Helping My Son Remove the Masculinity Mask

mothermade photos

Rosita Gonzalez’s son has suffered under the pressure of trying to fit in, culminating in a suicide attempt in seventh grade. But they are working together to heal… and change the world.

There’s a mask that is forced upon our sons.

My son and I watched the trailer for The Mask You Live In(embedded below), a film by the producer of Miss Representation. Afterwards, he said, “Wow, I wear that mask everyday.”

Deep down, I knew the mask was there. I had known this for some time, in subtle hints … fewer kisses, less hugs, the pulling away in public. All mothers experience this with their sons, right?


When I first learned I would have a son, my first thought was, “Well, I don’t know what to do with a son!” I had come from a family of girls. I had babysat only girls. And I was a feminist.

I married the man who would cry in front of me. He was the one who understood why I didn’t want him to open the door for me or unlock my passenger car door first (Remember those days?).  He was the cook, and I was the handywoman.

So, when my son was young, I began teaching him to be compassionate. I stressed the importance of his feelings and the feelings of others. He also had the best role model in his father.

In my feminist frenzy, I bought him dolls and dressed him in neutral-colored clothing. I endured comments like, “What a sweet, cute girl! How old is she?”

While I tried to instill in my son a love of all kinds of toys, I was awakened to find that he would still gravitate to toys with wheels. He discarded the doll, and his fancy turned to Thomas, the Tank Engine. This began to chip away at my original views of feminism.

His best playmate was a girl much like himself. They loved doing things together. Toddler role-play can tell you so much. When we visited her home, my son would cook up meals in her mini-kitchen … just like his daddy. But once the dolls and the stroller were found, he immediately tossed the doll and raced the stroller around the house.

I worried a bit about this when his sister was born, but he surprised me. He became my daughter’s big brother and a mini-daddy.


Last spring, I taught a pinhole photography workshop at my son’s middle school … the periods before and after lunch. The art room faced the school courtyard where the middle schoolers would gather after lunch. This became my fascination. I watched intently as my son and his classmates taught me an anthropological lesson.

My son would skirt the group of popular boys. He was happy but seemed slightly detached. Every now and then, he would mix with his friends and joke. Once the workshop was over, I talked to him about what I observed and my own middle school days.

I should preface this with my son’s rocky middle school experience. As a mixed race kid, he has taken some teasing and bullying.

It came to a climax when he attempted suicide in seventh grade. Our family has rallied around him, and some of his friends too, but school and its social and academic pressures still haunt him. He has a pathological fear of school.

“That’s what going to school does to you,” he said. “Going to school with all these kids makes you want to be cool.”

“What makes a ‘cool’ person?” I asked.

“Being muscular, big, sporty. Funny, sometimes. Having all the attention, but in a good way,” was his response.

“What kind of person would you be without the school pressure?” I asked.


“Which is … ” I prodded.

“Sympathetic, caring and loving,” he said.

“Would you be made fun of if you were that person?” I asked.

“No one thinks they are (bullying), but subtle things hurt your feelings,” my son admitted.

There he was … my boy, the one who buys food to hand out to the homeless man outside the shop, the one who asks for donations to the SmileTrain for his birthday, the one who comforts his sister when she is crying.

We have since built a support structure around my son with good friends, his family and mental healthcare. I see him growing more confident. He’s not afraid to kiss me in public or show me the affection that we all need.

Watching my feminism change from the idealistic, rigid structure of my youth to a more realistic portrayal of life, I began a feminist project this summer, shooting photographs of friends and others to define the word “feminist.” It began as a way to change the culture of women in politics for my daughter, who wants to be president someday. I wanted my daughter to see the women and the men who wanted the same for her and her generation.

Feminist me girl ©

But upon seeing this side of my son, I realized that there is an equally important goal in being a feminist … the support of our boys, not only to see strong women, but also to be emotionally strong men.

My son sees the “badass” side of me, but I also see the delicate dance he must execute to survive in school. It is time for a change. Thank goodness, a movie will take on this challenge in a way that can feed the masses.

Then, my son can remove his mask and be himself.

Noah POF3*©


About Rosita Gonzalez

Rosita Gonzalez is a writer and art photographer who blogs on issues of race, gender, adoption and parenthood. You can find her on Twitter @mothermade and read her writings on her blog,, and on the Lost Daughters website, The evolving collection of feminist portraits can be found at


  1. Also what Shasha said about women being payed less money for the same careers and jobs is totally incorrect!

    As woman-hating women(sadly many women internalize the crazy woman-hating from the patriarchy too) and men have said elsewhere, that women in pornography get payed more than the men in it, what they don’t say is that this is the only ”job” women do get payed more than men when they are hated, used and abused to sexually serve men and their worshipped penises! This is all we are valued for and the women in pornography know it! When women use their intelligence,and have the same experience,education etc as men when they are lawyers,doctors,accountants etc they get payed *less* than men with the same education,experience,intelligence etc,it used to be a woman was payed 60 cents for the dollar men made in the 1980’s,now it only went up to 70 cents! Wow what ”progress”!

  2. The subtitle of John Stoltenberg’s great important book,Refusing To Be A Man is,Essays On Sex and Justice and these are all brilliant important speeches he made at universities and organizations from the late 1970’s-late 1980’s.

  3. Michael McMaster says:

    One of the things I try to instill in my son is the idea of performative masculinity, the “mask” the author talks about, and how it is a social construct that is put in place to shame and limit him. He’s 11 now, and I’ve tried to teach him that >he< gets to define what it means to be a man for himself, that no one can do that for him. I try to make him understand the enormous pressure that's going to be on him when puberty comes to fit into a truly narrow range of attitudes and behaviors that are considered "manly" for whichever group he ends up belonging to, and the importance of choosing for himself, not to hide who he is.
    Of course, I have it easy in this way, I'm white and I look like a lumberjack or a biker. As an adult I never have my masculinity questioned (unlike my teen years). At worst I get "Oh, you like/do (traditionally female interest)? That's… unusual."
    He's got stuff to deal with already (adopted, asian, single parent family(s), slightly non-neurotypical, very smart), the last thing I want him to have to go through is dealing with the pressure of having to preform to people's expectations of what it means to be male.

