The more time I spend with my son the more I realize the challenges of raising men in today’s society. My goal for my son is to prepare him to live in the structure of family, work, and community that are equitable and just for all. Hopefully, he will find enriching social and work relationships between himself and other men and women. Even at the age of 5, he is trying to identify with other males in so many ways. At this age it is more of “are you spider man or batman?” But I know from my own experiences, that this will soon develop into hoping to find achievement and success. During youth and adolescence, its academics and possibly athletics. As men get older, position and finances usually determine success. It is an unfortunate measuring stick in our society.
Boys look to men to understand how to act. Today’s society emphasizes positive qualities such as being courageous, determined, goal oriented, hard working, team player, and respect. However, while striving for these things often the message and images are distorted. I see young men everyday that try to find respect through violence, courage turns to false pride, hard working becomes a form of domination. This often leads to distorted images of other men through homophobic comments or violence. This causes distorted images of women through domestic violence and prejudicial language and sexualized violence. This is all in the name of being a man or “brothers”. But it is “brothers” or “real men” who are killing each other and being less than brotherly. It is them that are raping our sisters. It is the appalling silence of the rest of us that allow it. On the one hand we seek brotherhood but on the other hand we want to prove how tough we are and stand-alone. Competitiveness is engrained at an early age. Sports to dress to verbal conflicts to fights or financial assets. Aren’t there more opportunities to expand the ethical and emotional lives of men?
How are we raising boys to be men? We aren’t. We raise them not to be woman or a sissy or a gay man? Think about the ways this ‘negative-defining’ position contributes to “anxious masculinity”. If all value definitions are based on NOT statements, then any feature that would counter that NOT must be fought and eliminated. If we were constructing solid beings of ‘positive’ stuff, the things that men are wouldn’t be shaken quite so easily. We tell them not to cry, not to show emotion (unless it is in an extreme happiness or anger) but that’s it. Feelings and emotions are tools that help you deal with everyday life. The most masculine men very often are misunderstood because that masculinity is a mask for who they are on the inside. Do you remember the first time someone called you a punk or a sissy? What was the response? It was probably something to prove that you were not. We pose a constant and relentless threat to each other. Ever mannerism, every movement contains a coded gender that must be followed. If it is not, you are criticized or even ostracized. This deprivation of an adequate way to express and deal with emotions manifests itself into physical abuse, sex abuse, irresponsible sex, and other risk taking behavior that only leads to prison and death. Sexism targets men as well as women. It is accepted and condoned by sustained threats by men toward other men. “Don’t be a sissy”, “Man UP”.
Women have been redefining themselves and their roles. While we have remained stagnant. Where is the male revolution? Take a look at the suicide rates and incarceration rates. Given the gendered nature of these difficulties, why don’t we want to look at ourselves deeply and critically? When will we be more accountable for ourselves and stop acting as if women have or are the problem? We must confront each other and enact change. It is no longer to talk of sensitivity in public and be sexist and homophobic in private. Many men are ashamed by the behavior of other men but silence is assent and validating. It gives the appearance of approval and prevents criticism. This is not male loyalty. It is the glorification and acceptance of ignorance. In order to preserve this unhealthy male bond, we are in denial. We are living a lie. We can stand against the lies. We can express a new model of masculinity and generate more positive and committed relationships. We can become better communicators and role models. We can become REAL MEN. Being a man is allowing yourself to be the whole person you are. Being a “good guy” is not enough. Good guys will speak up and support women and confront the men who would otherwise remain silent or unaware of the problem.