I did not raise a Donald Trump.
Like many mothers, I raised my son with an understanding that to be a man is not only to be strong and hardworking, but also to be loving and open to others. And like me, I see many mothers worrying about what a Donald Trump presidency means for our boys as they grow to be men.
Will our sons be pressured to suppress that sensitivity we have encouraged them to develop? Will they be told that respect for women, for the disabled, for other races is a mark of weakness? Will they be subjected to derision, or even violence? Will they be lumped in with the kind of men Donald Trump and some of his supporters seem to believe is the prototypical male: aggressive, arrogant, and entitled?
I am sure, that some may accuse me of overreacting. Certainly, the actions of one man, however powerful, should not undo the character of another independent man? It is true: I do not believe my son will become cruel or dismissive of women all within the next four years. But make no mistake, Trump’s position of power, and the actions he takes while holding that position, do set a standard and precedent for what is considered permissible in our society.
The version of masculinity that Donald Trump embodies is not new; in fact, it is very old. Raised in the 1960s, I know it well. Raised in an era where as women we had to fight for everything, I am now looking in the mirror and finding this all to be true again. As a professional with a PhD and advanced degrees, I must defend my intelligence to a president who has no respect for the diversity of human speech. I must make my way in a word where the man elected to the highest office in the land considers it his right to imply that a woman’s intelligence and temperament is compromised by her biological functions. It is the version of the man that I and so many other women fought against. Now it has come again, at a time when we were hoping the world was ready to see a new kind of man.
So what can be done?
Firstly, we can reinforce to our sons, to our husbands, to our daughters, and sisters, and to each other, that Donald Trump’s version of a man is not the only one:
A man is measured by his ability to show compassion and listen to those of divergent opinions, rather than shouting them down. He possesses the ability to hold his own through intelligent, reasoned discussion rather than having to bully his way to a win. A man is measured by the level of respect he affords to, and is afforded by, his sisters, daughters, partners and friends. He views women not as objects but as whole people, because he is himself a whole person. A man does not cut himself off from his emotions, nor does he eschew compassion, teamwork, forgiveness, and gentleness. He does not fear these traits as signs of weakness, because he does not cut himself in half to fit a distorted, stunted view of the male. A man does not need to rate others based on a scale of attractiveness, money, race, sex, or status, because he does not use these to rate himself. He knows himself to be a complete human being by his deeds, and judges himself and others by the quality of their conduct and the expression of their character.
I know the man I raised. He will not be a man to be feared, though he will be strong. He will not take shelter in arrogance, though he has much to be proud of. He will not use women as status symbols or objects of disposable pleasure, though he has many women around him. He is a new kind of man; and for that, a far braver one than men who must hide behind violence as a show of strength. Though I worry for him, I have faith in him. It is not only women, not only minorities, not only those differently abled or of different religions who are feeling under attack this year. It is also those men who wish to push forward with a newer, bolder, braver, kinder version of maleness than the one Donald Trump seems ready to provide. As I know these men will stand with us, I propose we stand with them. Together, we affirm that decency in our men is not rare, but expected, not weakness but strength, not gone but going forward. Men like my son are not freaks, or outliers, or anachronisms. They are the future.
Photo by Ralf Steinberger