Raising Boys and Toxic Masculinity

I was watching this show on Netflix with Tony Danza. I’m a Tony fan. There was this scene though that made me turn it off. Tony’s out at a bar with a group of friends. A beautiful model walks in and sits at a booth alone. Tony gets up and struts over to her, and sits down in the booth. He then propositions her. She says No. The scene goes on far too long with Tony continuously asking her to give him a shot, making sexual innuendo’s, and the girl continuously saying No, trying to avoid eye contact, wishing he would leave. He eventually gets up and struts back to his table and says something like, “She’s not my type,” and everyone laughs.

I don’t think it’s funny. That to me is toxic masculinity. Because he’s a man, and she’s an attractive female, he has the right to make her uncomfortable by asking and propositioning multiple times instead of walking away the first time she said no. It was supposed to be funny. I felt my stomach churning and my skin crawling.

I’ve been that girl. Not a beautiful model unfortunately, but the girl being asked by a guy and being told No, and then being asked and asked until I have to be rude and then I’m called a bitch or whatever. When really it’s on the dude.

Walk away when a girl says No. Respect the No.

My wife and I have been harassed and hit on at bars together, and we’ve told men we are married, we have no interest, and they continuously have approached us. To the point I took a swing at one guy (Back when I was young and impulsive and way before being a Mom, because I would never advocate violence!!). But his disrespect of my No’s repeatedly, following me around the bar, blocking my path from the bathroom when I didn’t know he followed me there. These are all times that my No has not been respected and the man who I’m saying No to gets angry, defensive, and even more vulgar instead of just walking away.

Tony Danza was possibly the most unattractive man I have ever seen in that scene. I will never watch another episode of that show. Toxic masculinity is a term I don’t like. Because I want my sons to have positive masculinity. I want them to embrace the aspects of themselves that are masculine. But if they ever disrespect the first No from a girl. I will kick their ass.

Part of being masculine is being able to walk away with grace. Positive masculinity is respecting a woman’s No and smiling, and saying, Have a good night, and walking away. Not pursuing and pursuing and devolving into a defensive ass.

Raising a man is complicated. Masculinity can be carrying oneself with confidence but not being aggressive. Standing up for oneself and protecting others, but not demeaning others or protecting some one who doesn’t want or need protection. It’s being honest but not rude.

Our society wants a man to have the dominance of John Wayne, the mystery of Johnny Depp, the beauty and humor of George Clooney, and the dignity and intelligence of Barack Obama. We have set up these impossible standards while also demeaning masculinity by putting the word toxic in front of it. Without actually thinking about how as a society we actually prize masculinity just not when it crosses into sexual harassment and sometimes even when it crosses into perhaps what’s considered demeaning of feminism. It’s freaking complicated. And a lot as a Mom of boys to consider.

I’ve always considered myself a feminist. I marched in the ProChoice rally when Bush was President. Rode overnight on a bus from upstate NY with no one I knew. I saw it on a  bulletin board, and I called the number and they came and picked me up. One of maybe thirty-five liberals in upstate NY. I’ve stood for girls and women personally and professionally. I’ve had my job threatened when I brought light to the rampant sexism at a hospital I worked at. I take a stand when needed, and always hope to shine light into the darkness.

So color me surprised when I popped out twin boys. What the hell was I supposed to do with them? Turns out I fell in love with them. They force me to re-examine my beliefs about masculinity. They force me to question the term Toxic M. and their very existence challenges me to do better. What I’m learning and exploring is not a battle between men and women but just an embracing of healthy femininity and healthy masculinity in whatever form that takes for people.

I will foster confidence and intelligence in my sons. But I will also instill in them respect and consent and the beauty of a man who can walk away with grace from rejection. I won’t teach them that all masculinity is toxic. Because I disagree. But I will help them explore masculinity that can pair with femininity and not squash or diminish it.

It’s a tall order. But I’ve always been up for a challenge. And if in forty or fifty years they are up for a nomination to the Supreme Court. I’ll sleep easy knowing there will be no skeletons in their closets because they were taught better. No means No. Start it young.

I am lucky to have examples of positive masculinity in my life over the years. The bad have left scars but the good, well they give me hope for my sons. There are positive masculine men out there. I am related to some, treat some as clients, and know some as friends and colleagues. To the positive masculine role models out there. Thank-you. Just as we need strong women; we need strong men. Because they will help set the example for our young boys. Examples we desperately need in this reign of toxic men.

 

 

**** the picture was five years ago. My Dad is a Vietnam Veteran who was MIA and experienced and witnessed the horror of war. He then spent his career in the army National Guard. My Dad would essentially walk through fire for me if I asked. That’s something I always knew. I sort of thought all men would be as respectful, caring, and protective like my Dad. Unfortunately I was wrong, but I can say he is an example who is part of our lives of a great man for my sons and I.

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