Breaking out of the “man-box”

A few months ago the NY Times published an article about Jaden Smith (the son of actor Will Smith) appearing as a model for Louis Vuitton’s women’s wear ad campaign. Jaden is in the far right of the photo below. This ad is an example of how individuals who identify as men can do things that “break the rules” and defy our expectations about masculinity. Whether it is a man crying in public or doing something as daring as wearing a skirt – breaking out of the man-box includes going against a whole range of usually American stereotypes about masculinity.

Jaden Smith modeling for Louis Vuitton's women spring-summer ad campaign. Image by Bruce Weber
Jaden Smith modeling for Louis Vuitton’s women spring-summer ad campaign. Image by Bruce Weber

Conversation starter: What are your thoughts when you see men do things that go against our socialized expectations about masculinity?

Challenging gender stereotypes

Socially there are a lot of expectations based on our perceived gender identity. We usually call these socialized expectations gender roles and gender norms. These socialized norms are constantly reinforced and become so widely accepted that they become stereotypes. The video below illustrates how stereotypical beliefs about “women’s work” (household cleaning, cooking and doing laundry) can be easily passed on from generation to generation but also can easily be challenged by people who support gender equality and #healthymasculinity.

***Admittedly the video is heteronormative (depicting a straight couple as the norm) but its message is still powerful regarding gender equality.

Conversation starter: What are some other examples of gender stereotypes that you have seen reinforced in your life?

“Man Box” rules

Socially there a lot of unpsoken rules about being a man. One of the main rules according to Robert Brannon includes “no sissy stuff”  or “avoid feminine behaviors”. A primary example of this is men crying publicly. Now there are exceptions to this rule especially in sports. Men are allowed to express emotion after a “heartbreaking loss” or during a retirement speech.

Culturally we are fascinated by men crying. One illustration of this is the “crying Michael Jordan” meme that is very popular on social media. The meme is funny but also shows that men expressing vulnerability can be treated as a joke. Healthy masculinity is about supporting men in expressing a wide range of emotions not just the culturally accepted ones.

crying Jordan
Michael Jordan crying during his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.

Conversation starter: What are some other examples of when the “man box” rule “no sissy stuff” is used for humor within popular media?

“Real Men” Stereotypes Pt. 3

There are a lot of “real men” stereotypes that not only describe how men are supposed to behave but also include what men are supposed to look like. The messages about what a man is supposed to look like tend to reinforce norms around strength and toughness. Popular examples include James Bond and Captain America. When a man in the media doesn’t fit into the “man box” definition of celebrated body types that is usually used for comedic relief. An example of this includes the actor Will Ferrell. The video below discusses how the media reinforces messages about masculinity and body types.

Conversation starter: What are some examples of media messages you have seen about what a “real man” is supposed to look like?

Men being allies aka #checkyourboys

Men tend to listen to other men. Research illustrates that men care about and are influenced by what other men think, do and say. One aspect of #healthymasculinity that can be really hard is calling out other men who engage in behaviors that are disrespectful or aggressive. The video below shows how.

Conversation starter: The video illustrates a simple way men can be allies just by speaking up when something sexist or misoygnistic is being said. What is  an example of when you witnessed or have been a part of a situation when a group of guys checked their friends?