To the boys who have lost mothers, fathers, siblings, pets and pieces of themselves—man down.
To the boys whose bodies have become owned by standardized movie scripts—man down.
To the boys with bottled emotions, dancing inside, begging to escape—man down.
Man down because our society has seen enough of the detrimental effects of “manning up.” Man down because we are losing too many of our boys.
The Centers for Disease Control’s 2010 published summary states that at an average of 105 a day, suicide is the third leading cause of death among persons aged 15-24, and the second leading cause among persons aged 25-34.
Disproportionately, of the average 105 daily suicides, males account for 83 of them. These numbers are staggering, and the gender disparity should jolt us to the disturbing pressures we place upon our boys.
When our boys are four times as likely as our girls to commit suicide, it is all of society’s responsibility to address this tragedy.
I grew up in a culture where boys were built Ford tough and girls were built to impress. I wear my Arab pride loud and proud, but sometimes, I wonder if my culture’s norms are hurting more than supporting us.
Recently, I witnessed the passing of a much beloved relative. She was special. She was also powerful. She moved mountains with her voice as people from all over the city came in to her weekly lessons. She was fluent in physics, organic chemistry, love and compassion. She was a biological mother to four and a godmother to so many more. After the funeral, her oldest son, at 20 years old, was told the Arabic equivalent of “be strong” and “man up” to fill in the void in the family while his older sister was allowed to publicly and privately mourn.
I was troubled by this reality. Ashamed, rather, that I was allowed to expose my weaknesses and surrender my strength as my male equivalents were expected to build an internal dam to keep the tears at bay. Gender studies would say that my culture constructs this ideology of masculinity and equates it with strength. That we perform our gender, rather than we are our gender. That we are human doings rather than human beings.
Maybe that’s true, but as I came back to campus, I realized that if it’s true in the Arab world, then it’s true in almost every community of which I’ve also been a member. Hypermasculinity is pervasive in even the most prestigious corners of American society.
As a resident advisor, I have witnessed how college males are, far too early, expected to transform into independent men. They are expected to step into roles that hide their vulnerabilities, when it is these very vulnerabilities that allow us to grow, learn and develop resistance to life’s struggles. By camouflaging vulnerabilities with “manning up,” we are obstructing the development of healthy, resilient beings.
Recently, Blue Devils United produced a powerful campaign that highlighted the use of destructive words that have saturated college student discourse. Phrases like “man up” “don’t be a girl” and “grow some” construct standards of masculinity that men are forced to fulfill. But society’s understanding of masculinity is more than what we utter; masculinity is also constructed by what we do not say.
Silence is one of the biggest factors of “manning up.” And nowhere can we see silence better embodied than in organized sports, where masculinity is measured by superficial traits—body size, speed and strength. It’s what’s on the outside that matters. But athletes are also human beings who experience pain, disappointment and loss, both on and off the field. And despite the 200-plus pound, chiseled torso an athlete may model, he—like all of us—can be fragile. Yet our young boys don’t see this, because the culture of organized sports doesn’t encourage us to vocalize these weaknesses. Our young boys only see strong, dedicated men who don’t let pain destroy them, men who are invincible to pain.
Organized sports attract millions of fans that strive to mirror athletes’ talents and physical attributes. As the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends of these fans, we have a responsibility to contribute towards building an accepting culture for men to share whatever aspects of themselves they wish to share—not only their strong sides.
With a younger brother and as a resident advisor for several fraternities in my quad, I am familiar with the way language—and lack of language—paints masks on males’ faces and forces them to internalize. I also see the effects this has on their confidence, relationships, wellbeing and performance (trust me, Craven Quad has provided me with first row seats to college male behavior). It’s not enough that we avoid “manning up” comments. It’s essential that we use our words to paint opportunities for open and safe discussions. Where boys can be men—human beings with emotional voids and weaknesses. Where vulnerabilities can naturally take their course and tears can flow.
So to all the males in my life and outside of my life, man down. Remove the mask.
Let it loose. Or don’t. Whatever makes you comfortable. Because we're losing too many of you, and I refuse to be a reason the stigma is perpetuated.
Leena El-Sadek is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Monday.