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I remember evenings as a young boy, my Dad would come home from work. My little brother and I already busy bothering my Mom and antagonizing each other. My Dad would come down to the basement and we’d rough-house, we’d slap-box and and toss footballs and do push-up competitions and race down the hallway. I can still hear my Mom shouting things from the kitchen like, “It’s all fun until someone gets hurt!” My Dad would calm us down and after dinner he’d come back downstairs with us. He’d tell us goodnight and we would just talk. We’d talk about our day, and we’d talk about whatever we were going through; our fears, our triumphs. Our failures and our adventures. It was a moment in the day that was meaningful for all three of us, and in looking back, it was those moments that taught me that it was okay to be vulnerable, and it was okay to talk about how I felt.
In the wake of yet another senseless shooting this month in Parkland, FL, people were quick to blame guns. Quick to blame mental illness. After evidence came forward regarding the shooter's troubled past, people quickly blamed law enforcement and then they blamed gun legislation, or rather the lack thereof.
It’s been easy over the past couple of weeks to ask yourself, what’s wrong with our gun laws? What’s wrong with our government? What’s wrong with our law enforcement? The question, though, that I think needs to be asked more often is: what is wrong with our boys? While our country finds itself entrenched in the debate regarding gun legislation, it’s easy to move beyond another movement that has been in the headlines this past year, the #MeToo movement, which was caused by yet another societal plague that would leave one wondering: what is wrong with our boys?
Our culture has become hyper-sexualized, and hyper-violent. Technology has led us to lead more isolated lives, while having more access to constant stimulation. We’ve concocted a façade of masculinity that, when lived up to, is both tragically unfulfilling and socially dangerous. Obviously, you have to be careful when allowing media to have too much power over the stereo-typing of an entire subset of the population. Because, I mean, if we men were the men that the media has made us out to be, we’d all be out there sexually assaulting women, shooting each other indiscriminately, corrupting business and government, and creating national drug epidemics… hold on.
How do we address an issue that is as old as Adam? Well, the first step is often admitting you have a problem, and America, we have a problem. While women make up 51 percent of the US population, 80 percent of all domestic violence shootings involve a male perpetrator. And men aren’t just shooting others. According to the Brady Center for Gun Violence, white men alone make up 79 percent of all gun suicides in the US as well.
This article is not to debate or pinpoint the place for guns in a modern civilized society. This is to argue what it is about guns that makes a man feel, well, like a man. It is hard to argue that at one time, a man needed to know how to operate a weapon, how to use it to defend himself from beasts of the wild or from foreign threats. But, in a modern world where one can’t be bothered to toss his hand into the air to hail a cab, but would rather press a button on his iPhone to call on a Black Prius, I find myself wondering has a gun become anything more than a symbol of power, a sort of phallic objectification? Hey, you there, look at how BIG my gun is, I’m a MAN!
Which brings me to my next observation regarding our boys. There is a familiar, “notch on the belt” character recycled again and again in TV and film and we’ve become numb to the incessant devaluing of women in hip-hop and pop music. Through these forms of media, we have given our boys these pretty simple lessons in misinforming women, objectifying and sometimes brazenly harassing or assaulting women. We have a president who openly acknowledges groping and sexually harassing women. This is the type of media that is informing our youth, yet we act shocked when Aziz Ansari gets pushy and has sex with a 23-year-old after bringing her back to his apartment after dinner at an oyster bar? Now, I’m not defending whatever happened between Ansari and that young women, but it does beg the question, are we setting our boys up for failure? Or at the very least, for a lot of very confusing sexual interactions? How can we create role models for our boys that are engaging in safe, consensual sex, instead of philandering men who act nefariously?
My last point is regarding those philandering men who act nefariously. In the past year or so, we’ve seen scandals topple the power structure of Hollywood. We’ve watched our president tell some E! News reporter that when he met beautiful women, he liked to, “grab ‘em by the pussy.” We’ve seen the NCAA and many of its coaches embroiled in a pay-to-play scandal so sophisticated the FBI is investigating. This all on the heels of a decade long pull out of an economic recession that saw America as the epicenter of some of the most inhumanely greedy financial crimes the world has ever seen. In a sea of terrible men, how do we find better role models for our boys?
I think it is time we contemplate what it means to be a man, and we work to eradicate the poor role models who only work to stifle a man's innate desires for love, friendship, intimacy, and vulnerability. You can have feelings besides anger and sexual arousal and still be a man. You can be afraid of the future and of your present and still be a man. You can be sexually insecure or confused and still be a man, and finally you can talk to others about all of these issues and still be a man.
There is a boy in your life right now who is trying to figure out what it means to be a man, so take a moment and look at the men he is modeling his behavior after, because the men in his life and the men he looks up to are probably a pretty good indication of the man he wants to become.