cry alone rather than show weakness in front of people who would have given me comfort and support. This was ridiculous and more damaging to my wellbeing than openly crying would have been. But there it was despite my up bring that societal male programing telling me not to show weakness in the company of others (unless its watching the green mile, if you don’t cry to that film you are fucking dead inside). 

All that I can hope for, is that I’ll mature enough to be a good example and be seasoned and secure enough to show by example that showing emotion in front of your family is nothing to be ashamed or afraid of; My sons feelings are just as valid and as important as my daughters and I hope I never forget that.

7 thoughts on “Playing with Barbie: escaping toxic masculinity

  1. I think it’s very sad that men are still (perhaps a bit less than previous generations, but nowhere near enough less) expected to hide their emotions and see them as a weakness. I know my husband has found it challenging to accept his emotions and allow himself space to feel them. I try to do what I can to help and support him in it.

    Learning to be openly and unapologetically yourself is a difficult process.

    (A side note, he’s started wearing pink socks to places/events that tend to be fraught with expectations of traditional masculinity as a small but fierce rebellion. It makes him happy to do it, and it’s nice to see that.)

    Liked by 1 person

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