People rely on stereotypes all the time.
On the one hand, they save us from having to constantly reassess every bit of new information as it comes to us. If you notice a big, crazy-eyed dog staring at you, salivating and growling, you’re probably right to …slowly …walk …away...
But on the other hand, stereotypes can also allow us to make wrong and harmful assumptions, and put pressure on ourselves and others. Some stereotypes about masculinity, like dominance and control, aggression and toughness, suppressing emotion, and being ‘hypersexual’ and heterosexual, lead to unhealthy behaviours and attitudes in men’s relationships with women.
Some of the most dangerous ideas that people can have about men:
- Men are naturally more sexually aggressive and have a higher sex drive than women
- Men don’t really care about romance, all they want is sex
- Men can’t really control their feelings or their sexual urges
- Men who are jealous or overprotective just really care a lot
- Men believe that they should be dominant and in control in relationships, e.g. ‘Treat ‘em mean, to keep ‘em keen’.
All of these stereotypes are dangerous because they put pressure on young men to live up to them, and provide an excuse to hurt and use women and girls. And not only are they dangerous, they're just plain untrue.
The truth is...
- There's no evidence to suggest men's sexual desire is any greater than women's – in fact research has found levels of desire between the sexes is pretty well matched
- Guys can fall in love, and into romantic relationships, just as much as girls do
- Anyone who tells you they can't control their feelings or urges is probably making excuses for their bad behaviour
- If one person is 'in control' of the relationship, it's probably not a great relationship
- Being jealous or ‘overprotective’ does not mean someone is ‘extra affectionate’ or really loving. They’re signs of insecurity and are often signs of coercive control.
- The phrase “treat ‘em mean – keep ‘em keen” suggests that treating women badly will keep them interested. It won’t. It’s just disrespectful.
Why are stereotypes dangerous? Because when people quote or use them they start being thought of as 'the truth' – and we start feeling like we have to live up to them.
Stereotypes like the ones above will affect expectations of relationships and thoughts and feelings about partners.
How can guys have real, emotional, romantic relationships when everyone believes it’s ‘part of men’s nature’ to only care about sex? And what kind of relationships do we expect men to have when they’re given ‘advice’ like ‘treat her mean to keep her keen’? Abusive relationships.
Pressure to subscribe to these stereotypes can come from everybody (not just from men), just as it can affect everybody (not just women).
Because really, we should all be free to be our best selves, free from unfair and unfounded stereotypes…