  4. some mothers are crippling their sons by micro-managing young boys lives. Boys need to learn proper social skills by practicing instructed play with other young boys.
    Jeffry Dalmers mother kept the young boy away from all other boys, and when jeffery finally met another young boy at age 7, he had inappropriate feelings toward the boy, that he could never shake for the rest of his life.
    Mothers micro-managing young boys lives, instead of letting them play stick ball in the street is seriously crippling boys, and some never, ever recover.

  5. While we can’t change other human beings, we can change our own communication with other human beings. Thank you Rosita and Family for making a change we all need to hear, and, for those of us who have heard, to be reminded of what is true, right, and just. We should not just tolerate, but actually find a way to celebrate each other. We call this paradigm shifting–new perspectives on the way we view ourselves, each other, and the world. I celebrate you and your family for being at the forefront of this important message so healing to so many. Share Rosita’s post everyone!

  6. Mark Sherman says:

    Emotional strength in boys and men is important, but so is academic strength and achievement, and here boys and young men are way behind girls and young women – from kindergarten right through college. Dottie Lamm (former first lady of Colorado and it’s 1998 Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate) is a leading feminist in her state, but in a piece she wrote for the Denver Post in 2010 (, she said, “What’s the next battle for an aging feminist? Boys.” She wasn’t talking so about emotions as much as she was talking about school. In fact, the title of her piece was “Our Boys are Falling Behind in Education.”

    She ends her piece, “If a men’s movement develops for boys, I’ll join it. And, as an aging feminist, I’ll still fight to take big chunks out of that glass ceiling for women. But as a grandmother of three young boys, I’m going to do my darnedest to keep young boys from sinking into that academic mud floor.”

    Can I assume, Rosita, that in addition to helping your son become stronger emotionally, that you and other feminist mothers of sons (and feminist grandmothers of grandsons) will take Ms. Lamm’s lead and do what you can to help boys do as well as they can in school – which sometimes may involve working to help classrooms become more “boy friendly”?

    • Indeed, Mark. For many, the need to “achieve” at school can be stifling. In eighth grade, the middle school is prepping the kids to enter a very “prestigious” public high school. It is emphasized that they must excel now to excel later.

      But middle school and the race to get kids at benchmarks have created a toxic academic atmosphere ON TOP OF the toxic social environment.

      When our kids take the standardized tests, they are reminded how important it is that they do their best … how their entire life and career are at stake in one test. Really?

      Much of this of course brings me to the lack of funding for public education, and the carrots dangled at schools to get what scare resources there are. But that is another debate all together …

      • Mark Sherman says:

        Thank you, Rosita. You certainly reminded me that school and grades are not everything. I do understand your concerns about public education and about the current focus on test scores. I guess the extreme competitiveness in our culture may not be great for young people, regardless of gender. (It’s not so good for adults either.)

        I guess one of the reasons I feel it’s important for boys as well as girls to do as well as they can in school (though not at a cost to their peace of mind) is so that neither women or men will feel overwhelmedly pressured either in terms of getting in to the best colleges or at work. I think that with a lot of young males slacking off (and I don’t blame them; I blame the culture), young women have felt forced to take up the slack.

        Here’s a New York Times piece that addresses the pressure some female high school students – at least in one affluent Boston suburb – felt:

        This was in 2007, but I doubt things have changed a whole lot.

        Overall, I think equality is a good goal. Equal opportunity and encouragement for both genders, and as equal — and as little — stress on both as well.

  7. Jack Crevalle says:

    I can’t help but notice the trend of so many comments from men who keep saying in so many and various, well thought, well considered ways that “feminism” per se is wrong. Well, I just wanted to chime in with a big fat “NO!” Yes, there are male issues. Yes there are human issues. Yes they are important and yes, you can start any conversation about them you want and, when you do, you can be as inclusive and intersectional as you please; however…, also yes, there is a dramatic purpose and need for feminism in this world, and it is a specific and focused movement with a purpose well-conveyed by it’s name, the advancement of the female voice and role in our society.

    My Mom was part of the Second Wave through the 60’s and 70’s. She taught my brother and I to be feminists, and we took it to heart. It has had a profound effect on our lives and thinking and is a treasured legacy, not only of our Mom, but of so many women before her. This very 2nd Wave movement itself derived from important work and triumphs of the womens’ movements over the centuries, work that must not be forgotten, because so much work still remains. While today, yes, thanks to the efforts of so many feminists, we live in a world that is probably more equal toward women than it has ever been, but not only does equality remain so far away for so many women around the world, the world itself and how it works remains little changed. Social moors and attitudes and even our various approaches to government, society, and business still adhere to ancient and male-defined structures, structures that harm not just women, but everyone, the world as a whole. Our struggle is not then simply for equality and it is also not then even close to won. A legacy of millennia remains to be overcome and that will be hard work, requiring focus and effort and lots and lots of time.

    Many discussions, many topics, many arguments and causes are all vital and necessary. Feminism is one of them. It is the fight, not just for equality, but for an equal standing at the table where we define what life means and how we wish to live it as a society. It is a fight that has hardly begun. I look forward to a world where that voice has been heard. We all NEED this change so badly. We ALL NEED feminism so much.

