Nel's New Day

June 17, 2016

Father’s Day: Honor Positive Masculinity

Father’s Day is a day to honor the influence that fathers have on their children. Much younger than the Mother’s Day, begun in the 19th century, this was not federally recognized until 1972. Retailers love the holiday because they can sell greeting cards and the “masculine” electronics and tools for gifts. The day adds $12.5 billion to the economy compared to the $19.9 billion for mothers in 2014. There are other ways that people can celebrate fathers.

The Representation Project has released a two-minute video to celebrate dads and father figures who model “whole, healthy masculinity.” The project explains:

“These are the fathers who laugh when they’re happy, cry when they’re sad, and aren’t afraid to ask for help when they need it. They are the dads who love sports and theater, who wash the car and the dishes, and who bring home the bacon from the office and the grocery store.”

The goal of The Restoration Project is to “expand the number of people, schools, and communities engaged in creating a world free of gender stereotypes and social injustice. Let’s make it easier to challenge and overcome limiting stereotypes so that all of our children can fulfill their human potential.” Toward that end, the project has joined Futures Without Violence, and Obscura Digital to launch the #BeAModelMan movement that raises awareness about the crucial role that men must play in ending toxic masculinity and violence against women.

Studies show that boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives. Three years ago, the documentary The Mask You Live In shows how males are pushed into toxic masculinity. At the beginning of the film, NFL defensive lineman Joe Ehrmann talked about an early memory when his father saw him crying and told him to stop—to “be a man.” Erhmann said, “That’s one of the most destructive phrases in this culture.”

Joe Ehrmann wrote:

“Throughout the course of their development, boys are fed at least three fundamental lies about masculinity. The first lie boys learn by the time they are three or four years old. They learn it on playgrounds, ball fields, and during preschool and kindergarten recess. Boys are taught that their value and worth has something to do with their physical strength and athletic ability. Our culture tends to recognize and reward masculinity according to size, strength, and a mentality that encourages competition, winning, and dominance over other males. The boy who can hit the hanging curve or catch the down and out pass is elevated. Athletic ‘potential’ allows others to see such boys as having more masculine promise. Men who have grown up attempting to define their masculinity by their athletic ability are set up for tremendous failure and frustration in life. Where are boys hearing this fundamental truth: 1) masculinity has nothing to do with athleticism, and 2) being good at sports seldom correlates with the development of character traits that will help them to negotiate life successfully?

“By the time they are in junior high boys are indoctrinated into the second lie about masculinity: being a man seems to have a lot to do with sexual conquest. Young, developing boys receive the social message that being a real man means objectifying and/or seducing girls to gratify their physical needs and/or to validate their masculinity. Using other human beings to gratify one’s needs is not the message we want to convey to our sons regarding our daughters.

“The third lie imposed on our boys is that masculinity is defined by economic success; as if the measure of a man can come from a job title and a bank account balance rather than from the content of a man’s character. The sad reality in America today is that too many men associate their self-worth with their net worth. We are a society that confuses who people are with what they do and have.

As an activist, I connect these three lies to every social problem we have: boys with guns, girls with babies, violence against girls and women, and immorality in boardrooms. When you see advertisements directed at boys and men, these lies are naturally embedded in the message. Madison Avenue understands that if it can make men feel insecure about their masculinity they can be led to wear certain clothes, drive certain cars, get certain kinds of women—all “possessions” validating the cultural construct of masculinity….

“We need to help boys become emotionally healthy men while addressing the destructive cultural forces undermining their capacity for well-being and wholeness. And, we need to help men discover their sense of personal responsibility to bring healing and wholeness to wounded masculine souls that will restore the connection of our heads, hearts and spirits.”

Mass shootings, like the one in Orlando five days ago, and sexual assaults show how the nation’s culture is shaped by the toxic masculinity that “manly” men find in the expression to “be a man.” A recent example is Stanford student Brock Turner’s attack on a woman behind at dumpster that was enabled by the man’s father, the judge, and the media. The father wrote an impassioned plea to let him off because “20 minutes of action” shouldn’t ruin his son’s life, and the judge sentenced Turner to jail—not a prison—for three months after the jury brought in a guilty verdict. The media demonized Turner’s victim and lionized Turner, focusing on his status as a star athlete and used his good-looking white boy photo from a year book rather than a mug shot. The end result of the toxic masculinity is excessive violence, emotional detachment, and praise for male dominance.

Since the judge gave the unbelievably lenient sentence, it has been discovered that Turned lied about not partying and not using drugs before he went to Stanford. He had blamed a “party culture and risk-taking behavior” for his actions to get the lenient sentence, but prosecutors had copies of photos and text messages proving that he had lied and has a history of partying. Turner had also been arrested for underage drinking and running from the police before the sexual assault. More than 250 Stanford students had signed a letter to the judge before sentencing, requesting that he receive at least two years for the guilty verdict, and two people who wrote positive letters about Turner have since rescinded their statements. Over 1.2 million people have signed a petition to remove the judge from the bench.

A recent movement is trying to change the expectations of men away from being tough, invulnerable, and physically strong in order “to be a man.” and define “real” men as those with inner strength, courage, and respect. “Positive masculinity” needs fathers and father figures to be positive male role models and instill these values in their children, particularly their sons.

Jack Fishl wrote “7 Positive Phrases We Should be Teaching America’s Boys About Masculinity.” Too many people use the terms “man up” and “suck it up” in an attempt to teach honor, independence, and responsibility. Too many people say “grow a pair,” a term that creates gender stereotypes and skewed definitions of “being a man.” Changing language can make people more accurate, more clear, and more inclusive of all people:

“Communicate.” Boys need to ask for help with they need it and be able to tell people, including their fathers, how they feel.

 “Crying does not make you weak.” Tears are natural, but many men shun them as a sign of weakness. A healthy outlet, crying helps regulate emotional stress. It’s also a part of communication, in this case distress. Boys need to understand that crying is acceptable.

“No means no.” Instead of thinking that partners are just teasing by refusing advances, males need to realize that “no” means stop.

Be gender-neutral when referring to a boy’s future partner. It appears that the Orlando killer suffered from internalized homophobia because of bullying from his colleagues and his father when he was young. No one should be forced into conventional expectations while trying to understand a sexual orientation of gender identity.

“Brave up.” Boys can start using this term instead of “man up” and make it cool.

“Be responsible.” Responsibility means taking ownership—for actions, emotional responses, and words—as each male searches for his unique masculinity. Turner allowed his toxic masculinity to take over than then refused to accept responsibility for his actions.

“Be confident in who you are.” People should find inner selves and then take pride in them—no matter what body type, interests, and sexuality.

Sunday is a time to thank men who practice positive masculinity—what it means to #BeAModelMan.

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