Bullied For Not Being Tough

What is gender, anyway?

What is gender, anyway?

By G. Gayton

I am a man. And a feminist.

In fact, I was a feminist before I’d ever heard the word.

That’s partly because as a kid I didn’t stick to “boy things.” And caught hell for it.

Dad bullied my gender nonconformity

As a little kid I sometimes painted my nails, played with dolls and danced, among other things that I now find rather embarrassing.

One moment especially sticks in my mind.

When I was about seven years old I wanted to do something for my father’s birthday. So I sang him happy birthday à la Marilyn Monroe.

I’d thought it would be cute and funny.

But my father “punished” me. He was soon dragging me to “manly” places — the car junkyard, the construction site where he worked, and other macho locals.

Kids bullied my gender nonconformity

It wasn’t just dad, though. My classmates bullied me, too, because I watched cartoons “meant” for girls, painted, played music, dressed in slacks — and because my last name had “gay” in it.

Soon, rumors that I was gay began to fly. In school I was verbally and physically attacked several times a week.

I began to disconnect – I cut school, made excuses about being sick — anything to avoid seeing my tormentors.

So I experienced homophobia when I wasn’t even homosexual. But like a confused young gay male who has no support, I became distraught, lost, and looked for escape. Sometimes I thought about suicide.

In an odd way, I was rescued when I was kicked out and sent to a continuation school. There, I was with other kids who had it tough. And I was accepted — in a trivial way — but it was all I needed to get out of a dark place.

Women’s needs are trivial?

Over the years I grew more masculine out of fear. But some of the things I learned about being “a man” felt wrong to me.

Especially in regards to women. Like catcalling or saying sexist things.

Or seeing how my dad treated my mom. And how neighborhood men treated their wives.

My mother always woke up early, made my father his lunch, got us kids ready for school, drove us to school, went to work for eight hours, picked us up, ran errands, drove home, cooked dinner, cleaned the house, did laundry…

And then my father would say that she didn’t do hard work, like him (working in construction).

His needs came first. Her needs were trivial. My father could be lazy after work, but my mother couldn’t; my father could go out drinking with friends, but my mother couldn’t; my father could go on trips with friends, but my mother couldn’t…

His word was “law.” Yet it felt off that the man ruled the household.

We all deserve respect

I have always butted heads with my father in regards to equality and respect – if he wants my respect he must treat me with respect; if he wants something he must ask nicely and not demand it. To this day we butt heads.

He has changed over the years, calmed down — except when it comes to food. I think he now realizes that my mother has the ability to leave him, and that she provides more  than he had once realized.

I believe we should teach our children equality — in classrooms, in our homes, and in the media. We should teach that with equality the world will be a better place.

One of my students wrote this and gave permission to post on my blog.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on May 3, 2017, in gender, LGBT+, men and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. The social norms placed on children begins at such a young age, children watch and learn from their parents to see how they should act. With the vast majority of children growing up in households that have the “stereotypical” man/wife relationship described in this story with the man working a “manly” job while the women cleans the house and cooks, most children see those as the roles men and women should fill. I experienced this first hand in preschool when I was 4 or 5. I thought it would be fun to go to school with my nails painted, just like this post talked about how the young boy thought it would be fun to sing Happy birthday to his father Marilyn Monroe style. I was bullied when I went to preschool with my nails painted. It was such a traumatic experience that i never did it again, succumbing to the norms that women were the only ones allowed to paint their nails. These norms have such a large impact on our lives and occur during the early years in a child’s life and shape how that child interacts with the world for years to come.

