A few days ago, I sat on a panel that discussed the idea of masculinity, and how the idea of masculinity is hindering adolescent boys from blossoming into their authentic, non-violent, non-misogynistic, non-abusive selves. Anyone who doesn’t see how masculinity, or hyper-masculinity, is harming our adolescent boys, they ought to watch the trailer for “The Mask You Live In”. Or, consider data out of New Jersey, that 75% of domestic violence incidents are perpetrated by men. Or that most of the school shootings are carried out by men. Or that, from another study, 99% of people who purchased sex, were men. Or how nearly all sexual assaults are perpetrated by, you guessed it, men.
So, what we have in our society is not only a problem with violence, but it’s a problem with men using violence to abuse, stalk, rape, exploit, demean, force, and purchase women, girls, and, other (presumably, weaker), men. How can I say that? Women are brought up our country, but women don’t have nearly the same infatuation with aggression and violence. Women aren’t carrying guns and doing drive by shootings. Women aren’t lighting up schools with bullets, out of some misguided vengeance.
But, simply looking at the boys and young men of today, and waving a finger, as if to say, what’s your problem, isn’t taking into account the full scope of the issue. Sure, boys and young men are committing some of these horrific acts. But where are they learning these behaviors? We can’t simply say society, because you, me, we all make up society. Nor can we simply say, that’s the way it is, because we make it the way it is. Just like we use our voting power to put a president into office, or our financial power to drive up a company’s profits, we use our social power to instill in boys and young men certain traits that we deem valuable. Like using violence against women.
So this idea of masculinity that so desperately needs changing stands at the footsteps of men. Adult men, more so than teenage boys learning how to become men. When we, as men, demean and hurt the women in our lives, our sons are watching. When we make comments about how a girl put herself in that situation – referring to sexual assault – our young men are listening. When we criticize men for not being man enough, our boys are paying attention.
We can tell our boys all the reasons to step outside of the man box, but when boys see (adult) men being praised and worshipped, earning street cred, or at the very least, not being held accountable for their abusive actions, why would adolescent boys dare step outside of the man box? What’s their incentive?
This issue – of helping the younger generation of boys and young men – redefine masculinity is complex. There is no singular answer that will solve the entirety of this dilemma. But one area that we must look at, that we must hold accountable for its influence, is adult men, and how we give adult men a pass when they reinforce violent, misogynistic, and stereotypical definitions of masculinity.
When we turn a blind eye to Chris Brown and his violent outbursts towards his then girlfriend, we send one message. When we demonize Jay-Z for his attempts to de-escalate and remove himself from a physical encounter with his sister-in-law, we send a supporting message. A message that says It’s okay to abuse a woman if she gets out of line, and that real men don’t take shit from women. That she, somehow, deserved or warranted it. That message is real. It’s one that adolescent boys and young men are trying to unlearn. But, it’s us, the adult men that keep reinforcing it, every time we demand that boys man up. In both our words, and in our actions.
Certainly, I don’t absolve teenage boys and young men from the violence and aggression they enact in our world. But, let’s not kid ourselves, and pretend boys aren’t learning those behaviors. It’s men, who need to change if we ever care to see the young men of future generations dare to step outside of the confines of the man box.