7 Things People Often Say To Men That They Don't Say To Women
In recent weeks, a video has been making the rounds called “48 Things Women Hear In A Lifetime (That Men Just Don't).” It features girls and women of all ages saying the things that only women ever hear, from “You’re gonna distract the boys” to “Can women have it all?” The video, from the Huffington Post, is a powerful illustration of sexism and the assumptions about their lives and choices that women deal with every day. But it’s important to remember that women aren’t the only ones who face gender stereotypes or are harmed by them. Gender conventions affect men and boys, too.
Cisgender men have not been systematically oppressed because of their gender, as women have, and I’m not suggesting that men face the persistent and deeply ingrained sexism that women do. However, men are consistently held to strict cultural standards of masculinity that have the power to limit and distort their behavior and self-expression. And when men and boys fail to live up to the masculine ideal, they are often punished for it — made fun of, bullied, and stripped of their value.
The gendered expectations that men face go hand in hand with those that women face, because most of them are rooted in the same assumptions about worth, and in the same fundamental misogyny. Much of what it means to be “masculine” translates simply as “not feminine,” and when men and boys are told not to be like women — “Don’t be such a girl!” — it reinforces widespread cultural attitudes that to be female or feminine is undesirable.
Just as there are certain types of gendered comments that only women hear, there are certain things that are frequently only directed at men. Some of these comments and assumptions tend to work to men’s advantage, while others are highly detrimental, but all are based on common — if often misguided and unfair — expectations of what it means to be a man.
1. “Boys don’t cry!”
In his book, Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons From the Myths of Boyhood, William Pollack, PhD, explains that, when they are very young, “male infants are actually more emotionally expressive than female babies.” And yet, by the time they get to the age of five or six, boys are already less emotionally expressive than girls. Pollack explains that this change isn’t biological, but social. He blames two key factors: First, little boys are often shamed for crying or expressing vulnerability and fear. They are told to be “tough” or “brave,” and suppress their emotions. Second, Pollack explains, boys are pressured to “separat[e] emotionally from [their] mother[s] at an unnecessarily early age,” lest they become “mama’s boys.” This conditioning of boys from infancy to bottle their emotions has far reaching effects on how men express themselves when they grow up.
2. “Don’t throw the first punch. But don’t be afraid to fight back.” (And other rules of fisticuffs).
For many men, learning how to throw a punch and how to fight fairly are normal parts of growing up. Girls, in contrast, are usually discouraged from physical fighting completely because they are seen as too delicate and vulnerable for it. Although I don't think it's cool to prohibit girls from certain activities because of their gender, I'm personally OK with being excluded from this whole macho-punching thing. The fact that men are expected to somehow defend their honor (and that of the women around them) by hitting each other (or at least professing a willingness to do so) is, frankly, completely weird to me.
3. “Man, you are whipped.”
The word “whipped” refers to someone who is overly deferential to their significant other. This term can be applied to anyone, but usually refers to a man who is in thrall to a woman. (We can see the gendered aspect of the term in its longer version, “pussywhipped.” Charming, right?).
Obviously, it’s not cool when anyone — male or female — gets so wound up in their romantic relationship that they drop all their friends. But when people use the term “whipped” to refer to a man who is seeing a woman, they’re saying more than that he’s a bad friend — they’re suggesting that he has compromised his masculinity. The particular breed of disdain that accompanies the phrase “You’re whipped” arises from a couple of issues: First, the idea that a man would give himself over to a deep emotional bond runs counter to the (false) stereotype that “real men”* are stoic and emotionless. Second, the term suggests that there is something inherently wrong with a man making a woman the primary person in his life — that in doing so, he is letting her control him, and thus sacrificing his masculinity to her.
And that’s silly. It’s only natural that when people are in serious romantic relationships (regardless of gender or sexual orientation), their partners become central to their emotional and social lives.
*And, come on, what does that term even mean?
4. “That guy’s awesome — he’s a total player.”
Most of us are already aware that there’s a double standard in our society when it comes to the sexual lives of men and women. From a fairly young age, young men are encouraged to “sow their wild oats.” A guy who attracts a lot of partners is seen as uber-masculine (and therefore good) and as a “player,” while a woman who has many partners is regarded as a “slut” or worse.
Women face slut shaming in many forms on a day to say basis, from strangers commenting on their clothing to romantic partners criticizing their sexual histories. Men never really face this kind of shaming, and lucky them: Slut shaming is more than simply annoying for women — its cruel, socially isolating, and dangerous.
That said, the pressure on men to prove their masculinity by having sex with a lot of people isn’t really fair to guys who, by choice or by necessity, don’t have many partners. Their sexual and romantic lives are their own, and shouldn’t be a barometer of their worth as people.
5. “You’re a dude. You always want to have sex.”
This one goes hand-in-hand with the “player” stereotype. Women often have to deal with stereotypes of frigidity (This idea that women never want sex — and therefore must be lured, coerced, or forced into it — is incredibly dangerous), but men deal the opposite: Assumptions that they all have insatiable sexual appetites and that there must be something wrong with them if they’re not always — literally or figuratively — “up” for it.
But obviously that’s not true or fair. Some guys have higher sex drives than others, and most people’s sex drives will fluctuate over time. A man should be allowed to be “just not in the mood” and not have it be a reflection on his manliness.
6. “Be aggressive when you negotiate your salary.” (And “be aggressive” in general.)
The wage gap is real, and it exists for a lot of reasons. One contributing problem is that men are four times more likely than women to negotiate salary raises. Men are encouraged from a young age to push hard for things they want, while women face social pressure to be “nice.” It’s easy to say “Ladies, just be more aggressive!” but research has shown that’s it isn’t that simple; while people are able to accept (and even expect) aggressive negotiating in men, they have a harder time taking it from women.
We can see this dynamic at work when women do attempt to negotiate: Four studies conducted by Hannah Riley Bowles, senior lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, found that when women negotiate over money, they are perceived more negatively than men who do the same thing. The studies showed that when men haggled over salary, they weren’t seen as particularly nice or likable, but it was only the women who negotiated that were penalized for it, by having people say they wouldn’t want to work with them.
7. “So, your wife is going to stay home with the kids, right?”
Women face a lot of pressure to stay home when they have kids; many people assume automatically that when a woman has a baby, she’ll soon elect to stop working. New and expectant mothers often find themselves in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation, judged negatively if they choose to work (“Oh, I just couldn’t feel comfortable leaving my baby with strangers”) and if they choose to stay home (“Good for you! I just wouldn’t be able to handle staying at home and doing nothing.”)
As detrimental as these assumptions are to women, they also suck for men. Many people put men in a secondary caregiver role without even thinking about it: The mother is in charge of childcare, and the father helps out when he’s not at work. But what if that isn’t the dynamic of his family? What if he plans to stay home with the kids? What if both parents are going to work?
Stereotypes about the “proper” roles of men and women in relation to family tell women that they should feel completely satisfied by raising children — and that there is something lacking in them if they don’t. But these assumptions also tell men that they shouldn’t feel fulfilled by fatherhood, that they should prefer to work outside the home than to have childcare as their primary jobs. These conventions thus close down options for everyone, men and women.