What happens when you step out of the Man Box?

One of the main topics we discuss with youth is gender stereotypes. We talk about where these ideas come from and what happens when someone doesn’t follow the script society gives a particular gender. This is crucial to cover when discussing abuse and intimate partner violence. Many times rigid gender roles are used to justify abuse or used as a tactic to control how someone acts or thinks. The main issue is when one person attempts to force another into a role they don’t want to fill. Or alternatively, punishes someone for being different and outside the “norm”. Society at large, places men and women in very constraining, predetermined boxes. These dictate how men and women should act, what jobs they should do, what roles they should fill in relationships, and what are appropriate expressions of strength.

In Washington, we’re given a perfect example of what happens when someone steps outside of their prescribed ‘box’. After making fun of his mom’s complaining about her high heals, Sam Saurs was challenged to try it for a day. Saurs took the challenge and donned not only a pair of heals, but also a dress and make up. He was subsequently sent home for the day “for being a distraction” and, after telling the principal the comment was sexist, he was later expelled from school.

There is SO much to discuss here. The biggest being, what happens when we don’t follow the path of the stereotypical man or woman? What happens when we step out of our predetermined box? In this case, the result was punishment and negative feedback. The comment that really got me was Saurs told reporters he felt “pretty” that day. How awesome for a youth to express themselves in way that is comfortable and completely them! Not only was Saurs ok with this expression of himself, but his mother was also supportive. Isn’t that way we want from our youth? Isn’t this what we’re asking from parents?

This piece is an example of the ways in which systems of oppression are maintained. We’re told that the only socially acceptable way of being a man is to be tough, ultra masculine, even violent. In order to maintain this form of masculinity, adults, peers, and communities, reinforce the gender stereotype and penalize anyone doing something different. We reinforce the ideas by marginalizing those that don’t fit the ‘man’ bill or ‘woman’ bill. Saurs’s expulsion from school is a shining example. I, personally, find Saurs to be quite the strong man. He was being himself and proud of it. He was trying a new version of him. It takes¬† a lot of courage to step outside of the man box. It takes courage to be yourself.

This leaves us with a great opportunity to start a meaningful discussion. What can we learn from this example? In what ways can we support individuals being themselves without trying to dictate who they are? In expelling Saurs for wearing a dress, heals, and calling the principal on his discrimination, we’re sending a very clear message to all other youth. Toe the line. What’s being missed is an incredible learning opportunity for both the adults and youth in the school. But we wouldn’t want to actually learn something in school, now would we?

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