It is only natural to have the urge to “fit in”. Either with keeping up with the constant trends that come and go, or trying to talk to the “popular” group at school. Especially during someone’s teenage years, they want to be accepted by everyone, specifically, by the ones who seem to have the highest spot on the school social ladder. I know for me specifically, the concept of not needing the approval of everyone in the grade was a hard one to grasp, and it actually took me a while to realize that this is the common phrase that I’ve heard being thrown around for a while, yet have never understood what it actually was. Toxic masculinity.
I constantly get bombarded with snide comments by multiple people in schools telling me that everything I value, is wrong. I was constantly told that I must change myself. But to be perfectly honest, coming from a person who was literally bullied, verbally and physically, for being who I am, this is simply disappointing. Despite this toxic mentality being embedded in society, the pressure that many boys feel on a daily basis, that feeling of everything you do is under a microscope, is only further pressurized by fellow peers at school.
A few comments that I’ve gotten over the years and to this day of what I “should” be are:
-My favorite artist must be a rapper
-I must love and play sports constantly
-I shouldn’t show any effort into your schoolwork
-I must disrupt the class
-I shouldn’t show emotions besides anger
-I have to be disrespectful to others to “show dominance”
-I can’t depend on others
And the list goes on.
And the really disappointing thing is, people who think they aren’t good enough, feel that they themselves have to change to please others. And it’s even sadder, when they still are rejected when they change, causing them to not even love themselves. Every time you put on a mask to cover up who you truly are, you tend to lose a sense of how you really want to act and believe.
I used to be a big fan of drawing and art, but, that wasn’t what a ‘guy’ does. A guy plays football/basketball and any other sports, art was strictly for girls. And the worst part about all of this is that I believed them. I mean how could I not, they are popular for a reason they must know what’s right and wrong to do. I was manipulated. And forgot about how much I used to love art. But you’re probably going to say, “It’s your fault for believing them”, and you are 100% right. However, everyone seems to forget the fact that this is still bullying. These heartless and disrespectful kids were making fun of me every single day, telling me that everything I love is wrong. They also physically hurt me for it, actually beating me up and shoving me from place to place, for simply being who I want to be.
There was a point in my life during middle school where this toxic masculinity got very serious and a concerning issue for me. I was told that because I didn’t follow the long list of prerequisites that many teenage boys are trapped by on a daily basis, that I am less of a man because of the hobbies that I enjoy, which isn’t the classing trope of what a guy is. Then, I was hit by the heaviest blow, and it wasn’t even a physical hit. I was told that because I didn’t play sports, showed emotions, love Disney and wrote songs, I should kill myself since my life wasn’t worth anything. At that moment, it felt like I was frozen in time and saw all the staring faces around me, and no one opposing or reacting emphatically, and all I wanted to do was to scream. But instead, I ran. Running as far away as I can from that horrible situation, hearing the laughs of the people that I thought would defend me. I felt my brain being picked apart like flowers by my own thoughts, telling myself “is this even worth it?” And “maybe I should change myself a bit”.
But that’s where I stop myself. The phrase “changing yourself to be accepted by other people” sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it. Why put the effort to satisfy someone who’s dealing with their own internal demons, when you can work on defeating your own? And then I stopped running. I turned my attention to the empty music room at school, and sang. I didn’t even care about how it sounded. I just wanted to have an outlet to express my human emotions, and to get a drop of genuine joy to get rid of the deep cut of hurt that I got from the words “kill yourself”. Take your pain, and put it into something you love, and you will heal. Find a support system, either friends or family, who will accept you for who you are, rather than having the constant fear of what you said will not be “good enough” for them. The final step to do is to accept yourself. I am aware that writing songs and not playing sports is the complete opposite of what the majority of teenage boys like. But that makes your hobbies, interests, and beliefs all the more special and YOU. And speak against this toxic masculinity, by expressing your interests either in a talent show, school play, or even simply in your daily life by showing it on social media.
However, there is no perfect utopia where you won’t feel pressure from society as that is unfortunately natural, but when you do, remember the question: Why put the effort to satisfy someone who’s dealing with their own internal demons, when you can work on defeating your own?
No one should be attacked, verbally or physically, for being who they are. This includes what they value and whatever their beliefs are. Instead of trying to please other people by changing who you are, you are failing to please the person who matters most, yourself.