Toughen Up, Guys!

Yesterday, I showed a documentary in my class called “Tough Guise 2” with Jackson Katz.  It is all about the way the media has ‘hypermasculinized’ men, just like they have ‘hypersexualized’ women.  Boys are socialized into this role where they can’t show emotion or sensitivity without the threat of bullying or being labeled a ‘fag’ or ‘sissy’.  They are forced to put on a mask (a guise) and always act tough.  In fact, they are made to believe that toughness and aggressiveness are the only acceptable ways to show you’re a man.  And it’s not just the media showing this…it’s also peers, family, etc.  How many times have you heard someone say to their son: “Big boys don’t cry!”  or “Toughen up, son!”  or “Quit being so sensitive!”.  And as they get older, how about “Grow a set!”  “Be a man!”  And the list of commands go on.

Take a look at the statistics presented in the film: (

• 86% of armed robberies are committed by men.
• 77% of aggravated assaults are committed by men.
• 87% of stalkers are men.
• 86% of domestic violence incidents resulting in physical injury are perpetrated by men.
• 99% of rapes are committed by men.
• Men commit approximately 90% of murders.
• Over the past 30 years, 61 of the last 62 mass shootings have been committed by men.

The reason we watched this particular film is because we’ve been studying gender issues in my Intro to Sociology classes.  When people think of ‘gender’ studies, they assume we talk about women.  After all, we’re the one’s who are oppressed…we make less money, have less political power, and are more likely to be raped, assaulted, and harassed than men.  But, men have a gender too!!  And I believe it’s so important to make sure their issues are heard as well.  In fact, I believe that men suffer from oppression too.  If you are only allowed to behave in 1 strict, conforming manner, you are living in a tiny little box.  Women have bigger boxes…we can act ‘masculine’ (to a degree) without being hassled. When I was little, I loved playing with trucks and Lincoln Logs, and climbing the tree in my grandparents yard after I played a game of basketball on their driveway.  And it was OK!  But, had a boy played with dolls, preferred tea sets over footballs, or wanted to spend time crafting instead of wrestling around on the floor, he would have been stopped.  And no matter how gender neutral we might be, I truly believe parents help their boys climb into their box.  I remember saying things to my son at times like “It’s ok…just toughen up…”.  I’m sorry I did…I’m sorry I fed into the idea that boys have to learn to be this tough man so early in life, but I did it because I knew the repercussions of NOT doing so.  I wanted my son to be respected.  To fit in.  To not be the one who is victimized in the class.  So I justify making my son into a man.  And I question whether this was right or not.


When I mention the word ‘feminism’ in my class, I ALWAYS get groans and rolled eyes.  I think many believe this means a woman who hates men and wants to take over the world!  No.  (Although at times, I see how taking over might be a good thing…heaven knows the men aren’t running things well right now!).  Anyhoo…when I explain that feminism means “Biology is not Destiny”, their attitude starts to change.  I ask the young men in my classes if they want their daughters to have the same opportunities as their sons.  They all nod and say yes.  So, there you go.  They are feminists too!!

But shouldn’t men also have the same opportunities in being able to show EVERY emotion the good Lord gave us?  Instead of having to stifle the majority of them, and only show the ‘tough’ ones?  Isn’t that oppression too?  Isn’t that a lack of opportunity in being a fully formed human?  Hmmmm.  In fact, it’s interesting how the division between the genders is getting WORSE instead of better.  EVERYTHING is genderized!!  Laxatives, ear plugs, pens, razors, pop, crackers, crayons, earbuds, and the list goes on!  It wasn’t like this when I was a kid/young adult.  A pen was a pen.  Crayons were crayons.  Crackers were crackers.  Why in the world does everything have to be either pink or blue?  Even for adults?  Sheesh!

Now, during this particular unit, I also teach about Domestic Violence.  When I was a grad student, I took a 40 hour DV class so that I could do an 150 hour internship at the local Domestic Violence shelter.  At that time, statistics stated that a woman is beaten every 15 seconds by her boyfriend or husband.  Now?  It’s every 9 seconds.  The problem is getting worse…not better.  Yet we have so many more facilities, knowledge, and public service announcements than ever before.  But it’s not working.  If it was, these stats would be getting better…not worse.


My point with this?  Tie these 2 things together:  the hypermasculinization of men and the increase in violence against women, and there you go.  I believe we have, and are, raising men to only know how to emote through anger or aggression.  Men who believe they must demand respect.  Men who were taught that crying, having sensitivity, and being empathic are ‘sissy’ things.  Men who have learned that to be tough is to be a man.  Is it no wonder the violence against women in our country is the way it is?

Yes, of course I know this issue is much more complicated and there are multiple reasons Domestic Violence happens.  But I simply can’t believe there’s not a correlation between these 2 things.

So, the question is this?  How can we get away from forcing our boys to be only ‘tough’ men?  Only aggressive men?  Only stoic men?  Only men who believe any emotion one might label feminine is bad…like nurturance, empathy, and sensitivity?  Until we figure this out, the violence against women is not going to get better.  It’s going to get worse.  Like it already has.

Professor K ❤


2 thoughts on “Toughen Up, Guys!

  1. Powerful stuff.
    My eldest son played flute and got tons of harassment. One day he looked at one of the guys and asked, ‘Who sits near me in the flute section? Who else plays flute?’ Ummm, yeah, the girls!
    That pink tax kills me. And I fall for it EVERY time!
    Read a story about Queen Vashti. (OT Biblical Queen who was ousted in book of Ester) Some believe her to be the first feminist for some of the things she did (had a meal for only women and refused the King when he asked her to do something she felt was wrong. I am going to look at her in a different light from now on!

    Liked by 1 person

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