  2. It’s common for people to forget that the patriarchy hurts men as well as women, and people who are gender non-conforming. The patriarchy pushes what it means to “be a man” so violently that people do not acknowledge how harmful it can be. While men will never experience systematic sexism, they are greatly affected by the patriarchy. I remember a post on tumblr a few years ago, where someone said that it is okay for women to be tomboys and masculine, but men can never act feminine, because femininity and women are shameful. In general, our society only acknowledges two genders—male and female. While there has always been people who were gender non-conforming, I think there has been a lot more people coming out as non-binary in recent years. This is probably because there is more media attention on it, allowing people to be educated, and our culture—in the Bay Area at least— is much more accepting. I am a cis-gender woman, but my gender expression can range from feminine to masculine. We often get gender identity, sexuality, and gender-expression mixed up, even though they’re all very different.

  3. For a good chunk of time I babysat two kids, one of them being born a girl, but “acting” and “dressing” like a male. He would discuss things he went through at school with me. Constantly being bullied by his peers, always not knowing which bathroom to use, and sometimes not feeling comfortable to simply be himself. From a young age we are nurtured to think you have to stay within a box. If you exit, you’re judged, punished, and shamed. Continuing the pattern of male and female roles. What needs to be done is for kids to grow up knowing they can wear and act however they want. If not, this equality will never be achieved and the idea that women have to work extra hard and do all the dirty work will continue to stay in peoples heads. Everyone deserves to be themselves, and until that is finally accepted, we should all push to fight for it.

  4. I agree that we do need to teach equality in homes, in school, and in the media. Lately, most advertisements for children’s toys market towards one sex or the other. This is where traditional gender roles would butt in. Because toys presented towards girls have to do with jewelry, beauty, cooking, etc.. that have to do with caring and nurturing while toys presented towards boys have to do with cars, guns, tools, etc.. that represent manly strength and power. Therefore, it can be quite a dilemma for parent’s to teach your their children about equality. We want are children to boys to nurture and our girls to be strong but gender roles are changing and becoming less distinct so it’s difficult to work against traditional gender roles if they continue to see these representations targeted towards them in the toys, advertisements, media, and at school. We must talk openly with the children about gender stereotypes, show model behavior, and reinforce respectful views on gender.

  5. What I found interesting was the fact that in the blog it’s mentioned how his mother worked 8 hours cooked cleaned and ran errands but couldn’t be tired the way his dad could after work. This is a topic I see being brought up in my family constantly because most women in my family don’t provide financially the way the men do. My opinion is equality. If a man works 10 hours and a women works 8 she should put in a little extra work. If a man works 8 hours and a women 10 he should be putting in the extra work. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a man cooking and cleaning or running errands the way a woman does. I believe in equality and if your partner provides more the do a little more of the housework. However just because you are a woman does not mean it’s your job to do so.

  6. It’s upsetting how male characteristic are valued and female characteristics are devalued. I never understood why characteristics were split in such a way; why can’t they just be human characteristics? Everyone feels angry, sad, happy and so on. Toys are toys, if a boy wants to play with a doll, there is nothing wrong with that just as if a girl were to play with a toy car. It’s the people who confine the children into such restrictions that causes them to grow up square and boxed in; their potentials are not released into the world. I am lucky to have parents who raised me relatively neutral. As a child, I hated having long hair since my hair is thick and frizzy, and although my dad believed that girls should have long hair he was okay with me having a pixie cut. Having a pixie cut did not make me any less female nor did it make me any more male. It was just a hair cut. In my household, doing girl things and doing boy things did not exist, it was simply doing things I wanted too. My dad became accepting of more gender equal things because the time he grew up in is not the same as the time I am growing up in. I think that is a really important factor in the acceptance of equality is how willing the person is of change. Conflict arises because people cannot accept change.

  7. I do agree that women’s needs are trivialized, typically in the common household. Mothers are expected to care and nurture day in and day out, I can relate to this completely. My mother lost her job a few years ago but that doesn’t mean her workload at home decreased, being a mother is a full-time job, and I see it first hand, there isn’t a moment when I see her sitting down, watching TV or relaxing, she’s constantly on her feet. My father is a hard worker as well, I don’t disagree but in other ways, but I do see him spend a majority of his days on the couch binge watching TV shows or watching countless YouTube videos. He gets very offended when we mention how much times we catch him moving from the couch in the living room, to his bedroom to virtually do the same thing (watch TV) and he likes to criticize my mother if dinner isn’t ready, or the house is dirty etc. I do believe in keeping a household together it is a joint effort and we do all deserve respect for the work we put in.