    • Tom Brechlin says:

      Jack, I guess we can just forget what’s happen to men for a very long time so that we can move forward and push our “western” agenda on other countries? When you say “We all NEED this change so badly. We ALL NEED feminism so much.” you obviously mean “non-feminists” need to change in that you stated that we “need feminism so much.”

      You also said “so many comments from men who keep saying in so many and various, well thought, well considered ways that “feminism” per se is wrong. Well, I just wanted to chime in with a big fat “NO!” Here is the deal, the way I see, is one of the problems with feminism is perfectly shown in this statement. Men, how they feel, how they have experienced life is simply “wrong.” I have yet encountered a man who is against feminism as a movement, that’s not stated that there were/are some aspects of feminism that benefit society. I’m one of those men and I have many issues with feminism, old enough to know to I will never enter that camp.That’s not to say I will disagree with everything they stand for.

      But to state that these men who have stated their view as wrong, and your being a feminist, raised by a feminist, is part of the reason you will never see me in your camp. There is a reason we feel the way we do and by telling us we’re wrong, you are dismissing us as human beings.

      • Tom, you are telling Jack he is wrong. Aren’t we all on the same page? Personally being a feminist means supporting equality for all (men and women). Why is that so hard? Why does it bring so much anger and dissent? I am truly saddened to see so much energy used on all this anger toward one another.

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          The nature of feminism is to achieve equality in the sexes. It has focused on women and girls because we were so far behind with rights and equality for so long (and in many, many ways still are).

          That there are bad feminists who are jerks to men does not define our movement, which has been in place for generations.

          • Yes Joanna,you are exactly so right! Gloria Steinem has said that it took a whole century for Black people to be freed from slavery and total extreme racist discrimination,and she said that since the modern feminist movement is only about 40 some years old,we have about 60 some years to go for total equality and change to happen.

          • Joanna,women and especially feminists have a right to be angry at most men,because most are anti-feminist,sexist woman-haters and bad towards us!

        • Because we still live in a very sexist,sick,woman-hating,pornographic,gender stereotyped,male dominated society,that is obviously anti-feminist! It’s so incomprehensible,cruel and mind boggling that men have been hating women (and this includes,brutalizing,degrading,discrininating against,raping,killing,etc etc) for 1,000’s of years,and men are born from women and nurtured by women,who never did anything to deserve being hated and abused by men!

          It’s exactly like if a Jewish person gave birth to Nazis,and or Black people gave birth to racist Klu Klux Klan white people,but they can’t do this.And they aren’t expected to have ”romantic” and sexual relationships with and marry them either.Women are the only oppressed,hated discriminated against group,that this is unique to!

        • Rosita,

          As the great Gloria Steinem has always said,the true definition of feminism is the full equality and full humanity of women and men.Only woman-haters would be against this!

    • Thank you Jack,that was such a nice,great,true,honest,brave,intelligent post! You are definitely one of the good rare feminist guys (sadly) as evidenced even as you said in this very topic.Your mother raised you so right!

  8. Out of curiosity, is your husband still around?
    Did he have any input to how this boy was raised?
    Have to observe that it seems to me that you planted a victim and raised one- the irony would be sublime if there wasn’t a child in the middle of this PC experiment.
    The idea , I take away from your initial reaction to having a son, that maleness is a handicap that must be overcome is offensive.

    • Tom Brechlin says:

      J.A.. … I said something similar but it got bounces (oh well) In particular what you said ” … maleness is a handicap that must be overcome…”
      I often do wonder, when I read these articles, where is the dad in these scenarios? If not a dad, a strong male role model?

      We’ve seen the stats, dads are important and accordingly when are we as a society truly going to make a commitment to do something about it? 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census)

      But instead what we find is an environment which is working on trying to fix men … kind of a distraction from a sad reality.

      (Last couple of comments will more then result in being bounced)

      • What is it to be masculine? Masculine means being comfortable to express who you are and being true to your values. It is being yourself and not conforming to false expectations or prescribed societal norms. It is being genuine. Are you a man or do you hide behind a mask?

    • PrixMadonna says:

      The answer to your questions about the author’s husband is within the piece itself, first of all. The equating of victimization and sensitivity—that gender neutrality and sensitivity is a weakness—that you have asserted is part of the masculinity mask of which the author is writing.

      The author’s child is not an experiment, he is a life well-loved and thoughtfully reared by parents concerned with his well-being. In no way is the author saying that maleness is a handicap. She is saying, at least how I perceive it, that the societal pressure of the assumed male norms is a handicap. She was entering into parenthood attempting gender neutrality, not negation.

      • Tom Brechlin says:

        Prix, it’s interesting how that part of this young man’s life was overlooked and I have to wonder how it was overlooked by any reader, including myself. I’m not going to take anything away from the outstanding accomplishments and growth this mother has accomplished.

        But getting back to the question regarding the father of this young man, once has to wonder what’s happen in that family where the dad appears to have been left out of this young man’s growth.

        My wife and I raised a boy and a girl and I can say without hesitation that being who they are today is the collective efforts of both mom and dad. Neither of us can take majority credit for who they are today. So I guess that’s where questioning the dad’s role in this may surface?

        I would also like to note that in most situations, youth or otherwise, suicide attempts require mental health follow-up, especially for youth.

        As a side note, I’ve worked with adolescents who have a history of suicide attempts,

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          Tom, in no way does Rosita imply that her husband doesn’t have a HUGE role in raising their kids.

          There is one major thing both you and Drew seem to be misunderstanding:

          Just because something isn’t in a piece doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

          And Drew, what a horrible thing to say that she “planted a victim”. Why would you ever say something like that? I’m horrified by that, it gives me a lump in my throat.

          What profound cruelty.

          Do you say that to all parents of kids who are bullied?

