June 20, 2016

How To Be A Boy

This is the post I have been trying to expel all week. Not perfect, but it's a start. It was inspired after a conversation we had in class where the boys had clearly no idea what they were talking about when it came to gender equality.


Let’s start with acknowledging that it isn’t easy being a boy.

Sometimes it feels like so much attention and energy is being spent on empowering girls that it feels like you have been forgotten. So before I begin, I want to say that I get it- it’s difficult and complicated being male. There is a lot of pressure on you to act a certain way, to think a certain way, dress a certain way, be a certain way.

Let’s be on honest, the way you are expected to be sometimes feels contradictory to who you want to be when you are alone with your thoughts. I am writing this post, in hopes that it might be useful.

Here are a few things that might help: Your manhood is not determined by your sexuality. And although it might feel like it because of the pressure put on you from most cultures and the media, your definition of manhood does not have to be based on sex. You will see men everywhere objectifying, dominating and mistreating women and it may feel normal to also feel the need to behave this way. You will be made to feel inferior if you are not strong or tough and sexually aggressive. You and your friends will taunt each other about when and how often and who you have sex with. Even the terms will feel violent: do her, bang her, screw her, give it to her, each term another form of assault, until you will confuse having sex with domination. This is called Toxic Masculinity. It is one of the ways in which the Patriarchy is harmful to men. Toxic Masculinity refers to the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.

Let’s take a moment to familiarize ourselves with a few other terms that might be helpful.

Patriarchy is a term used to describe the system of gender-based hierarchy in society which assigns most power to men, and assigns higher value to men, maleness, and "masculine traits". When faced with the idea of Patriarchy, most boys will become defensive, usually because they are not aware of the privilege being a male offers them in most cultures.

“Privilege" is used to describe a set of advantages (or lack of disadvantages) enjoyed by a majority group, who are usually unaware of the privilege they possess.

Wow. That was a lot of new terms early in this advice piece. Let’s see if we can unpack them bit. Most cultures are Patriarchies and so they use the idea of Toxic Masculinity to perpetuate existing power structures. They can do this by exploiting your ignorance of male Privilege and fostering socially acceptable misogyny. Which is our last term for now- Misogyny= dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

In simpler terms, for most of human history men have run the show. They make more money, do less work and make major decisions that effect both men and women, but usually make decisions that benefit men. They like having control and do not want to lose it, so they make it seem like power, domination, and control are male traits and anyone who does not think this way is weak or feminine.

So they make the way the world is structured feel normal- see your media, video games, movies, sports and military culture, take a look at your classrooms, your accepted genre roles, your toy stores, everything around you that makes it feel normal for you to be a tough, brave, strong boy.

Let's go back to where we started before we got into this lesson on basic of Feminist terms- you don’t have to buy into it. Being a boy doesn't have to do with any of that. And if you are determined to make a better world and be the best and most authentic version of yourself, all you have to do is ignore what society tells about what makes a man.

Easier said than done. I know. Trust me, it took me forty two years, being married, teaching middle school and raising two girls to even notice there was something wrong. The blinding glare of male privilege whilst living in a Patriarchy is hard to avoid.

Here are some things you might want to try to break yourself free:

Girls are not objects for your pleasure. They have their own ideas and thoughts and dreams and while they might be working out their own issues, they are not here to satiate your sexual appetite. You may want to look and oggle and stare, but they usually don’t like it, especially from a stranger. I know it is difficult. The media turns woman into objects, so much so that girls themselves are not sure who to be and how to be it. You are also biologically programmed to look and oggle and stare, but you are better than that. You have evolved and you just learned the term Misogyny, so take a break from seeing girls as mere objects for your pleasure. Don't disrespect them to their face and more importantly don't stand by and let your friends talk about them behind their backs.

It’s okay to explore other ways to be a man. Your buddies are just as scared and confused as you are. The more they boast and brag the more insecure they are. They are not always the best at helping you especially when you are hanging out in a large group. Your bros will mess with you and tease you and maybe even haze you to a point when you can’t stop joining the pack. Bros in a pack are not your friends. Find a few people you can trust and learn to talk to them. Finding male friends that can talk about this kind of stuff early and openly is key to your development. You want guy friends who are not afraid to cry or talking about insecurities. You want male friends who can see beyond Toxic Masculinity and who will accept you for who you are.

You might also want to look up the following words in no particle order and try them out: tenderness. humility. grace. compassion. empathy. sensitivity. Most boys or young men do not bother with these ideas in their youth because they are trapped in the one idea of what it means to be a man. Break free early and follow your heart. Find the right books, the right songs, the right films and the right friends who can help you construct the best version of yourself. Look to and find a variety of different male role models.

Here is an easy one. No means no. Always every time. No means no. Always every time. Once more for good measure- No means no. Always every time.

We’ve already reviewed how hard it can be to escape Toxic Masculinity and Misogyny because it is everywhere, so much so that when boys are pushed into a corner to be masculine they feel the need to dominate women and this need for control can often to lead to rape and sexual assault. The numbers on how many young woman are sexually assaulted world wide is staggering. So much so that there is a term for it- Rape culture. This is a term that was coined by feminists in the United States in the 1970's. It was designed to show the ways in which society blames victims of sexual assault and normalises male sexual violence. An easy way to avoid any trouble is to treat the women in your life with respect. Maybe stay away from porn for a while, it doesn’t seem to help. No means no. Always every time.

This is a lot to take in. Maybe this intro post is a start and we can stop here for now. Remember none of this is meant to make you feel guilty or bad about yourself. I am just sharing these ideas with you, because no one ever did for me. I remember boyhood and young male adolescence as a very confusing and lonely time. I was lucky to have good friends, which made is easier, but not everyone can say the same.

I am sharing these ideas with you to help you free yourself from any cages you might have been put into that don’t feel comfortable. I am also sharing this with you because the women in our lives deserve better men. My daughters deserve better men. Your class mates do to. Listen to them. Don’t get defensive. Their struggle is real and it is painful and difficult. Look at the world from their eyes and remove the blinders of your own privilege.

I have said nothing about homosexuality in this post, but that seems like another conversation. I will say that being gay is another beautiful reflection of manhood. It is no less masculine or normal than any other form. Remember your manhood is not determined by your sexuality. There is more to being a man than that. Go out into the world and figure out what those things can be.

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