Two years ago, I asked four classes of eighth-graders to finish the statement “Being a man to me means…” This exercise was to unearth the narratives they were bringing before our 6-week unit on Gender & Sexuality. I kept a small sample in my archives and I was looking through their responses again. I noticed a few patterns. Can you spot them?
- “Being a man to me means that I have to love soccer and have to be tough and not be sad of anything and can’t cry”
- “Being a man means to be able to do anything I want to do”
- “Being a man to me means to be brave and courageous”
- “I’m a man and we’re supposed to be protective.”
- “Having to prove myself strong because I’m told I have to be strong”
- “Being a man means that you own up to your mistakes and you take care of the ones you love”
- “Being a man to me means life is easy”
- “To be a man, it feels like we have more opportunities”
- “A man means that I get more privileges than women”
- “Being a man to me means to work, help, and protect”
- “Being a man to me means being a gentleman and hard working”
- “Being a man means you got to work to maintain your family and you bust your butt so your wife nor kids struggle to live. You got to protect”
- “Being a man to me means being strong, brave, courageous”
- “Being a man to me means being a gentleman and respect women”
- “Being a man to me means that I was put on this earth to protect…protect other that can’t protect themselves, “women””
- “Being a man to me means being able to support your family”
- “Being a man to me means being the man of the house and respecting women”
- “Being a man to me means that I have something to accomplish but this world is too hard”
- “Being a man to me means providing for your family”
- “Being a man to me is working hard and being strong”
- “Being a man means taking care of business”
- “Being a man to me means support others always. Be responsible”
- “Being a man to me means respecting women and being a gentleman”
- “Being a man to me means working hard and making kids”
- “Being a man means being mature and working hard”
- “Means being faithful. Having to get rights.”
- “Being a man to me means being strong by protecting and taking care of our family.”
- “Being a man to me means to take responsibility and be brave”
- “Being a man to me means taking care of your family, trying to make the correct choices and being responsible”
Some of the most salient themes were ‘protecting others’, ‘being strong, brave, and courageous’, ‘being a gentleman’, and ‘working hard’. It’s interesting to note what societal norms boys have internalized by the age of 14. A few wrote about the restricting nature of the masculinity gender box and the impossible cruel ask we make of boys to never process pain through tears or to constantly measure up to imaginary standards of strength.
Re-reading their responses reminds me just how imperative it is that children receive anti-bias and anti-oppressive education that challenges dominant narratives of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social class, etc. Broadening definitions of masculinity liberates all students, irrespective of gender, to envision healthier expressions of masculinity.
What other patterns did you notice? What are some possible solutions?
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