  8. People are often restrained from their true needs by gender. Some girls may be born to be tougher than boys whereas some boys may be softer. We have the right to feel uncomfortable with it, usually due to our stereotypes and social patterns about gender, but we have no right to interfere. It is so sad that some of us are physically and mentally abused just because they are being themselves. And it should be illegal and stopped. Hence raising neutral gender kids is necessary. We should let kids decide who they want to be as long as they won’t harm anyone.

  9. Spot on! Yet another great post.

    As usual, my focus is on root cause. I think that many (most?) of us know what is needed (universal empathy and a strong sense of equality), but these qualities were not necessary in our instinct driven evolutionary past. Testosterone and Estrogen had/have their purpose and both were equally necessary for the survival of the species.

    But our species lineage, necessarily being the shrewdest of the animal kingdom in order to survive (two legs are not as swift as four–and cats can climb–eek!), evolved rudimentary reason, which gave us control over our survival instincts–reducing them to the power of impulse. As well, we became curious about our existence, which led to religion.

    One needs only to read the Pentateuch (at a minimum) with an objective eye to realize that, 1) it was written by men, 2) it prescribed a testosterone dominating culture and, 3) it’s empathetic quality toward women in core families is very minimal and diminishes from there inversely proportional to one’s genetic distance to others and their organizations.

    I think that our power of reason (a necessary tool for empathy and that sense of equality), especially since the advent of science and its subsequent escape from theological domination, has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go, hindered as it is by our genetic baggage–those impulses we all have but are stronger in some than in others.

    We can only hope that the baggage will continue to diminish in strength as we evolve through education and power of reason.

    • There are competing theories about our evolutionary past. Since most early peoples seem to have been radically egalitarian and studies of six month old children show that they like people to help and dislike people who hurt, I believe that human beings all have the potential for empathy and corporation or competition and harm. And if you look to our closest relatives, the chimpanzee and bonobo, they exude each side of the human potential. The chimpanzee being more competitive and violent and the bonobo being more cooperative (and the bonobo actually more closely resembles humans.

      Hurt people hurt people, which brings out the more negative side. Once you have that you need some sort of healing and empathy work, such as you describe.

      • And not all religions were of domination culture, so the fact that humans looked at their existence and religion came about does not mean theism and belief in a god or gods inherently means use of male domination. It seems more that it existed orignally for the single purpose of an afterlife and belief in a god and gods but as things progressed and many cultures became domination cultures, it because obvious that the men and male leaders would see gods that they had for their religion because domination GOD or gods and the scrips and stuff go along with such domination. Religion was always powerful, but because of it’s power and how it captures people, I think some people saw how it could be used for control. But it’s not all bad, as you said theism isn’t inherently bad and it’s how people use it that makes the difference. I know you said how early native americans were matriarchal and they believed in gods and spirits I believe, but for this, women were seen as leaders and givers of life right? So this theism saw women in a very strong light and complete opposite of the main religions that came before. And wasn’t paganism a religious sect or part where women were actually seen highly and valued?

        The opposite of Christianity especially during that time, and it was made like it was bad and stuff. But I think the reason it was shut down from christian leaders and stuff was because it was a problem that women were valued that high and didn’t go with how christian teachings where women were the ones in charge and women sub servient pretty much and I think because paganism was seen as sinful because it was sexual I thought and women were to be modest. You probably know more detail of that, but I think I’m right about some of that. You might have had an old post about that, not sure.

      • You’ve got it down pretty accurately.

