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Your Boy and #MeToo

I’ve read a ton of blog posts and articles asking, “How do we raise our boys in the age of #metoo?”

Mostly, they have been unsatisfactory and simplistic. This is a deep topic. It took us generations to get here – and it’s going to take us generations to ‘right the ship.’

Most parents of young kids these days know that they should be teaching and modeling consent. Which sounds like, “Would you like a hug?” “Can I give you a kiss?” WE must practice asking, too, (because this isn’t in our DNA, yet). We must teach our children they can say no – and then be ready to explain to grandma why she isn’t going to get the hug she wants.

By middle school our mantra changes to telling our boys (and girls, too?) they must ask, “Can I Kiss You?” according to Michael Domirtz of The Date Safe Project.

These are methods of asking for and obtaining C-O-N-S-E-N-T-  – which implies that we are also teaching R-E-S-P-E-C-T but it’s bigger that that. These conversations immediately open up the ‘can of worms’ of gender roles, gender norms, toxic masculinity, and inequality.

How do we navigate?

How do we even begin to make the titanic shifts needed in how we view women and men and gender roles?

As a woman, and an advocate for boys for over 20 years, I was struck by this blog post question: “How do we raise strong women and respectful men?”  Do I spy unconscious bias?

Rather, shouldn’t we be asking:

“How do we raise the best versions of ourselves?”

“How do we raise kids who are confident and capable enough to speak up when they see and or experience power imbalances and injustice?”

 

 

When we SEE each other

When we SEE each gender (and all the gender-fluidity in between) and step out of our own shoes to understand the other, we build respect.

I wonder whether that means we will ever be truly equal?

Do we want to be? Does it serve us? Do women really want to be outside building buildings, laying concrete, and driving cement trucks? I don’t think so – and that’s okay! (and certainly more than okay for the women who do!)

The feminist cry has always been EQUALITY. Yes, equal pay for equal work, absolutely!

But EQUAL seems like the wrong word to me. Equal begs comparison and contrast – which means something has to be ‘not equal’ to understand it.

Can we set ‘equal’ aside and strive to be and model the best versions of ourselves?

We are all human – we are all different.

When we see each other’s differences (and they are broad generalizations), –  we see that many males tend to express their strength with physical power, while many females tend to express their strength via verbal and emotional power. Of course there is every nuance in between. Yet, when we understand ‘the other’ we can crossover the divide and UNITE.

Not equal — UNIFIED!

Our boys are in the middle.

I worry about our boys in the midst of #metoo.

The messages are coming fast – do this, don’t do that, say this but don’t say that.  Our boys are confused, wondering, and suffering – and additionally constrained by “The Boy Code.”

Add to that the presence of mostly female teachers and mostly stay-at-home-moms in a boy’s early years and they get the message early and often that they are “too loud, too active.”

Or, like one 7-year old first grader told his mom, “All the girls are perfect. I’m the bad one.”

Imagine hearing the recurring message – either subtly and unconsciously, or right out loud that day-after-day you are bad, you are not okay.  Dr. Michael Thompson said in Raising Cain, “Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools. Boys are treated like defective girls.”

Does this early messaging lay dormant until he’s in a position of power and can backlash a la’ Harvey Weinstein? For most boys, NO.

They are, however, accumulating family messages, school messages, and media messages about girls and women and how boys and men are supposed to act. Have you watched a video game? Many show far more skin on women than men, far more sexualized figures on women than men, and there are games that degrade and brutalize women. If they are watching porn, (and most boys by age 9 have seen some type of porn), they’re also receiving cultural messages about the objectification and treatment of women.

It’s really difficult – nearly impossible – for adults to sort out these confusing messages – imagine the confusion for our boys?!

Is chivalry dead?

Chivalry (noun):

1. The medieval system or institution of knighthood. The combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight; especially courage, honor, justice, and a readiness to help the weak.
2. Courteous behavior, especially that of a man towards women.

Men model it.  Women allow it, honor it, and nurture it in their sons (maybe)…

Did we miss something when we decided “chivalry is dead”? When we stopped teaching our boys the importance of opening doors, pulling out chairs, and calling our parent’s friends by Mr. and Mrs.? (One friend called me old-fashioned here – and asked why girls can’t be taught the same thing – yes, and no).

With inherent differences in our biology, it does our boys a disservice to try to make everything equal (there’s that word again). We are not equal. But we can be unified!

“But I can do it myself,” says every woman on the planet at one time or another…sure, you can BUT you’ve taken away the opportunity for him to learn to show his respect for you (and every woman on the planet) in a tangible, measurable way.

Isn’t respect for females on the outside also developing his life-long respect for females on the inside?

Understand him. Respect HIM – so he can return the favor.

Understanding him means you know that he goes to great lengths to avoid being shamed. I wonder if early shaming metastasizes into abuses of power and dominance for some boys?

What’s happening in your son’s typical day?  What messages is he receiving? A mom recently posted in the Boys Alive! Facebook group:

“My son was thrown out of chess club for farting accidentally…..the teacher will tell you she didn’t throw him out but she “removed him from the class and left him there while she opened windows, sprayed air spray and calmed the other children.”
He sat in the corridor and sobbed while she did this. He was mortified! Talk about shaming?!
When I asked the teacher why she put him out she said she doesn’t like to show the whole class her angry face, just the one she is angry at. I asked what she was angry at, my son’s colon? This was the wrong remark. She lost it completely with me. Finger pointing, the works. I later got an apology regarding her behavior with me but the school supported her actions with my son.

As a result we have been labeled as oversensitive and unsupportive in instilling social etiquette and my son will never go back to chess club which is the real shame!”

How could UNITY and RESPECT for the other changed this situation?

Teaching our kids – boys AND girls

It starts at home. It starts with you.

  1. Intervene and stop any inappropriate behavior. My colleague Amy Lang of Birds+Bees+Kids gives you this script: Pause (collect yourself); Describe the Action (“I see you are moving your body in an adult way.”); Name Your Feelings (“I feel uncomfortable with that.”) and Stop/Redirect the Action (“Let’s finish cleaning up this game and then we’ll get a snack.”)
  2. Boundaries are learned with siblings first – respect each other’s ‘bubble’ which includes not only personal space but also loud voices, loud music, and property infringement.
  3. Give your children the words to speak up and speak out. Coaching Boys Into Men gives direct training to coaches so they can teach and reach middle school boys with the words and actions needed to show respect for others (not just for other women).
  4. Model speaking up and speaking out. Silence is complicity. Where do you speak up when there is an imbalance of power?
  5. Understand The Boy Code and how boys operate differently in groups than they would by themselves. Explain this to your boys!
  6. Talk about gender differences and preferences. You might like doing laundry, while your husband likes cooking – chores are by preference, not gender.
  7. If something happens (like the chess club/farting incident above), your first response should always be, “I believe you.” And then, “How can I help you?”

I know I sound like a broken record, but I believe that when we understand the inherent nature of BOTH males and females, we are well on our way to ending many of the factors that have gotten us to #metoo.

All of this requires:

  • Vigilance
  • Conversation
  • Empowering our children to speak out for what’s not right.

It is really so simple – be human – be kind – stand up for others who can’t.

Yet, it is so complex – it takes full emotional development and confidence to say, “Dude, not cool.”

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