We have watched a lot of rich and powerful men crushed under the weight of their own entitlement this year. Men who believed that their status and wealth set them above everyone else. The last thing the world needs is one more movie-mogul buying sex with screen time or another frat boy gunning for supreme court justice. Everything that has been done in the shadows is starting to come to light, and that light has revealed how pervasive toxic masculinity really is. Women are speaking out about ugly abuses of power, confronting blatant misogyny, and telling the world that we know that “boy will be boys” is just code for “boys mistreat women.” Women are airing out their experiences and hanging their oppressors out to dry because there is no better disinfectant in the world than fresh air and sunshine.
If the phrase “toxic masculinity” makes you bristle a little bit, let me put you at ease. We are not saying that men are toxic, or that masculinity is bad. Rather, we are saying that what passes under the guise of masculinity in our culture is actually poison — a distorted, evil version of what masculinity can and look like. Toxic masculinity proves itself by triumph. Triumph in sports, triumph in business and especially triumph over women. It promotes the lie that strength and empathy are mutually exclusive, but men can and should be both. That is manhood in its fullness. Humble servant leaders encourage those around them to be more confident, more whole, more autonomous individuals. It doesn’t abuse or dehumanize women. It builds them up. Toxic masculinity uses maleness to treat women as conquests and subscribes to power as a right. Weinsteins and Batalis go unchecked for decades, snuggled up in a warm blanket of self-entitlement. And as I watch the reckoning come for these toxic men, it’s stirred up a longing in me for a new and better generation of men. The generation of men that I am tucking into bed.
In this age of the girl, I’m grateful to be raising boys. As a former little girl who preferred dinosaurs and spy kits over tutus and tiaras, I love seeing girls embracing computer studies, majoring in chemistry, and kicking calculus butt. But, in the era of #shepersisted and #metoo the responsibility of being a #boymom feels especially heavy. I have three boys five and under and they are a handful. My middle child is basically Donny from The Wild Thornberrys. I let them wrestle and play superheroes, but I won’t let my “boys be boys.” Not when “being a boy” is code for “taking what you want from others without their consent.” Not when “being a boy” means disrespecting women with your words and actions. Not when “being a boy” is an excuse to deny responsibility for your behavior. And I will not let my boys be boys who are squeezed into a one size fits all mold of masculinity that will distort them into something ugly and cruel. I will not let my boys “be boys” because I love them. Instead, I will teach my boys how to be men.
I am teaching them to ask before they hug a friend and if she says “no” I will hug him instead because rejection hurts even when you are four, but I’m so proud he is learning to respect personal boundaries. I am teaching them that girls are strong when we play superheroes because I’m Scarlet Witch, not some damsel in distress. We all take down Thanos together in this family. When we cajole them into eating broccoli with promises of growing up big and strong, I always remind them that strength is for protecting, not for hurting. And when they want to kill a spider for me I let them and call them my hero because I freaking hate bugs.
We need to expect more from or boys than locker room talk and sowing wild oats. It’s time we raise the bar. We cannot let this moment pass us by unchanged. We need to dig in our heels and tirelessly drive home the importance of kindness, gentleness, and self-control with our sons. We have expected nothing less from our daughters for decades now. Boy’s can’t “be boys” anymore. That’s over. But they can totally still kill spiders for me. After all, having someone to slay your spiders is one of the perks of being a #boymom. That, and tirelessly molding them into good men who will help take down the patriarchy from the inside…