Moms and Dads of boys, we need you. We need your courage and willingness as a parent to allow your sons the opportunity to develop their full selves. To teach your sons that being a man does not have to mean a denial of parts of themselves. That being a man does not have to mean relinquishing their needs, fears, or tenderness. And that being a man does not mean controlling, owning, or shrinking women. We need you to gift your sons the freedom to be vulnerable when hurt, to take responsibility when culpable, and to show up when others are victimized.
I’ve spent a lot of time around men. Growing up as the only female with 4 brothers, 3 of whom were older, I spent much of my childhood studying them. SO wanting their attention and approval, I watched their every movement with curiosity and envy. I wanted to be just like them and resented any suggestion that I may not be able to do what they could do (Insert off-tune rendition of Annie Get Your Gun’s “Anything you can do, I can do better.”). I wanted to read the books they were reading, watch the movies they were watching, listen to the music they were playing. I’d sneak into their rooms and listen to their cassette tapes (later CDs) of Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Billy Joel, Elton John, Marilyn Manson, Bad Religion, Led Zeppelin, Guns & Roses, Nirvana, Phantom of the Opera, memorizing lyrics and trying on their individual identities to see if they could fit me. Trying to find out who I was in relation to them. In relation to myself.
There were certainly ways in which I was treated differently as a female. Some that were to my advantage—having my own room was a definite plus—and some that were difficult to understand and that seemed unfair and restrictive. I didn’t understand why I might not be able to do something my brothers were allowed to do, just because I was a girl. I’m sure there are things my brothers felt were unfair that benefited me.
Growing up around soon-to-be-men, I was privy to truths about men that society often tends to mask. Boys and men have just as many insecurities, just as many feelings, and just as many needs as girls and women. (They also have just as much capacity for empathy and compassion). But, unlike for girls and women, boys and men are seldom offered the opportunity to embody the vulnerability needed to ask for help, to voice their fears, to show weakness, and to admit fault. This hurts both men and women, contributing to a false cultural belief that men are so much stronger than women that they do not need the same time and energy allocated for their emotional development. That they are somehow immune to the impact of life’s hurts and traumas. That their mental health needs are somehow less important or less in need of attention and treatment. And that the abusive, toxic, and violent actions and language some men engage in are *just locker room talk* or *just boys being boys.* Implying that this kind of behavior is beyond their control, to be expected, and something women (and other men) must accept and tolerate as *normal.*
Toxic masculinity (as opposed to Innocuous Masculinity—masculinity that doesn’t hurt anybody) also contributes to a narrative that pits women against men. Distorting the important work being done toward achieving equality as somehow equating being anti-men. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We NEED men to achieve equality. Seeking equality for women does not mean creating inequality for men. Being against the patriarchy does not mean being against men, though often this is the assumption that is believed. Often those who believe this do not understand what the term actually means.
Patriarchy = a social system in which males hold primary power, occupying the highest positions in society (politically, morally, socially), family life, and in control of property. Under this system, women, children, animals, and the environment come after men. Smashing the patriarchy does NOT mean smashing or doing away with men. It means doing away with the belief that men are inherently socially, politically, physically, or morally superior than women.
Power can corrupt. It feels good to have more privilege, more access, more control (than others) and natural to fear having less. This is not a foible that is inherent or unique to men. The corruption of power is a human fragility to which we are all susceptible. Which is why men need women (and other men) to support men seeking vulnerability, being heard, speaking up, and sharing their stories of fear, vulnerability, and need. And women need men.
Men, we need you. As allies. We can’t do this (equality) without you. We need your voices. We need your perspective. We need your input. We need you to listen AND be willing to speak up and stand up when inequality and violence are taking place. We need your willingness to look at how we are all complicit in perpetuating a cycle of violence against and shrinking of women. There are important conversations happening that are starting with the words *Me Too,* that must be followed with the words
*I Believe Her*
But there are more words that need to follow. Words like
*I Am Listening*
*I Am Willing To Look At My Part*
*I’m Sorry For What I Have Done*
*I Commit To Doing The Work To Change And Be Better*
Men, I've seen you show up. I've seen you be more. I admire the courage to do so and recognize how hard it must be. How intense the pressure to be strong and save face can be in a cultural climate that generally rewards toughness, competition, and perfection and punishes weakness, cooperation, and vulnerability. That for those that do acknowledge the inequity of patriarchal systems, it can feel like a relinquishing of your manhood. There is some truth to this. In order for us to progress forward and achieve a truer equality, men do have to relinquish some of the ways in which they have previously defined and identified with manhood.
But this is not a zero sum, scarcity-based game, in which each participants’ gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participants. In which resources are finite and one can only *win* if others *lose.* Quite the opposite; when we are able to achieve equality, ALL of us benefit and access more. And, together, we create more. More opportunities for men to access support. To talk about their hurts and traumas. To voice their fears of inadequacy or loneliness. To learn from other men and from women. More opportunities for enthusiastic, authentic, and full mutual consent to be reached together between two consenting and fully aware adults. More opportunities for women to access the privileges and power that have so often been withheld or used as weapons against them. More opportunities for men and women to embody their full, complicated, diverse selves.
Men, I believe in you. Believe us.
Moms and Dads of boys, I believe in you too. Teach your sons to believe her.