Monday, August 18, 2014

Let's Hear it for the Boy!

We live in a world where many of the uplifting messages of self worth are directed to women. Over the last few years companies have reached out to women with a voice that says "you are special! You are beautiful!" like this add from Dove where an artist sketches a woman how she describes herself and then how another person describes her, the result being that she is a lot more beautiful than she gives herself credit for. Another one is this add by Always where they ask women how to do things like a girl and explore how the term "like a girl" has come to mean an insulting thing sometimes, but that being like a girl is a wonderful beautiful thing.

I never thought much of it before. Occasionally I would be deeply touched by messages like these and I would be moved to ensure that my two daughters grow up knowing exactly how special they are as human beings and as girls. I loved such messages as they build me up as well and make me feel more capable of accomplishing whatever I set my mind to, and being happy with myself the way I am. However, five months ago I had a son, and I began to wonder, "what kind of help is out there to build up our boys".

In the media men are often portrayed as helpless, hopeless, and/or immature. They drink, watch football and grill. They are useless with children and household messes. They live to sleep, play and dodge any and all responsibility. It isn't a picture that I find very comforting as a mother looking to raise a son in this country. Occasionally masculinity is played as a joke like this ad by Old Spice. My current favorite is this one by Cheerios which I actually find to be a breath of fresh air as far as a portrayal of men in the media. That commercial actually brought out the question to me, What do real people think of masculinity and manhood. So I posed the question on a few chat pages on Facebook . "What makes a man manly or masculine?"

     Of the fifty or so women who answered twelve of them described masculinity as the physical trait of being a man. Most of these strictly mentioned his private parts as his defining feature "How about, do you have a penis? Yes? You are masculine. The end "
    Some women answered the question like a joke, and answered with things like " A man who tells me I need to be in the kitchen." 
  Several people answered the question with the retort that women can do anything that men can do and the focus should be on what makes a good person. Some seemed to consider the question a little sexist "I honestly think there is no way to describe "manliness" as women can have all the same characteristics, without reducing women to a sexist standard. A good person can have the same descriptors as a "gentleman" or "manliness" without the sexism."

     The vast majority of the ladies who responded to my question may have listed physical traits like strength but mostly talked about deeper qualities. These included confidence, taking personal responsibility seriously, loyalty, respectful, passionate, protector, provider, humility, and selflessness.
Before I continue I want to thank all those ladies (and the couple of guys who chimed in through their wives) all your answers were correct and appreciated.
Now on to my personal view.
   First I have to say that I believe that gender is an essential characteristic of ourselves. Part of what makes me me is that I am a woman. Part of what makes my husband who he is is that he is a man.However, those qualities that I just listed, the deeper ones, can be applied to men and women alike. I am fully aware of this, and I hope that someday all my children have those qualities in abundance. I want my girls to believe they are capable of absolutely anything, but I also want my son to have the same. Constantly we are bombarded by the message that to be a woman makes you beautiful and special and capable. I hope that as we continue on we will continue to build each other up, but let us not forget the boys. Let us not keep the hope and joy we have for their potential trapped inside us because we are afraid of offending someone by letting it out. We need to tell them IT'S AWESOME TO BE A BOY!
   My husband is sweet and kind. He is loyal and loving. He is a provider and protector for our family. He is a nerd and a band geek. He is intelligent and thoughtful. He is aware of his own failings, and strives to overcome them. He wrestles the kids and changes diapers. He cooks meals and takes out the trash. He is a worthy leader in our household, and together we are working to build a strong upright family.  If my son grows up just like him he will be a very good man. My son is lucky to have him as a father.

   We need to teach our sons that it is okay to take charge and be a leader. We need to teach them that it is okay to be rough around the edges and soft in the middle. We need to teach our sons to become , the kind of men who do not objectify women,but respect them as equals. We need to teach them to be the kind of men who take responsibility for their lives, all of their lives, the good choices and the bad. We need men who are kind and considerate and caring, and who don't feel that their masculinity is contingent upon the size of their grill. We need to teach that besides physical strength what makes a man is strength of character. To do that boys must be treated as equally special and equally important and equally qualified. Let's start putting that message out their that boys are beautiful and special and capable. Let's refuse to let our sons and daughters get away with anything less than their best selves. Let us refuse the messages out their that drag us down.
I believe that men and women are different. Their differences are not all quantifiable but they are important. I believe that all people are capable of many things. As I have studied the opinions of others and given it some serious thought myself I have come to the conclusion that a man working to be his best self will be considered masculine. A woman working to be her best self will be feminine. We just need to make sure that the messages our boys see are not the ones that promote eternal immaturity.