          • Tom Brechlin says:

            Hi Joanna, I understand what you’re saying that just because it’s not mentioned, doesn’t mean it’s not part of it. I also now acknowledge that if it weren’t for a supportive dad/husband the growth between mom and son would not have been as successful as it is. And maybe that’s what bothered me is the dad/husband component within the process.

            I am kicking myself and I have to wonder how I missed it in the first place. But that’s on me to figure out.

            I can’t speak for Drew but I don’t believe there was any intent to be cruel. I mean look around at the countless articles about fixing men/boys. When I look at my grandsons, I wonder how they will be viewed. Too aggressive, too sensitive, not sensitive enough ….? If I were the parent of young kids, I have to tell ya that in some ways, looking at where society is at right now, boys are broken simply because of their gender and that’s not because they are boys but instead they are subject to interpretation based upon past and current stereotypes.

            • Joanna Schroeder says:

              I think that our boys’ generation (mine and Rosita’s sons) have a leg up in a lot of ways. Education is DEFINITELY a problem and we need to address it. One of my boys is having a hard time in the classroom in a way that is typical of many boys right now (and maybe forever).

              But in general, I think this generation of boys will have access to more resources like therapists and even their own fathers! So many dads involved today in ways they weren’t, and that’s gotta be a bonus for all kids, in particular boys.

              That being said, there is SUCH a socioeconomic and racial element that is dividing our boys’ generation. Black boys are the most under-served population in the country, and that does not seem to be getting better, and the poorer kids are getting worse educations than anybody was 20-30 years ago. So while Rosita’s son and my boys may have a leg up in many ways, huuuuuuuuge numbers of boys are just falling through the cracks.

              But I definitely do not think that anybody in society (besides a few weirdos and extremists who make up pretty much no percentage if you look at numbers) think that masculinity condemns our boys, but rather that the toxic aspects of masculinity from the past are putting our boys in a very dangerous position.

              It’s not unlike the ways in which our girls have to perform “beautiful” and “pure” all the time is really harming them. Yes, they can be smart, but if they don’t want to be teased, they better also be beautiful and pure.

              We have to take this bullying element out of our schools, and until it’s gone, our boys and girls all need access to support and the skills and acceptance to talk about their feelings and ask for what they need.

              Thanks for your comment, Tom. It meant a lot to me to have your position clarified.

              • Tom Brechlin says:

                You’re welcome Joanna and I’m glad I did clarify after reading what I wrote.

                And thank you for your justified optimism. Being as old as I am, and working in the mental health field, I forget what it was like many years ago when I first encountered men’s issues. Mental health for men/boys not having services openly available much less mental health in general, not being recognized, was ever present on my mind. We have made some progress and I have to remember that progress is being made.

                I don’t want to sound as though mental health is the first and foremost issue, it’s a collective problem that includes recognition of how different men are and should not be placed in a box. I would also add that I’m not saying that the box, as perceived in the past was bad but there is far more to men, then what meets the eye. I am a product of that perceived box and I hope that you and others see that even at my age, I developed beyond what met the eye.

                Your words are comforting with respect to my fears for my grandsons future. Thinking outside that “box” … an old dog can still learn. 🙂

                • Tom, I am grateful everyday when I see my son smile and enjoy the life he deserves to have.

                  And I do take offense of any person calling my son an experiment and “planted victim.” My son is a person, a young boy with feelings and thoughts. He can be whomever he wants, and my husband AND I support him in being himself.

                  The mere thought of calling him these very harmful words is bullying. Please stop.

              • Mark Sherman says:

                Joanna, you wrote, “I think that our boys’ generation (mine and Rosita’s sons) have a leg up in a lot of ways. Education is DEFINITELY a problem and we need to address it.”

                I am so happy to see you comment on boys and education. I wrote about this in a comment prior to the response you wrote (it’s time-stamped 3:20 pm today — Jan. 28).

                But when you say today’s boys have a leg up, on whom do you mean? Girls? Do you really believe that in today’s America, boys are doing better than girls? All the data say otherwise.

                But I am glad you recognize that education is a problem for boys. And as I said in my earlier comment, I do very much hope you and other feminist mothers of sons will do everything you can to try to help our boys attain as much gender equity as is possible in the classroom.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        Great clarification.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Beyond that, RIGHT in the actual article she mentions that he is bullied for his race. “As a mixed-race kid he has…”

      So did she plant that bullying in him when she decided to have mixed-race children??

      I cannot believe I’m even dignifying this comment about “planting a victim” with a response, but since its up and has comments on it, I’m going to leave it be and just let the world know that the blame-the-victim of bullying mentality is exemplified right here.

  9. Our year was what we call the “annus horribilis.” We are now coming out of 2013 and looking forward to change and growth in 2014. Middle school was not kind, but my son and I decided we could tell our story to hopefully help others see the struggles of middle school and possibly put a dent in the struggles our boys are finding there. It was a silent struggle for much of this year, but I am so very grateful that my son is now safe and much happier. Thanks again for reading. I appreciate the shares and the comments!

  10. Gint Aras says:

    Imagine for a moment if we all took off every mask we wear. Not the one fabricated to mean “gender”. I mean *all* of them. I’ve gotten my head around that once or twice.

  11. This is a great story. This is a story about a really engaged mom connecting with her son and having really constructive conversations about important abstract concepts. I don’t know how anyone could object to this.

    And, as a man, I really don’t understand other men who react so violently at the word “feminist.” Are there bad feminists in the world? Definitely. But there are also bad priests, clowns, patriots, soldiers, Democrats, Republicans, men’s rights activists, husbands, wives, and children. Just because there are some people who behave badly and occupy a certain role that doesn’t mean AT ALL that everyone who occupies that role is bad. The question is – do the majority of feminists act badly and deserve to be demonized? And the answer is easy – hell no. There are bad ones, but the vast, vast majority are decent people and it’s insane to rage against the term “feminist” just because you’ve met a few bad apples.

