On our way back from New York City over Christmas break, my family and I waited in line for gas at a major stop in Delaware. At one of the pumps was a pickup truck with six people — all Caucasian — three men, two women and one teenage boy. They had, quite obviously, finished pumping gas, but were hanging out in the spot, smoking, laughing loudly and spitting. In the car behind them was a Middle Eastern family of four — mom, dad, son and grandmother. The father politely asked the group if they would mind moving so that others in line could get gas. The three men were instantly enraged and started to throw every curse and racial slur in existence at this man. When the grandmother stepped out of the car and asked them to be more polite, the guys lost it: They screamed, cursed, threatened to fight her and her family, claiming they owned her “like a dog.” They spit at her and told her they would make sure she “went back to where she came from” for daring to ask them to move, for inconveniencing them.
Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, believed that men and women come into the world with both masculine and feminine qualities. Men are the physical embodiment of masculinity, but have the feminine archetype — anima — within themselves. Likewise, women are the physical embodiment of femininity, but have the masculine archetype — animus — within themselves. Each of us thus has the ability to attain a balance of masculinity and femininity in our lives and to create a harmonized society. Conversely, though, an imbalance of masculinity or femininity, Jung said, led to societal problems of grave consequence.
This latter situation of gender imbalance and inequity plagues our society and culture. Not only do women hold only 4.6 percent of executive offices in Fortune 500 companies, only 16 percent hold directing and producing roles in cinematography and only 19.4 percent hold congressional offices. Values associated traditionally with masculinity — competition, strength, boldness and action — have come to supersede those associated with femininity — communication, intuition and emotional expression. Moreover, these values have become ever-increasingly mutually exclusive: Boys must embody a certain set of qualities, while girls embody another.
As a man and a proud feminist, I believe swift and deep-seated action must be taken to move into a culture of gender equality. However, I believe also that as a society, we are failing to address the problems of masculinity and what we teach young boys about manhood.
From an early age, boys are told never to cry, to show emotions, to be vulnerable or to let girls make the first move. We are told to play sports and to never show or admit pain; we are told that artistic expression is feminine and lacking value; we are told to pick up girls and pay for their dates; we are told that sexual conquest, wealth and material acquisition validate life. I cannot begin to count the number of boys I knew in elementary, middle and high school who felt pressure to hide their feelings and never express their pain.
Because we have fostered a culture of masculinity that idealizes being “tough” or “macho” and hiding or ridding ourselves of all traces of weakness or pain, it comes as no surprise to me that men are more likely to have a drug or alcohol problem, are more likely to commit suicide, are more likely to commit violent crimes, are more likely to own guns and are more likely to commit sexual assault. It is no surprise that for decades upon decades, our country’s military policy was dictated by military bravado and shows of brute force on other nations and peoples. Neither is it a surprise that candidates who have proposed bombing the families of terrorists or carpet bombing the Middle East as actual foreign policy solutions are leading in the 2016 Republican primary polls.
Until we fundamentally address these issues of masculinity, we will not achieve gender equality.
We must teach boys that pain, suffering and weakness are normal and healthy parts of life. We must teach them that crying and showing emotion allow us to fully heal from negative experiences; we must teach them that there exists immense intrinsic value in things other than sports, sex and money; we must teach boys to be vulnerable and express themselves in artistic ways.
We must teach the boy in the pickup truck that the actions of his older friends or brothers were not “cool” or “manly,” but instead, despicable. We must teach him restraint, patience, compassion, sympathy and emotion. If we fail to do so, he will soon be the one brashly belittling grandmothers on stops off I-95.
Isaiah Fleming-Klink is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. Vanguard Voices appears every other Tuesday.