If gender equality is the goal, start with getting everyone on the same page.
Many of the findings from the 2018 American Family Survey weren't that surprising. Overall, Americans still overwhelmingly find marriage desirable and a foundational institution. Parents are concerned about the overuse of technology and bullying among teens. We're more likely to identify ourselves as a parent or spouse before identifying as a Christian or Jew. And the No. 1 reason couples are worried about having children? Being able to provide for them financially.
Turns out America is still very family-centered — who knew?
Some points that did raise eyebrows include the differences on how men and women view sexual harassment and consent; women typically had higher standards, while men's were consistently lower. Additionally, financial milestones such as "being financially independent from parents," "moving out" and "buying a house" are typically associated with the idea of "becoming a man," not "becoming a woman" or adult.
Each of these findings gave me pause, and both got me thinking about a term that's being used a lot lately: toxic masculinity.
The term is used to describe negative gendered behavior in men and strict social mores that can lead to perpetuated violent behaviors. As one Kutztown University professor of women's and gender studies described, toxic masculinity is what "results when expectations of 'what it means to be a man' go wrong." The term is not negative about masculinity itself or saying that men are naturally violent, but it describes the negative effects of putting strict behavioral and social expectations on men.
The topic of toxic masculinity rose to the forefront of discussion during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. Alleged actions set aside, the episode brought to light many of the issues associated with leeway sometimes given to men for their behavior with the excuse "boys will be boys." Sending young men the message that "being a man" is defined by one's level of "macho" and how tough they are in front of peers is dangerous. It not only tells both men and women that men are given certain privileges and less check on their actions, but that physical power and dominance equates to masculinity.
A man should not feel as though he is a failure if he does not move out of his parents' home by a certain time or doesn't make enough money on his own to provide for a family. Similarly, a woman should not be made to feel as though she is ruthless, selfish or a bad mother if she does accomplish those things.
Men also should not be afraid to have high standards for sexual harassment and the need for verbal consent. Instead of being afraid to be alone with a woman or believing the #MeToo movement is an attack on men, men should have elevated standards and seek for open communication. There is nothing unmanly about mutual respect or high standards.
It's OK for men to have high standards. It's OK for women to celebrate financial milestones. It's OK to move beyond words and ideology and start letting our everyday actions speak for themselves and instigate real, positive change.
Equality will not come by persisting with competition-style mentality. It will come from thinking in a complimentary way to end negative gender mores for both men and women.
We can all look forward to a day when the American Family Survey indicates that both sexes have the same standards and when children and couples benefit from a removal of negative expectations and can work together.