    This is undeniably a story of a really good mom who regards herself as a feminist. So where’s the negative? It doesn’t exist.

    • Ah, Tom! You said it all perfectly!

      “The question is – do the majority of feminists act badly and deserve to be demonized? And the answer is easy – hell no. There are bad ones, but the vast, vast majority are decent people and it’s insane to rage against the term “feminist” just because you’ve met a few bad apples.”

      With every movement, there are those who try to water down or incite anger. But those actions are only counterproductive.

    • Um, actually I would say not “Hell YES!”, but “yes,” definitely. I posted a longer and more thoughtful response to this, backing up my position, but it never appeared. One thing I don’t like about this page is that it reloads too often, and when it does it loses what I’ve typed so far (unless I compose on Notepad, which I did for my response, but I suppose it just got lost in the ether).

  12. What a wonderful article. As a boy and young man, I was teased and bullied by both boys and girls for not fitting into the appropriate “man” boxes, and it led to me falling into a rigid and destructive masculinity, one that was based in domination and control rather than love and empathy and kindness. It wasn’t until powerful feminist men and women in my life helped me understand a different way of performing my gender and helped me understand the ways that my rigid masculinity was hurting me and other people that I finally was able to become more fully realized.

    I am heartened knowing that there are moms like you out there who are helping young men understand at earlier ages that the “man” boxes they’re presented tend to be super restrictive. I am heartened to know that there are moms like you who are offering alternatives to how everyone can perform their gender from an early age. I am heartened to know there are moms like you.

    • Jamie, thank you, but really the thanks goes to the men who support mothers like me. My husband is a prime example of the kind of man who supports women, not only by being a feminist, but showing how much he values equality for all. I cannot take all the credit for raising such a sensitive boy and girl. Kudos to the dads too!

  13. Thanks so much, Rosita! This is EXACTLY why I’ve always been proud to call myself a feminist! And why I raise both my daughter and my son to be feminists, too!

  14. James Stafford says:

    ” I realized that there is an equally important goal in being a feminist … the support of our boys, not only to see strong women, but also to be emotionally strong men.”

    What a wonderful, positive, pro-men statement. Thank you for that.

  15. Use the same logic:
    What kind of person would you be without the “masculinity pressure or the feminist mask”?
    “Myself.” That’s the key, learn to be the kind of the person you want to be, life’s journey.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I do think that there is a “femininity mask” and it’s very harmful. Before Naomi Wolff went off the deep end (in my opinion) she wrote the wonderful “The Beauty Myth” that spoke a lot about one of the masks women are expected to wear.

      I endured a lot of targeting, teasing, even sexual harassment for not always fitting in with the “femininity box” in middle and high school. I absorbed an extraordinary amount of shame that to this day really affects me. As I often have to say to my husband when I react to things, “My default emotion is shame”. The work I do is to circuit my reactions around that feeling today.

      Lone, I think you’re right though that the mission in life is to be the kind of person you want to be. For so many boys (and girls), this is so hard when we’re in a society that tells them they have to do XYZ and be ABC to fit in.

      • Exactly, Joanna. I, too, cycled through the “femininity mask” several times as a young adult in high school, college and grad school. In every new situation, I would wear the mask to “fit in” but within a year or two, I would realize the futility of this mask and return to my true self … I hope my son will cycle only once. No matter how he does this, I hope to be there to help him along the way, by encouraging him, loving him and nurturing the person he truly wants to be. In addition, I have tried to warn my daughter from a very young age that the mask only brings superficial relationships. Surprisingly, she recognized this at the young age of 7. She’s on her way to being a strong young woman but also a sensitive one. Both my children know they can be both strong and sensitive.

  16. “But upon seeing this side of my son, I realized that there is an equally important goal in being a feminist … the support of our boys, not only to see strong women, but also to be emotionally strong men.”

    Feminism largely doesn’t have the room to handle male issues. Sad to say but there are far far more feminists I see these days basically saying feminism is too busy with female issues. Males in many feminist spaces often get treated like dirt with snark n hatred even when bringing up male issues…I’ve seen it on articles about male issues even. There are so many that want feminism to JUST focus on female issues so that masculinity mask is going to stay on for many until either feminism undergoes a mega change for inclusiveness of males and male issues or a separate but equal movement rises up. The closest movement is some parts of the MRM, or maybe just an egalitarian movement.

    Maybe you could start a feminist male-friendly space? Probably a good idea to use a defining label to signify it’s focus on male issues.

    Checkout this poll by the Huffypost –

    Only 6% of them considered themselves a strong feminist, 14% a feminist, so 20% are feminists. 63% don’t consider themselves feminist nor anti-feminist, 5% are anti-feminist, 3% strong anti-feminist, 8% not sure…..yet the majority @ 82% of people believed men and women should be social, political, and economic equals so 82% are egalitarian

    When they hear the word feminist, the majority @ 30% believe it is mostly negative , 29% (near majority?) believed it was neutral, only 19% thought it was mostly positive, and equal numbers @ 7% each felt it was completely positive, or completely negative, or “not sure”.

    So most people have a view aligning with some-feminists which is simply egalitarian in nature. But I do not believe feminism is largely this egalitarian group so many are trying to paint it. I know there are many egal-feminists but in my experience the majority are too busy with female issues (which is ok) and the male issues really aren’t a major concern.

    We won’t do major changes to gender roles without either feminism + masculism, or a large egalitarian movement to kick off. I gave up on the mask a few years ago, but I don’t identify as feminist nor MRA nor anything really. We may not need to label the movement, I cast mine off simply because the material made sense on how nurture n culture play a large role in restrictive gender roles, it’s actually one area many MRA’s and feminists agree upon.

