I would like to start by saying that while this is a post that is very important to me and on my mind often, I was inspired to write tonight for the first time in a while after reading the excellent post by Christina Torres ( @bilbio_phile ) which you can read here bit.ly/24xujfV
As a man, and more so as a white man, I have had the benefit of a great many things. There is one thing however that I find as frustrating as any other about being a man, and that is simply the artificially generated pressure to “be a man.” Being a man is often described as dominant, aggressive, fierce, violent, sexual, provider, or care taker to name a few. When human beings were battling to survive their environments and found it difficult to survive each other, some of those stereotypes may have made some sense as those traits may have meant safety or successful reproduction. In our world today, those stereotypes are instead dangerous.
I teach small children. As a man teaching young kids I often deal with the diverse reactions ranging from “oh that is so sweet” to laughter because teaching small kids to read, write, explore, question, and experiment is somehow less manly than other jobs. I have worked with many kids that do not have a strong father figure, and many that do. I consistently battle with the male stereotype and the corresponding expectations that come with it. I have to check my own perceptions when I see a boy crying, a boy getting hurt. Am I treating these future men in a way that will further the stereotype? This TED talk by Terry Porter opened my eyes to the stereotypes I was promoting in my biases Tony Porter: A call to men | TED Talk | TED.com (warning there may be language inappropriate for work or young people but its worth a watch.)
The look of shock on the faces of my young future men when I tell them at 33 I have never thrown a punch (fighting with my brothers excluded) is always sad. They are amazed that someone they look up to, that is such a prominent male figure in their life, is not a “fighter.” I read them books like The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss. While the original story is about nuclear proliferation, there is a clear message about the problems of solving disputes through violence. I talk to them about being strong. We talk about how being strong is more than physical. It is about understanding what is right, doing that thing, and sticking with it. Being strong is about finding the best way to solve your problem, not the quickest. It is about looking someone who hates you in the eye and offering them help. Strength comes from confidence. Not confidence in your abilities, but confidence in who you are as a person. I am me. I know what I am doing is the best I can do in this moment.
Ultimately being a good man is no different than being a good person. The rest is simply pressure applied by others that lack security and confidence in themselves. Being a good man transcends the stereotypes in that a good man does not need to prove themselves in regards to others, they are simply doing what they need to do. In that, they have no need to tear others down, to take away from them, or to challenge them. Like any other good person, their goal is to elevate those around them while improving themselves.
So, I say to young men, future men, teachers of future men, it is time we man up. Stop promoting the nonsensical stereotypes developed out of our prehistoric ancestors and start teaching our boys to be good men, and in doing so, good human beings.