        Interestingly Jesus was very gender equal – and very equality oriented generally: the first shall be last and the last shall be first… that’s probably much of his appeal. Christianity didn’t start to become patriarchal until after he died, and became increasingly patriarchal over time. But his ministry it was a huge egalitarian reaction to the patriarchal culture he lived in.

  10. I see you have a trend this week with posts as far as moana and then this one that looks at gender roles with men and women. Is this coincidence or you set this up on purpose? It’s cool to have different topics mixed in like you do, but also layed out by theme. Last week was handsmade tales and these two posts have the relation as far as the analysis and inspection of how we value men and women and the problems with valuing men over women which demeans women, but also as seen from this post, hurts men too. Men and women both lose out in different ways.

    Your student felt this scrutiny just because society put boys and men in boxes because of men being seen as leaders and therefore, can’t express in other ways other than strong, tough and stoic. Women and girls have to seem to keep having to prove themselves that they deserve as much as men and the same respect and how like in the moana post, women’s values can be just as great as men’s and sometimes better in certain circumstances and it doesn’t make a man less if he uses some feminine values, but better as whole. How both men and women are better when complete with both sides. Like yin and yang, complete forces.and energy.

    • I must admit it was just coincidence, but I really liked how the two came together. And the next one, also by coincidence, fits well with this post.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  11. I think many of us have fathers who were kind of reverse role-models. Seeing the way they acted and the things they said were a lifelong reminder to not be like that.

  12. It sucks he’s had to go through that and it just shows how the problems are still there. This guy is not even gay but he was picked on because of what he likes and perceived feminine behavior. And it should make people have empathy not just for this guy but then you think of actual gay boys and men. If this guy dealt with this and is straight. Even in 2017 you have to think about hate crimes and bullying or how even worse it is or can be for boys and men who are gay and bullyed, harassed, assaulted, tormented, for being gay.

    It is sad, because I believe there are a decent number of suicides by boys or men who are gay or afraid to come out as gay because of all this or suicidal. It’s bad for gay women too, but I think it’s just compounded even more so for gay men because of how smale values are valued more than feminine and guys see feminine as demeaning themselves. And also because of how homphobic the culture is and perhaps because everything is from the straight male view, women doing lesbian things from this straight male culture, is allowed or atleast hot to men right? But obviously not such leeway, because of what is already said and because it’s repulsive to straight guys and for some reason some can’t out their displeasure of gay male affection and look past it and still respect gay men. It doesn’t seem a lot of times that’s possible and thus gay boys and men, gay bashed and shamed. It might be due to relation to women though or traits like you said because in middle east countries that are very bad on women, those same countries, gay men have to be in hiding or not come out or else be killed. In russia which is sad, I think gay men can be killed or even other non middle east countries gay men can feel their lives threatened if they come out or it’s known which is sad.

    • I’m glad he let me share his story. I hope it will help others.

      What is considered feminine and masculine varies from place to place and things he describes would fit in just fine at other times and places in terms of “being a guy.”

  13. An interesting take. I have a young nephew (3) who asks to have his nails painted if his mom is painting hers, and he loved dolls – in fact, begged me to buy a stroller for his dragon when we were at Build-A-Bear (then terrorized the shopping mall racing laps). I have seen and heard his grandfather try to shame him for these things, but he’s just a kid who hasn’t learned to close off his natural curiosity. I don’t want to see that extinguished.

    • I saw a study where children were asked to play with gender neutral toys, and they played with everything. And then they saw a video labeling some of the toys for boys and others for girls, and then the play shifted to be “gender appropriate” (so to speak). Children have all this potential but we can start putting them in boxes and cutting off part of who they are.

  14. People, both male and female, come in all flavors, some good, some bad and most a mixture of the two. The same can be said for gender, some all male, some all female and most a mixture of the two genders. Yin and Yang.

  15. A male can be a macho or chauvinist
    But a gentleman must ‘think and feel’

    like a female…..
    and
    ‘act’ like a man !!

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