    There are plenty of us out there who share similar goals, feminist or non-feminist.

    • Archy, thanks for this research! Very interesting points, but again, I think being a feminist is about the equality of both men and women, boys and girls, and I don’t care to get hung up on renaming our goal. I am a feminist, just as my mother was, and my husband is. Nurturing our sons and daughters, as well as treatinging one another, on equal grounds, basically is the cornerstone to my feminism. Thanks again for reading!

  17. I assume these are actually pictures of your son. Wow. He seriously looks EXACTLY what I expect my nephew and his girlfriend would produce were they to have a son someday. What a cute kid. I enjoyed your article; I agree with your assessment, that the journey toward equality definitely involves attention to the issues that boys (and men) face. I wonder, though, about the term “feminism,” and whether its use is appropriate, and even detrimental to the cause of gender equality. Clearly, you have the correct attitude and heart, but so many who call themselves feminists don’t have your experience as the mother of a thoughtful son, and have developed no inclination to understand the other side of the coin. They seem to see the world as women, who are inequivocally oppressed, and men, who are by contrast privileged and guilty of original sin. This characterization, which is not true of all feminists, is nevertheless very common in my experience. It leaves a slightly bitter taste on the tongue, for me at least. Also, use of the term “feminism” to mean gender equality implies that very thing–that equality only requires the focus on women’s concerns. The term masculism is barely recognized, if at all; but I’ll bet it already creates a ridiculous and distasteful macho and anti-woman image for many. I just think rather than trying to cleanse the term feminism of its negative connotations, it makes more sense to use a neutral, inclusive term: egalitarianism, humanism, gender equality. Of course, the important thing is that there are good parents like you who are determined to make this a better world for girls and boys.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Paul, I realize that many anti-feminists wish that feminists they don’t hate would stop calling ourselves by this name, but this is our legacy. We’ve been doing this for generations, and we’ve changed the world. We still have a LOT more to change, and we need to do it quickly, but we stand for equality.

      Because you’ve met feminists you don’t like doesn’t mean feminism is bad. It is, by its nature, for equality. And in equality, nobody is lesser-than.

      I’m not going to apologize for people who aren’t me whom you don’t like, and this author shouldn’t have to, either. Just as I won’t ask you to apologize for what men, and particularly anti-feminists have done to me (i.e. death threats, rape threats, etc – weekly). But don’t ask us to call ourselves something different just because it makes you uncomfortable.

      Rosita is a fantastic mom who is raising a fantastic boy.

      • I think a qualifier would help. Like how rad fems use the rad term. Maybe kick ass feminists could be used to signify egalitarians?

        • Most “rad fems” are just sexist women (usually misandrists, sometimes even *misogynists*!) using the “feminism” label because they can. They agree with a lot of what the feminist movement says, but also want to add their own special touch… if you know what I mean.

          • July, what you wrote about radical feminists is *totally untrue*! As the brilliant,beautiful on the inside and out long time radical feminist Gloria Steinem has always said the dictionary definition of radical means going to the root,meaning going to the real deep issues and causes of the problems!

            John Stoltenberg author of the acclaimed book,Refusing to Be A Man who co-founded the sadly former Men Against Pornography in NY is a radical feminist and the brilliant great law professor Catherine Mackinnon,and there are many other great women and some men who are radical feminists too!

            And the great anti-sexist,anti-pornography,anti-men’s violence against women educators,Women’s and Gender Studies professors Dr.Gail Dines,Rebecca Whisnant, and pro-feminist men,who are anti-violence,anti-sexist,anti-pornograhy,educators and activists like Jackson Katz who was an all stat football player in high school,Journalism professor Rober t Jensen author of many great articles on the many harms of pornography,and he’s the author of the very good important 2007 book,Getting Off:Pornography and The End of Mascunlity are all great radical feminists etc.

      • Joanna-please point out all of the advocating feminists have done on behalf of men with regard to their shocking treatment in the Family court and criminal courts (three times the prison time for the same crime) our suicide crisis (over 75% of those who kill themselves are male) homelessness(80% males on the street) workplace safety(94% killed are males) domestic violence 34% males yet no government campaigns mention men and there are no safe houses provided for men, health funding for women is four times that spent on men even though males die years earlier,reproductive rights-women have many, men none.

        We don’t base our very low opinion of feminists on the one or two nut jobs we meet. The entire movement from top to bottom has absolutely no interest in male suffering and is all about female entitlement.

        • Notice Mark how nobody addressed your comments, which are the most factual on this page. The truth and facts are like kryptonite to feminists.

    • Thank you, Paul, for your comments. I appreciate your candidness. Many have begun using the word, “humanist” to replace “feminist,” but like Joanna, I feel that the latter has gotten poor press when there is a very rich history behind the word. I also feel that renaming waters down the movement which is simply creating our world where all are equal.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        Also, humanism is actually a facet of atheism and the term is in response to a religious identifier, not a gender equality one.

  18. Looking at this article just shakes me.

    Because I experienced, in the lowest of my low points, that feminism is flawed. Too bad I had to learn it the hard way.

    OP, let me ask you a question:

    If your son is ever bullied or hurt by a girl/woman or a group of them, is he going to get equal levels of support? No, he won’t. I found little to no support in that arena, not even from feminism. No talk about it in any arena. I had to bring up the subject myself:

    The article details my experiences and the search for awareness that came up empty. Also details how utterly alone I still feel at times. If you’re curious, I do talk about being hurt by both genders in the article but zero in on how there was a ton of support in one area and next to nothing in the other.

    Three feminists minimized my experiences and invoked my white male privilege in order to make me feel that I had it better, that I was an anomaly since girls and women have it worse. In my opinion, that is FAR from supportive.

