Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What Does It Mean to Be a Man?

About 7 years ago I sat in a friend's kitchen as our children played.  Hers a daughter, mine a son.  They were in the early stages of language development - forming simple sentences.  My friend's daughter held a ball and stopped in front of us proudly declaring, "I have a blue ball."  My son stopped next to her, held up the ball in his own hand and said, "Me.  Ball."  I looked at my friend and said, "I'm raising a cave man."

In the years since I've gone between refusing to accept that reality and finding myself resigned to it.  Today as my elementary aged boys near the end of their tackle football season with choruses of NFL deactivations in the background, I am inclined to refuse to accept the reality that being a man means being a cave man.

(Let's be clear - much like the Catholic Church was not and is not the only church to experience sex abuse scandals and to hide sex abuse accusations, but was the one to make it to the front page, the NFL is not the only group of men among whom domestic violence is a problem. Let's also be clear that there are good and decent fathers, husbands, and citizens in the NFL.  Having said that, it is the NFL that is currently making front pages so it is from those conversations that we must ask what it means to be a man.)

While history claims we've evolved far beyond cave man status, we should be alarmed by how little some of our attitudes have changed.

Just think about it...

Violence - while we claim to be against it in many forms and while we act alarmed at lives claimed by violent acts in our cities, in so many ways we continue to teach our little boys to be violent.  The messages come at them in abundance that say it is good, even necessary to fight back or sometimes to start the fight.  These messages come in the games they play, in the way we talk to them about altercations at school, in what they see grown men modeling.  Even just watching some of the behavior and listening to the rhetoric at my first grader's football games reminded me of this.

Promiscuity - we've gained immense amounts of knowledge about everything from sexually transmitted infections to the ways promiscuous behavior and sex abuse (even between peers) impact self esteem and predict harmful behaviors and still we often live with a "boys will be boys" attitude toward promiscuity.

There remain so many things that we see as acceptable for men but not for women.  Just recently I was involved in a conversation with the GM of a car dealership where he and a woman who was car shopping got in an argument.  Both of them cussed but then he went off about how wrong it was for her to do so because she was a woman.  I finally responded by telling him that the fact that he was male didn't make it acceptable.

There remain so many ways in which we continue to support the idea that being a man means being rough and tough, means demanding your ways and getting what you want, means being in charge (without question) of women and children, means using violence and following your urges. 

But it doesn't have to be so.

Being a man means being strong...strong enough to feel and to listen and to cry and to show self-control.

Being a man means being respected...not because you are a man or because you demand it, but because you show respect to others.

Being a man means recognizing that guns and balls aren't needed for play to be valuable...but knowing that sometimes tutus and teapots are at the center of the most important moments.

Being a man means being a person of value...not because you earn a lot of money but because you have lived into who you naturally are whether that is a stock broker or an actor, a full-time parent or a construction worker.  And it means valuing who others are even when it's not who you anticipated they would be.

As I drafted this post, a friend sent me this article http://www.vocativ.com/culture/religion/heath-mooneyham-ignite/?utm_source=digg&utm_medium=email about a church in the city where I used to live.  As I read it I found myself offended on so many levels.  And I found myself wondering less about what would cause this minister to behave and say the things he does and more about what makes this attractive to so many people.  What does this say about who we are and the views we continue to hold? 

The reality is that nothing I have written is new.  I haven't said it better than anyone else.  I haven't said it nearly as well as many.  But I needed to say it.  I needed to say it because I am the mother of two boys.  I needed to say it because I am a woman.  I needed to say it because I see the way so many people - both men and women - are harmed by some of our attitudes and behaviors.  I needed to say it because we need to talk more about this. 

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