It is a strange time to be a man in America. The media presents us with a never-ending stream of men engaging in reprehensible behavior. Women are clearly fed up. Yet when I bring this up, men seem to uniformly say, “Yeah, but not me!” And sure, there are plenty of guys out there making a serious effort to do better and be better, myself included. It’s a good start, but it obviously isn’t enough. So what do we do? Well, I think we can find a clue in the NBA.
About 40 years ago basketball was nothing like it is today. Gameplay was slower, players weren’t as skilled or flashy. Then, over the course of a decade or so the game completely changed. Suddenly guys were doing no-look passes and unbelievable slam dunks. So what happened? Television. The NBA began broadcasting games on TV. Kids watched those games and started copying their favorite professional moves out on the court. This raised the standard of play much earlier. If you wanted to play ball with your friends you had to step up your game. By the time these kids made their way to the NBA, they were significantly better than the generation they replaced. These new players inspired the next set of kids, who then raised the level play again.
This cycle of ever-improving play is based on something that psychologists call “the social multiplier effect.” It’s how we ended up with ridiculously skilled players like Steph Curry. The standard for the group was raised, and the members of the group rose to meet the new standard.
This same phenomenon can be applied to modern masculinity. Men can raise their collective standards for acceptable behavior. If we challenge each other, then we will all rise to a standard of which we can be proud.
A few years ago I was at a party in San Jose, California. I was still living there at the time. A group of friends and I were in my backyard enjoying the cool night air. Drinks and conversation were flowing nicely when the topic of feminism came up. The guy next to me claimed to be a feminist. Not a shocking revelation coming from a guy living in the San Francisco Bay area. One of the two college-educated women we were talking to said, “Oh, yeah?” Then my friend – who is super smart and really nice – launched into a monologue explaining feminism. The weary look of frustration on the women’s faces was clear, though my friend was unfazed. He was mansplaining, an all-too-common male behavior. Even among the more progressive of us. When he motioned to me for corroboration, I simply said “Don’t look at me, bruh. You’re on your own here.” At the time I felt like it was enough to not engage in the problematic behavior. Now I think I was wrong. I should have called him on his bullsh*t.
To some guys, this might seem like a minor offense. You could argue it is more annoying than anything else. Even minor bullsh*t is still bullsh*t. As men, we shouldn’t let this sort of behavior slide anymore. Regardless of how minor. It’s time for each of us to step up our game, and to encourage other men to do the same. We all have to change. I can’t only raise my standards. I have to also expect more from other men. I have to be willing to call my brothers on their bullsh*t.
Toxic masculinity is discussed with regularity on social media. Like lots of men, I get annoyed when I see the posts. Unlike some men, it is not because I think it’s an unfair criticism, but because I know it’s accurate. On top of that, I know men are capable of so much more. When properly motivated and informed, men are willing to risk everything to do what’s right. So why are we falling short? Because we allow it. Each of us looks the other way when one of our friends pulls some bullsh*t. We know better, but we don’t say anything. Or worse, we say things to excuse their behavior.
Maybe as a way of excusing our silence. Possibly because we are guilty of the same behavior. Change is obviously needed. In our daily lives, we witness guys acting in disgusting ways. If we let it slide, we are culpable. We allow them to think their behavior is acceptable, making us responsible. I am not innocent. I have been both a perpetrator and a complicit bystander. Unfortunately, that’s true for every man.
Raising our standards won’t be easy. We will face challenges in public and in private. That’s okay. Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished without a challenge. Thankfully, men thrive on challenge. It’s a fundamental aspect of masculinity. Challenges give us a chance to prove ourselves, not just as people, but as men. So why not take this opportunity to prove we are men worthy of respect? Men of integrity and compassion. Men who use their strength to lift up others. That’s the kind of men we need and deserve. That’s the kind of men we should expect.
That’s the kind of men we could be.
A version of this post was previously published on TheMenCollective.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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