    The masculinity mask is only ONE PART of the puzzle. The other is, frankly, something hardly anyone wants to acknowledge: Boys and Men that get hurt by the opposite sex are forced to slip through the cracks by society.

    Feminist Special Interest Groups supported the Duluth Model of Domestic Violence into law (Man = perpetrator, woman = victim). Mary K. Ross erased Male Victims of sexual abuse from her often referenced and cited study on sexual abuse.

    Now I’m not saying feminism is all bad. Yes, it does get things right. But it also gets things wrong, horribly wrong.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Eagle, you are reading a LOT into this article that is NOT there.

      This is a derailing and even disrespectful comment.

      Nowhere did the author mention who bullied her son, you inferring that the author wouldn’t take bullying by a girl seriously is offensive and presumptuous.

      • Joanna, I will have you kindly not tell me what is derailing and disrespectful. if we’re talking about feminism, then this is NOT derailing.

        I never specified SHE wouldn’t do it. If we’re talking about FEMINISM, that’s where he wouldn’t find it in my opinion. Or at least a specific contradictory strand.

      • I’m simply tired of people presenting feminism as the answer to all problems boys face and that if they only freed themselves from the shackles of limited, toxic masculinity then everything would fall into place.

        In all the talk about said subject, nobody bothers to address what I address in my article that has led me to advocate: That when boys and men are hurt by the opposite sex there is little to no support. Things are changing, yes, but we’re still squeamish about addressing the whole issue here and perfectly fine labeling it as a “Masculinity Mask”.

        There’s more to it than the Masculinity Mask, more to it than only teaching boys about getting in touch with their feelings, more to it than that!

        And in that arena is where feminism comes up sketchy. How many times do I have to keep saying that I don’t think feminism is ALL bad? What exactly am I derailing here when feminism is part of the subject in the article (heck, it’s even given center stage in the article)?

        I’m sure the OP is a wonderful mom but at some point, we’re going to have address the whole issue here when it comes to supporting boys and not simply rest on the “Masculinity Mask” label.

        • This is exactly how I feel. My issue with the article is the OP’s notion that feminism is the only means to propagate equality (she probably doesn’t mean it, but that is how it comes across). I find that when I identify myself with a particular ideology, I am restricting myself, often without realising it. I find that, especially when it comes to discerning why people behave in a certain manner, I subconsciously start assigning stereotypes to them, based on my identity. The more I do it, the more unhappy I feel, because I have started believing and seeing these stereotypes everywhere.

          I may be wrong, and of course, others are entitled to their own means if dealing with the world (not saying they’re wrong), I just focus on being a good person. I don’t require a God telling me what to do, nor do I require a particular movement to tell me that I need to treat other people/species correctly. In my own, personal experience, I have found that when I look at myself as a person, and individual, a being, I start subconsciously treating others the same. The stereotypes all disappear, and I see that this other person I am interacting with is just trying to life the best they can.

          Again, personally, while I agree with many things that movements like feminism, masculinism, animal rights activism etc. stand for, labelling myself as such is of no value to me. Just a small example, because of my darker skin tone, I have experienced racism in my society (Singapore) ever since I’ve been a child. I used to hold onto every stereotype in the book about the other races. I let my race define me, so when I was treated a particular way by a person of another way, I saw it as them being racist. I started seeing racists everywhere (some were probably, truly racist, but they are a minority, read on for my main point here!). I felt as though these people were seeing me as an inferior when I knew I could match them in whatever it was I was good at. But when I began seeing myself as a person, an individual, a fellow being, all these things simply melted away. I realised that someone treats me a certain way, perhaps because they were unaware, preoccupied with worries and such, or maybe even that they saw me how I once saw them. Things like race, gender, orientation etc mean nothing. To me, it’s just that as individuals, each person has a role to play.

          The thing about activism that I dislike is that you’ve got your good activists and then you’ve got your nutjobs (with others varying in between). The bad tend to have a louder voice, plainly because anger and rage are such attention grabbers. I digress. That’s why I prefer focusing on just being a good person, I find that equality for gender, race, orientation, species or what have you, come automatically to me. Sweeping every issue a particular group faces under one broad umbrella (in this case, masculinity mask) doesn’t happen after I started seeing each person for their own personal being, with their own stories and background. Experiences like those Eagle35 has had do not get ignored and waved away as anomalies, because each story is different and reality is not based on a few commonly held stereotypes.

          Again, I may be wrong, but I think I am on the right track, because I have many people of different cultures and backgrounds come to me with their problems, but I help them through each unique situation using the same set of values I hold and they are happier for it.

          • Tom Brechlin says:

            Chris, you said “Again, personally, while I agree with many things that movements like feminism, masculinism, animal rights activism etc. stand for, labelling myself as such is of no value to me.” I tend to agree with this. I’ve read countless articles/responses where the authors identify themselves as a label and I question why? Feminism is often used as the foundation of what one believes or contributes to ones strengths. I can go so far as to say that I have just as guilty. But the fact is, I am who I am because of various contributing factors from labeled activist movements but I don’t identify myself as any one particular movement. But, that’s with one exception and that being I am a Catholic. I do live through my faith.

            • I sense a lot of pain and anger in Eagle’s comments. My heart goes out to you, and my son has felt the pain and anger to the point where he felt his life had no purpose. No matter who attacks my son with insults, usually based on one of the many labels that we are so fiercely debating here, I will try my best as his mother to advocate for him, comfort him and support him emotionally.

              I am not saying here that I know all the answers. I just think it important that others know this story because since this story has posted, we have discovered other friends and acquaintances that are struggling with suicide and bullying. That tells me that this issue and our honesty here have validated some other person’s life, and that is enough for me and my son.

