What Does It Mean to 'Be a Man'?

04/23/2015 02:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015
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"The sex that oppresses another sex is not a free sex."

I heard this quote in an Africana intellectual thought class that I dropped in on, and it's a quote I can't stop thinking about.

There is no doubt that historically, oppressive patriarchal societies have caused mayhem to women in the past and today, but do we ever think to ourselves, were men truly "free" in these systems, despite being the privileged sex?

In my opinion, no.

Just as the masculine gender constructs puts down females, its first victims, are in fact males, starting with the way they are raised.

In a famous TED talk, Tony Porter described the discrepancy in the way he handled his daughter crying versus his son. If his daughter cried, he consoled her with reassurance of comfort and protection. This is not however, how he dealt with his son's tears -- he paid no heed to the reasons for his son's sadness. Rather, he sternly told him to buck up, wipe his tears and act his gender.

Many young boys are often socialized this way, into what Porter described as "The Man Box," which entails the following: little fear, little weakness and emotion, physically strong, heterosexual, confident, wealthy and dominant. This subsequently concludes that the antithesis of these qualities are "feminine." Women are therefore relegated to weaker status, and gay men are considered failures as men.

When we require these unrealistic standards of men, we leave young men with fragile egos. It's to the point that having their authority questioned, having a female partner make more money, or mere association with feminine qualities is equal to emasculation. Suppressing the humanity of males leaves them emotionally illiterate.

And, we wonder why males are generally viewed as more violent; anger and rage are acceptable expressions of emotion.

The dire issue we also face when defining masculinity, is defining power.

Power is associated with masculinity, but how exactly is power quantified? Power is often equated with money, status and sexual prowess. We have seen these figures before, extremely wealthy men, young or old, with a trophy wife by their side; a Jordan Belfort -- minus the part about being arrested.

Remarks like "Stop acting like a female," "Don't be a pu**y", or "He runs/plays like a girl" are far too familiar to us. If it's the worst crime for a man to be called a woman, it begs the question, what are we then teaching young boys about women? When a man becomes more and more compelled to emulate the qualities of an ideal alpha male, it directly affects his perceptions of women and thus how he views and treats them.

As a little girl I feel like I was socialized into this worldview that I should inherently fear men, a notion validated by many male figures in my life.

I fear that being blasé about painting this image of males is what perpetuates certain "boys will be boys" excuses when boys commit acts of violence. Many instances of women, particularly in the army, coming forward to commanding officers about sexual assault have often resulted in the "well what did you expect to happen?" justification.

We shouldn't expect this of men. And men shouldn't accept this excuse, because when they do, they are acquiescing to a backward world view that they are savage by nature.

In my opinion, there lacks in-depth conversation about masculinity and its effects on adolescent boys through their journey into manhood. Many female feminists have addressed and discussed this topic, but I wish to hear the perspectives of males. Though I cannot empathize, I want to understand what it's like to be a male in every facet: emotionally, physically and mentally. I want to understand how race, ethnicity, sexuality, class or physical disability act in accordance with male expectations in shaping their experiences.

If we as human beings want to dismantle an unhealthy patriarchal society, we must first understand how it affects men every day.

Instead of framing the discussion of gender as some sort of political stance, let us conduct a legitimate discussion about how gender expectations affect our daily lives. A legitimate conversation not just on Twitter and Tumblr, but in our classrooms and in our social circles.

Maybe then the world will become more gender fluid.

Maybe then we can finally live in world of true gender equality.