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Let boys know it’s OK to show their softer side

10-19-07 Dr. LaurBerman studio......Rich Hein/Sun-Times

10-19-07 Dr. Laura Berman in studio......Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:37PM

What does masculinity mean to you?

Most people equate masculinity with strength, power, aggression and at times, even violence. While we have made recent strides towards gender equality in recent years, we still have a way to go when it comes to allowing men to embrace the full spectrum of their personality. While we are now OK with girls being tomboys and playing sports, we still aren’t OK with boys playing witht dolls or crying.

Boys are constantly implored to “be strong” or “be a man.” We still live in a society that sees showing emotion or deeply valuing emotional intimacy to be a feminine (and hence undesirable) characteristic when expressed by men. No matter what is going on inside, men often are loathe to express sadness or ask for help, because that is what women do — and to be labeled feminine or girly is the ultimate insult for a man in misogynist society.

A new film coming out this year from the Representation Project, “The Mask You Live In”, tackles this important topic of American masculinity and begs the question: “As a society, how are we failing our young boys?”

And, we certainly are failing them. Compared to girls, research shows that boys in the United States are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, flunk out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives.

It’s easy to see how our genderist society hurts us all. Boys and men aren’t allowed to express or feel the full spectrum of human emotion, and girls and women suffer from daily messages that inform them they are inferior and weak simply because they were born female.

Everyone loses when society tells people that their anatomy must dictate their personality and emotions. It’s important to teach boys and girls alike that it is OK to express emotions (even fear or sadness), and that everyone, even men, cry sometimes. It’s time to remove the words “Be a man” from our lexicon, and to stop shaming young boys for experiencing the full spectrum of human emotion. Instead, let’s reach out to them,giving support when they need it, just as we do for young girls.

For more on “The Mask You Live In.,” visit

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