              • OP: “I sense a lot of pain and anger in Eagle’s comments. My heart goes out to you, and my son has felt the pain and anger to the point where he felt his life had no purpose. No matter who attacks my son with insults, usually based on one of the many labels that we are so fiercely debating here, I will try my best as his mother to advocate for him, comfort him and support him emotionally.”

                It’s pain and anger from society’s reluctance to address girls and women hurting boys and men. I advocate because this shouldn’t be swept under the rug.

                Thank you for clarifying at least that you intend to advocate for him, comfort him and support him emotionally. That’s something I don’t see, that I didn’t see either when dealing with this issue.

                Don’t bow to the whims of people who believe girls hurting boys isn’t a big deal. Fight for your son. That’s all I ask. That’s all my article asks.

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          Eagle, not ONE TIME in this article did she mention who was bullying her kid.

          By coming back to your pain in your childhood over and over and over again in articles where there is no mention of girls bullying boys, you are derailing. By implying that because Rosita is a feminist, she would ignore female bullying is disrespectful and insulting.

          Stop derailing the conversation. I’m sorry you were hurt, I’m sorry when anyone is hurt, but your hurt doesn’t belong to Rosita, or to me, and we don’t owe you this space on this comment thread to imply that raising her son as a feminist does something that you have no right to say it does.

          • Joanna: “By coming back to your pain in your childhood over and over and over again in articles where there is no mention of girls bullying boys, you are derailing. By implying that because Rosita is a feminist, she would ignore female bullying is disrespectful and insulting.”

            I want the conversation to move beyond masculinity masks because if we’re going to support boys to become good men, we have to address the reluctance society has in dealing with their being hurt by the opposite sex. Keeping it restricted to masculinity masks and the opening up of feelings is not going to get us anywhere except rooted in the same spot.

            This is not derailing when it involves the health of boys. I thought you, as a feminist, would be aware of that. Instead, you’re still fixated on masculinity masks and making it so boys and men respect only women and girls without telling girls and women to do the same in return at equal levels.

            And all I’m doing is pointing out the fact that we can’t loop over and over with this masculinity mask. We’re talking about the health of boys, are we not? We’re talking about feminism too, right? Sorry, Joanna, but if feminism restricts itself to masculinity masks and feelings ALONE, we’re not going to get anywhere. Period.

            Note I only say they’re flawed in THIS ARENA. For the umpteenth time, feminism gets it right when it comes to women’s issues and certain gender issues. But not all the time, especially when it comes to issues like this. It’s flawed. Feminism is not perfect.

            If you think this is being disrespectful and insulting, then I don’t know what to say.

            • Joanna Schroeder says:

              It just doesn’t belong here, Eagle, and you’re not really listening to what I’m saying.

              By implying this author wouldn’t have intervened if the bullies were girls is insulting and disrespectful. Enough.

              • You’re still not addressing what I’m saying. Feminism is flawed in this arena.

                And if we’re talking about the merits of feminism in regards to helping boys and men, it does belong here whether you agree or not. This issue is not going to go away.

                I’ll end it here on a “We agree to disagree” note.

                • Joanna Schroeder says:

                  Eagle, nowhere in feminism does it say that girls should get away with bullying boys.

                  • Hmm…the problem is Joanna, that while you’re strictly correct – I’ve never heard a feminist say ‘girls should get away with bullying boys’ – we both live in a society where it’s acceptable (‘Boys Are Stupid, Thow Rocks At Them!’), and where most feminist advocates minimise or dismiss male victims of intimate partner violence and abuse. Prominent feminist Julie Bindel for instance actually runs an organisation – Justice 4 Women – which campaigns on behalf of women who have been convicted of murdering their male partners.

                    Feminism – in all its forms, focuses on female suffering/perceived disadvantage because focusing on men’s suffering/disadvantage ignores societal and institutional gender inequality which, according to its ideology, effects women more. However whether women ‘are’ disadvantaged ‘more’ is highly questionable

                    Let me give you an example. Yesterday POTUS mentioned in the SOTU address the 77% gender pay gap. Now the issues around why there’s a gap (men work longer hours, commute longer distances, have more untinterrupted careers etc.) are well understood, but the difficulties working women face are real, and I understand the appeal of family-friendly policies.

                    However, portraying the gender pay gap as the result of discrimination is really damaging, and not only for men, but for everyone in a family. Taking everything into account, including hours worked, seniority and profession, women are NOT paid less for the same work. To force equal pay for women who don’t work as much as their male counterparts could only be resolved by an effective tax on men that primarily benefits single, childless women — not mothers, who obtain much of their support from their children’s fathers.

                    So what you’d have is a situation in which career-focused single women would benefit while families would be relatively poorer. It’s a terrible idea that would benefit the few at the expense of the many. A better way to immediately improve the lot of poor mothers would be to give men who pay child support tax breaks for their payments, and allow tax breaks to be transferred between married couples with children (both gay and straight). It wouldn’t be perfect, but it’s better than a law that won’t do a damn thing for the kinds of women and children who really do need the extra money.

                    Ironically it’s the countries with the greatest gender equality, which have the biggest gender pay gap (see: – the lowest gender pay gap in Europe is in Italy, which also has the lowest number of women in work.

                    This is an example of how the feminist approach to ‘equality’, which focuses exclusively on women, doesn’t actually work in practice for either men OR women.

        • “OP, let me ask you a question: If your son is ever bullied or hurt by a girl/woman or a group of them, is he going to get equal levels of support?” – “No, he won’t.”

          So are you responding for her? Are you a mind reader/future seer or something? That’s what is disrespectful.

          We got everything you said. We got and believe we should help our boys who are being bullied by girls. That is out of context though, and your judgement of this mother was uncalled for.

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