Masculinity at a Young Age

rockstar-Lauren Hammond-flickr

Carly Puch can’t wait for the day society stops telling boys to suck it up, to not be a girl, and to stop crying.

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a musical performance by a friend’s brother. The performance was absolutely great. But what I could not get out of my mind was something that happened at the performance. A family came in with adorable young children that all sat down in front of my table. The family seemed to be meeting other people there.

The kids were all really respectful, a lot less antsy then I would have been at a concert at that young age. One of the young girls, about the age of four, went up to the young boy, about the age of six or seven, who I presume to be her brother, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. It was a simple kind act of sweetness.

It did not faze the young boy, he even started to crack a smile afterwards. But not thirty seconds afterward another adult that was in the group laughed and pointed at the young boy for getting a kiss on the cheek from his sister. Immediately the young boy roughly wiped his cheek off with hand, suddenly looking disgusted. I sat there in disbelief. I wish I could have said something.

The ways in which masculinity manifests is truly intriguing to me. But when I think about gender norms, specifically masculinity, I think about college aged men, because that is the climate I have been in. I forget that the socialization of young people starts the minute they enter the world.

This little boy, smiling at his sister was fine until an adult man-made him embarrassed. Not even another kid, but an adult. An adult who took it upon himself to police two young innocent children. We have to break the cycle. We have to let people grow up with emotions, with the desire for love, the ability to get a kiss on the cheek.

To be fair that man probably meant no harm. He did not understand that one incident could contribute to that little boys understanding of emotion for the rest of his life. Why do we care so much? Why can’t young boys be allowed to show emotion.

This incident reminded me that kids are not the ones who judge. It isn’t kids who wake up one day and decide to bully, to harm others, to be violent. Our surroundings affect us more than we like to think.

The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn – Gloria Steinem

We create reality, we can change it. Let’s unlearn our social expectations, unlearn gender norms. We can allow young boys to cry, we can allow men to show emotion. We have to start now. I can not wait for the day I see more adults encouraging love and compassion for all young people. Stop telling boys to suck it up, to not be a girl, and to stop crying.

This post originally appeared at Carly Puch: Life Through a Feminist Lens. Reprinted with permission.

Photo: Lauren Hammond/Flickr

About Carly Puch

Carly Puch is a graduate student in the Social Responsibility masters program at Saint Cloud State University. Her graduate assistant position allows her to work as an advocate for survivors of gender violence and organize campus wide bystander intervention training. Her interests are masculinity, gender, violence against women (the connection between all of those), pop culture and anything related to feminism. Her hope is to advance discussions about gender equality by showing that now more then ever we as a society need feminism. Check out her blog to see more from Carly.


  1. Carly,
    I am sorry you may not have realized how late to this conersation you may be. This topic has been the focus of concerted inquiry since the 80s. I wonder if you see counter examples to the described status quo? I certainly do nearly every single day. The idea of what being a man is has evolved. I wonder if your own biases lead you to see the world through a lens that doesn’t allow you to see male development differently. The status quo will change when our society continues to draw attention to a new exemplar. I suggest you find that and point to it more often. Otherwise, your voice disappears in the sea of protesting women criticizing men that they should be more what women think they should be. Just a thought.

  2. This is such an important point. I was teaching preschool on a military base and one of my brightest, friendliest, most helpful guys suddenly would not come in off the playground one day. He was hiding behind a half-wall. I sent the rest of the class in with the other teacher and sat down to talk to him. Come to find his parents were getting divorced, he had been told he would never see his father again, and he had also been told he was not allowed to cry about it. He was hiding because he couldn’t hold his tears in anymore and didn’t want anyone to see. I told him that I thought it was okay to cry, that sometimes it helps us get our sadness out so we can be happy again, and we spent every day that week sitting together on the playground after recess behind that little half wall, while he cried it out. Sometimes he wanted to sit on my lap and get a hug, sometimes he wanted to talk a little. After a week he didn’t need to do it anymore. It’s an important coping mechanism that we so often deny boys access to because of weird notions about tears equaling weakness or lack of self-control (ideas that hurt women, as well.) This boy was five and already torturing himself over failure to live up to a masculine ideal!

  3. More than likely he didn’t think about it at all. It was a male “comment” that came to him “naturally”. I saw this same think from my uncle at Christmas when he commented on his two twin grandchildren’s gift. They were maybe 3. The granddaughter got punk cowboy boots but the grandson got brown ones. He specifically commented on the cowgirl boots for the one. Then changed his tone into that mincing one and asked his grandson if he really wanted the pink one’s too. The little boy just looked at him while dad immediately jumped in and said of course not pink is for girls. My uncle kept up the teasing a bit more until the boy said no he didn’t want the pink ones. The little girl didn’t say a word, but was watching the exchange. He never teased her about the brown ones for her if she wanted. In fact the whole thing about her boots was that she wsd so pretty in her new boots. Mom also laughed at son to make sure he knew of course he did not eant the pink ones. Made me want to hurl the whole scene through.

    I said out loud that maybe he might have wanted the pink ones and what was wrong with that? Last I heard colors didn’t have a gender. That ended the conversation on a somewhat uncomfortable note because not one family member, even my wife, who it was her uncle actually made even one peep in my defense of my point. Not the men or the women. It was all about going along to get along. But more telling to me was the feeling that what I said was some form of heresy and that there was something wrong with me. By the men of course I got that, but with obviously no support from the women at all I was a bit put off. Which is why I’m convinced that if the educated women today want men to be really a partner and inclusionary to them then they absolutely have to syep up to the plate and take an honest and fair swing at it.

  4. To be fair that man probably meant no harm. He did not understand that one incident could contribute to that little boys understanding of emotion for the rest of his life. Why do we care so much? Why can’t young boys be allowed to show emotion.
    While it is possible that he meant no harm its also very possible that he knew that one incident could contribute to that boy’s understanding of emotion for the rest of his life and did that for the exact reason of impressing upon him.

  5. Good observation Carly. But did any of the women see this exchange? And if so did any of them chastise the man who did this? If so then I am heartened. If not then they are even more at fault for perpetuating this masculine indoctrination. I’ve come to the conclusion that if we want boys to grow up to be different than it will be the women who will put a stop to this, be the change that the feminists want to see. There are too many supportive messages that the men, even those that want the change face an uphill battle to overcome.

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