Last week I woke up and watched this 3-minute video calling attention to the way we talk to our boys about masculinity.
A few hours later I found myself among people who are very close to me. And in the course of a one-minute span, a well-meaning man in our lives said these words when playing with my 6-year old son: Don't be a wimp. You better man up, boy. I'll take you home with me to toughen you up.
At first I was furious at this man. How dare he talk to my child like that. Then I went into panic mode. Sure, we have never used this kind of hyper-masculine, aggressive language with our kid, but there is a whole world out there that probably does. How will our influence outweigh the influence of the world? Then I thought about this man, and how that's probably all he knew. His father probably talked to him exactly like that. He himself most likely grew up believing that his value as a man was tied directly to his ability to demonstrate his physical strength. And so I became very sad... for him, for my son, and for every single boy in America.
And so I spoke up. Heart racing, in the middle of people who I can't really name, but who I probably should have exhibited more self-restraint and respect. Probably. And I said, "Jack is not a wimp, and neither are you. Neither of you need to toughen up. A real man, or human being rather, is gentle and kind towards others. Something that Jack already is and we are so proud of him."
And awkward silence fell. And the playing subsided. And I felt uneasy for the rest of the night. But my boy did not leave that room believing that he was a wimp. And for a few minutes, all the women in the room were given permission to value a different kind of man - a kind they didn't grow up knowing. And probably for the first time in his life, that man was (reluctantly) given permission to consider valuing himself differently. The awkward silence was a small price to pay.
Photo credit: Diary of A Wimpy Kid