My parents gave me a lot of wiggle room when I was little. Being the last of five kids, with a 10 year gap between my closest sibling and me, my mom and dad were good about letting me make choices for myself. From a young age, I was able to explore my identity and had the freedom to enjoy whatever I wanted.
I played with whatever toys I wanted to. My brother gave me his Lego collection he had procured over the years and I had a box of cars with a city map rug, but I also had an extensive collection of Barbie dolls. My brother and I would play with our Star Trek action figures we shared and my sisters taught me how to braid on a pink-haired mermaid doll.
It didn’t stop at toys either. The movies and music I listened to growing up were very polarizing as far as marketing to gender and I played with both boys and girls. I didn’t like roughhousing or getting into trouble, and I wasn’t athletic by any means. I preferred to be by alone or in the company of someone else who liked being quiet .
It wasn’t until I was about 6 when I started to learn to be ashamed for my feminine interests. It all started with a mall Santa.
My first and only experience with sitting on Santa’s lap is one of my most vivid memories of my childhood. My family went to our favorite mall in Chicago one night so that I could get the chance to tell Santa what I wanted for Christmas. I had gotten a Gamecube for my birthday earlier in the year, so I decided to ask him for a doll I had my eyes on for a hot second.
When he lifted me to his lap and asked me what I wanted for Christmas, he looked confused and almost nervous when I asked him about the doll. He hesitated for a moment and replied to me with “how about a nice set of Hot Wheels?”
Obviously, being a little kid, I went along with it and didn’t think too much about it at the time. I liked Hot Wheels too, so it wasn’t a huge deal—even if it wasn’t what I asked for.
I started to slowly shed my feminine side after my family moved to West Jordan. In the new cul-de-sac, my age group was dominated by boys. When I got acquainted with them, I saw they played differently from what I was used to. They would wear capes, chase each other with poles and climb over and jump off of edges. Some nights, they couldn’t play because they were at flag football or soccer practice. They also made it a point to tell me that we didn’t play with girls.
Those friends were confused when they came into my bedroom for the first time and saw that adorning my ocean wallpaper were, not only Spongebob and Finding Nemo stickers, but Ariel made an appearance too. They were even more shocked to find a doll under my bed a few weeks later.
In the years to follow, I had to suppress half of my personality in an attempt to bring out masculinity. I forced myself to not enjoy what I actually liked doing because I learned from my new friends that I couldn’t like those things because they were “girl things.”
American boys have such a specific mold to follow. From a young age, they’re exposed to images of superheroes and soldiers and subtly raised to reflect them. They’re told to hold it together if they get hurt or sad, encouraged to be athletic and get shamed if they aren’t and that enjoying feminine hobbies or interests is a mark of weakness.
This part of our culture is what creates men who don’t know how to healthily deal with emotions and thus, act in violence or hatred. The culture of masculinity doesn’t allow men who like to wear makeup and perform on stage or even men who are victims of domestic or sexual abuse.
Feminism isn’t something that’s just fighting for the equality of women, it is also striving to remove the stigma that men don’t all have to be stereotypically masculine instead of their true. Those actively participating in the feminist movement are fighting for men’s rights to cry, be affectionate and embrace who they are.
Life is too short to waste on trying to fit into a mold that turns you into a douche bag. Learn to love your sensitive side. Experiment with what you wear and how you present yourself. Take up a hobby that you wouldn’t otherwise do. Be a man without putting down others and hindering yourself from achieving your full potential.