When people talk about effeminate boys and men, I imagine they’re in a zoo, gossiping about some strange creature that entertains them and makes them slightly uncomfortable. It goes a little like this:
“Here, we have an exhibit of flower boy. Flower boy can be found hiding in parts of modern society with flushed cheeks and soft hands. He smiles coyly and crosses his thighs when he sits. Sometimes, flower boy gets sad, and he cries like a baby. Look! Creatures like these tend to be weak and abnormally girly. Some even dare to hug other boys and kiss their foreheads. Look! Hahaha! He’s pouting because I pointed it out. Maybe this barrier isn’t thick enough. I’ll talk softly.”
And on and on it goes. People in general, expect boys to live up to this vague ideal of masculinity that’s characterised by aggressive behaviour, aggressive sex appeal, bravado, risk-taking, and dominance. I’ve noticed that people will grudgingly let it slide if a girl has some or all of these traits. But if a boy has any feminine traits? No, he’s abnormal and gay. There was a book of antonyms I chanced upon in a store when I was eight or nine years old and I saw that the opposite of ‘tomboy’ was ‘sissy’. I didn’t think much of it, but my curiosity was satisfied. It was only a few years later that I learned that ‘sissy’ was considered to be a derogatory term.
(Image: 'Ease' by Esther David)
Due to the sheer amount of this kind of toxic masculinity we’re exposed to, boys are made to feel subhuman for displaying supposedly feminine characteristics: emotions (other than anger), gentleness, politeness, passivity, grace and so on. It comes to a point where displaying any of these characteristics is equivalent to being homosexual. These long-standing beliefs affect us all, even the most liberal people. I’ll admit, there used to be a time when I felt uncomfortable around boys who were slightly effeminate. It happens to the best of us. At the same time, these same boys have been incredibly easy to converse and be open with. I didn’t feel sidelined or small when I spoke with them and I got over my discomfort within a few seconds. It was great! We spoke with ease, and those boys were comfortable with their gender identity.
These preconceived notions and expectations for men are detrimental to their mental health. I’ve seen it in my own family members and I’m sure you have to. If you’re a male reading this post, you’ve probably been told to ‘man up’ at some point in your life. I don’t deny that there are men who are by nature dominant and I do not wish to see all men become feminine (in the traditional sense of the word), but I think there should be a balance. Even the most aggressive people have the capacity and willingness to care, and every human being bawls and sobs several times in life.
There’s a trend all over the world when it comes to gender differences in suicide. Statistics taken from various countries, and research done by psychiatrists show that every country except China has higher suicide rates among males than females1. You might find this surprising, especially considering the fact that more women are diagnosed with depressive disorders2. It’s more complicated than that. When faced with stressful situations, women tend to display symptoms of depression, while men tend to be angry and might turn to alcohol. This is frequently pointed out to be the result of socialisation, where women are socialised to express passivity and helplessness, and men are supposed to display independence. This could be why males may turn to substances like alcohol as opposed to seeking support from human beings; they will be considered weak if they do so. Men are told to bottle up their feelings, to toughen up, and ‘be men’. Everyone has an image that pops into their mind when they hear the phrase ‘be a man’. Spoiler: It isn’t a picture of clean serenity on a pleasant morning. Several studies show that this difference is due to the way males are socialised and assimilated into their communities. In other words, enforcing roles and expectations of dominance and emotionlessness onto our boys causes them to be dissatisfied and emotionally deprived, which in turn makes them take their own lives. But that’s not all. If people are prevented from displaying emotions or even feeling them, they'll either take it out on themselves or on other people.
Gender roles and expectations limit boys too, and if the findings above are anything to go by, boys have it worse emotionally. Let’s give them room to grow and explore their personalities. Let’s tell them that it’s okay to sob into someone’s shoulder and that it’s normal to kiss their male friends on the cheek. Let’s not prevent them from putting on concealer or eyeliner. Let’s nurture their aspirations, whether it’s medicine or fashion designing.
It’s time to let flower boy bloom.