By Olivia Montes
Elm Staff Writer
For as long as society has existed, we have been taught that, to fully explore romantic human relationships, regardless of who is involved in that relationship, there must be a man and a woman — or at least, two people where both sides are responsible for the roles commonly associated with being the “man” and “woman” of a relationship.
However, these associations are not only promoting the stereotypes of the gender binary but also encouraging the harmful behaviors and actions of traditional masculinity and femininity that come with them.
What does it mean to be a man or a woman? In the eyes of a society, it means holding certain roles and responsibilities usually associated with the stereotypes of those labels. “What exactly ‘traditional masculinity’ means depends on who’s talking about it,” The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull said in 2019.
“In science, the term refers to a specific set of traits and behaviors that are considered culturally appropriate for manhood [while] in popular culture, meanwhile, ‘traditional masculinity’ has a fuzzier, broader meaning, which generally encapsulates whatever the person reading or saying it associates with being a man,” she said.
This supposed “balance” is supposed to evenly distribute an appropriate amount of responsibilities based on the stereotypical characteristics known for being that one gender’s identifiable trademarks.
If a job requires physical strength and mental stability, such as providing protection and solving problems, it is more often than not associated with men. In contrast, the emotional support and devoted care towards others are supposed to be provided by women.
This is because many people labelled as being “more masculine” or “more feminine” are often viewed as the embodiment of the labels our society has wrongfully placed upon us, and are persuaded to possess the same sexist, degrading ideologies as everyone else around them.
Those who have been labelled as “masculine” have bought into the belief of relying on their more “feminine” partners to summon a variety of different personalities at will — including their best friend, life partner, therapist, support group, etc. — to explain and work through their problems.
“American men [have]…grown up believing that they should not only behave like stoic robots in front of other men, but that women are the only people they are allowed to turn to for emotional support — if anyone at all,” Melanie Hamlett of Harper’s Bazaar said in 2019.
“Modern relationships continue to put pressure on “the one” to be the only one, where men cast their wives and girlfriends to play best friend, lover, career advisor, stylist, social secretary, emotional cheerleader, mom —to him, their future kids, or both — and eventually, on-call therapist,” she said.
And the problem is not limited to just heterosexual relationships; the shadows of these influence traditional masculine and feminine roles can influence any kind of relationship as ways of supposedly “balancing out” the responsibilities usually associated with the one-man-and-one-woman dynamic.
“When it comes to same-sex couples, most Americans believe the ‘more masculine’ partner and the ‘more feminine’ partner should be responsible for stereotypically male and female chores,” The Guardian’s Area Mahdawi said in 2016.
Of course, the supposed solution is to just leave — though again, it is targeted at the more “emotional/weaker” side of the spectrum — that if they are uncomfortable, unsafe, or feel constantly pressured to be someone they are not, they should just take off and cut off all ties with that former partner.
“[Women] have long bought into self-improvement schemes that advocate eliminating toxic people from our lives and unspecific but urgently harmful toxins from our bodies,” The New York Times’ Lauren Oyler said in 2018.
“It often feels as if wading into contemporary discourse requires a hazmat suit,” she said.
Of course, the easiest solution would be to completely cut ourselves from the spoon-fed false hopes for a stable, balanced relationship with another person who neither constantly controls nor abandons us and live as sad, isolated clumps of bodies, in fear of being contaminated by this infectious, toxic disease: never knowing the experience of real true love.
But it does not have to be this way.
Yes, toxic relationships should be avoided at all costs, but it should not prevent us from finding happiness with the right person. We all should strive to not use labels with the people we care about, and see past what society forcibly tries to instill into our ways of thinking by coming to our own conclusions.
If individual relationships can take the time and effort to understand and embrace one another as they are, then the fear of contamination will be vanquished for good.