Jeff Perera explains his “Ladder of Masculinity” TEDx talk, and how toxic masculinity is linked to violence.
It’s becoming more and more clear to me, as a mother of boys, the role that violence plays in the everyday lives of boys and young men in our society. Masculinity is a concept that has to be defended at all costs, even with my own first grader who once felt the need to say, “I would NEVER wear pink!” with disgust after his dad and I suggested a pair of pink and black checkerboard Vans at the mall.
How does our strict gender binary end up connecting to the violence that young men experience and perpetrate? Jeff Perera, in his recent TEDx speech (above), explores the connection between masculinity as it’s expected to be expressed today and violence in society, based upon his experiences giving White Ribbon talks to young people.
I asked Jeff what compelled him to speak about masculinity in this way. His answer, below, really gives all of us something to think about, whether we’re parents raising boys or grown men ourselves, there’s something that feels very true about the notion that in toxic masculinity, muscular chests crush young hearts.
When Jeff talks about how our young kids now need to practice a “hold and secure” drill – in case of a shooter entering campus – I cannot help but cry. I think of my own boys the way I thought of them after the Newtown tragedy. It’s hard to let them go. It’s hard to let them be in a place where I cannot fully control who has access to them. How did we get here? To where parents worry about their children not knowing how to “hold and secure” in a way that has nothing to do with hugs and reassurance, but to do with violence and hiding from a gun?
We urgently need to have a real, raw, honest talk about how so many young men turn to violence to solve conflict and gain identity & status. It came to me that this pursuit of a flawed idea of being a man is like a ‘ladder of manhood’ we are forced to climb at an early age. That moment we take away a boy’s stuffed animal and say “ok, time to be a man”, is when it starts.
This talk is based on my experience after a Saturday in the summer of 2012, when a young man opened fire during a busy day at Toronto’s Eaton Centre, a mall located at the busiest intersection in Canada. The following week, I went to speak to Grade 4-7 students, at three different elementary and middle schools located in seemingly different worlds within one city. Violence was a theme that played out in each talk I gave.
I wrote this talk reflecting on the shrinking circle of violence that is wrapping around our chests. My friend Laura Reid likened this toxic idea of masculinity to our muscular chests as men, crushing our hearts. The message I heard from this was that as a man “My Body is crushing My Heart.” The slogan I want to tell every male-identified person in the world is “I don’t need to be The Man, in order to be a man.”
Also, watch the amazing Carlos Andrés Gómez video mentioned by Jeff, “How To Fight“.