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5 Things Society Unfairly Expects of Men

Get it up? Bring home the bacon? Here are five rigid, narrow definitions of maleness that men feel pressured to contort themselves into.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece called 5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men, about how sexism damages men as well as women, and how men as well as women get pressured to fit into narrow, rigid, impossibly self-contradictory gender roles. I argued that people who care about feminism ought to care about how sexist gender roles hurt men; partly because we're human beings, with a sense of justice and compassion for one another regardless of gender, and partly because the cause of feminism can only be helped by convincing more men that it'll be good for them, too.

Many people, including many men, responded positively and passionately to the piece. They saw themselves in the piece all too well. They appreciated having their experience recognized and -- dare I say it? -- validated. They hoped the conversation would bring these issues into the light, and lighten the burden of these expectations on them and on other men. Of all the complaints I got about the piece, one of the most common was that the five gender roles I picked were just the tip of the iceberg.

So today, I'm following up.

Here are five more ways that men in my life have told me they feel screwed over by sexism: five more rigid, narrow definitions of maleness that men feel pressured to contort themselves into.

1. Make money. When I asked the men in my life what (if anything) they felt was expected of them as men, this one came up ridiculously often. A huge part of how we define maleness lies in men's bank accounts. Even today, when women's income is on the rise and the two-income household is becoming standard, men are expected to rake in the bucks: to be wealthy if at all possible, to be good providers for their families at the bare minimum. Failure to do so catapults men directly into the Girly Man camp. Witness, among other things, this charming article in the New York Observer, exploring the phenomenon of stay-at-home dads... and arguing that the popularity among women of the successful, sexist jerk Don Draper from "Mad Men" somehow proves how dissatisfying it is when men don't bring home the bacon, and instead stay home and fry it up in a pan.

In my conversations with men, this particular role came up a lot -- and it seemed to hit a nerve. Mike got the memo loud and clear: "Earn money, or be independently wealthy. In 'standard' society, a woman should be beautiful, and a man should be rich." As did Michael: "To be a man," he learned, "you must have money and material possessions," and he referred to the role of "Mr. Money Bags (hides behind materialism)." Craig agreed: "My parents disapproved of my major choice (German linguistics) because it didn't have enough earning potential -- especially for a man who has to provide for a large Mormon family. My dad is a doctor, so he chose a good, manly profession, unlike the liberal arts."

And whatever money men do bring in, it bloody well better be more than the women in their lives make. Whether they're rich CEOs or blue-collar Joes or comfy middle-class guys in between, making less money than their wives or girlfriends makes their masculinity suspect at best. Christopher quoted helpful comments from his friends about his life choices: "Oh, dude, your girlfriend makes three times what you do? Aww, that sucks."

This particular gender role ties men into some uniquely convoluted knots. On the one hand, a man is supposed to be independent, to pursue his own vision and forge his own path. And yet, if he chooses a path that isn't paved with gold, if he chooses job satisfaction or a happy home life over financial gain, it somehow magically makes his penis wither and die.

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