Gendering and Mental Health

Lately I have been exploring the current concepts of how parental influence creates, demonstrates, and reinforces concepts of masculinity in developing boys.  In particular, I have been exploring how young boys are made to deny parts of themselvesavatartroll01 in order to conform to the dominant cultural concepts of maleness.

This is true of all men, even if parents tried not to influence (consciously or unconsciously) how their child came to understand themselves in terms of masculinity or femininity.  It also true of girls — who are ‘programmed’ almost immediately from birth to display and conform to concepts of what it is to be a female.

All forms of media reinforce these codes within our culture, and cultural objects are gendered as well.  For example, girls play with dolls, boys play with action figures.  In reality both are dolls in the strictest sense.  According toaacb4df9150dc0730b51052e12ad8902 Dictionary.com, a doll is, “a small figure representing a baby or other human being, especially for use as a child’s toy.” Even this definition is gender coded with the element of “baby” in the definition — as baby is generally associated with girls rather than boys.  True, dolls are often babies, but theyaction-man-action-men-196-011 are also adults, such as Barbie and Ken.  Action figure is also very culturally encoded.  Again, from Dictionary.com “a toy fig
ure
with jointed, movable limbs, representing a character in cartoon, movie, etc., or a real person or animal, often one known for exciting action or extraordinary powers.”  Here the doll is “jointed”, “moveable”, associated with cartoons, movies, and “known for exciting action or extraordinary powers”.  All of this suggests moving, action, rough play, feats of strength and super hero ideals — male encoding at it’s best.

While the concepts of dolls is pretty obvious, other objects are not.  For example, growing up I loved to write poetry and fiction.  I loved to be creative in any form — though I wasn’t really into painting or drawing.  I loved how sounds could be combined to create rhythm and melody, even without music by writing poetry.  Later in life I got into music, but early on it was language that really excited me.

As I was proud of what I had written, I would share my poems with my family (mom and dad — sometimes grandparents but only my grandmother responded to them), and my mom would praise or critique them and my dad would hardly read them.  So the message I got from my mom was that poetry was okay and accepted, albeit with criticism, for and by
females.  From my dad the message was poetry is something not accepted in the male domain.  His lack of even humoring me, and sometimes outright voicing thpoetry-book-sign-md.pngat he did not want to read my writing, made poetry feel like something a boy wasn’t supposed to enjoy.
Eventually I stopped even trying to get my dad to pay attention to something tha
t was important me — if it wasn’t sports, he wasn’t really interested in what I did.

Later in high school these messages were reinforced when I gave a girl a poem I had written about her and she shared it with friends, who then took to laughing at me and making comments suggesting that poetry was feminine or something a homosexual would create.  So, labeling something I did as homosexual — which to high schoolers means the opposite of manly) — they coded what I did as feminine and marked me as something less than fully male.

It wasn’t until college that I was accepted for my passion for poetry, in creative writing classes.  Though these are specific, closed off domains, where the normal outside cultural rules don’t hold sway.  So, inside the classroom poetry is a very venerable practice for both genders to create, but outside is it something girls do in their journals and men distance themselves from as an unmanly object.

It is these images-1repeated forced denials of self that get caught up inside blocking us from connecting with ourselves — an internal schism  Even when we say we are beyond the hangup of these things, they still trip us up at times and trigger depression and other episodes.

Take a look at your own hangups, things you might have denied yourself because our culture told you it wasn’t something your gender should be interested in.  And do that thing that you love, break out, and be yourself — truly.

I will be doing more “academic”-ish research into this topic and will post more — but it will take time to find the right topic and develop my these thesis and produce the work.  In other words be patient with me.

References:

“doll”. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 23 Sep. 2016. <Dictionary.comhttp://www.dictionary.com/browse/doll>.

:”action figure”. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 23 Sep. 2016. <Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/action-figure>.

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