When I was a boy (11 – 13) my favorite game was “Kill the Guy With the Ball.” I was really good at killing guys with balls. I was small but was hard to catch and hard to knock down. The game was simple: a guy gets a ball and we all chase him until we tackle him. The guy that gets the ball then becomes the next target. Chase him, kill him, run off with the ball. I loved tackling kids, grabbing the ball from them and running circles around them as they tried to bring me down. That’s what 11-year old boys did where I grew up. I loved to get dirty and rip my clothes and cuss and fight and prove my mettle at killing guys. I always went home with cuts and bruises and ripped clothes which I paid for with my mother’s wrath. I could never tell if she was mad at me for ripping my clothes or tracking dirt in the house or for just…being a boy. It seemed to me the problem wasn’t that my clothes were broken and dirty, it was that I was broken and dirty. I was just too. much. boy . for the people that wanted me to be soft, quiet, and never got dirty.
>But I wasn’t always like that. By all accounts, I was a sensitive, sweet little boy. When I was 6 I remember playing with my siblings one day when they started singing a song that went:
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails
That’s what little boys are made of
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice
That’s what little girls are made of
I stopped playing while my ears turned red. I didn’t know how to say WTF??? back then so instead I just started crying. My mother said, “What’s your problem?” “Why can’t boys be sugar and spice and everything nice?” I pleaded. I don’t remember her exact words but it was something along the lines of “STFU and stop crying, it’s just a song!” I argued for a while that it wasn’t fair. Nobody likes snails. I wanted people to look at me and say, “you’re made of everything nice”. Before that day ended I was in my room on punishment for crying.
Where I come from, little boys might be made of dog tails & snails and things but they don’t cry. Crying gets you locked up in your room. Within a few years, I’d be clamoring to get outside so I could go kill guys with balls. By the time I was 14, I gave that up for baseball where my fast feet got to wear spikes, which became fun weapons I used to cut 2nd basemen who had the balls to cover the bag I was stealing. By the time I was 16 I was killing guys in the boxing ring. 2 broken noses later you still couldn’t catch me crying because I’m made of the kind of stuff that don’t cry. Dog tails & snails.
I want to write about transforming the culture of toxic masculinity by making it safe for boys to touch their own sugar & spice.
I want to write about eradicating rape-culture by tending to our boys as if they were made of everything nice rather than potential rapists. However:
- Right now, that’s not a popular narrative.
- Right now, nothing is more frightening than the idea of boys turning into men with violent tendencies.
- Right now, it’s popular to take what frightens us and stomp down on it.
Today there’s a howl emanating from thousands of generations of women tired of being abused, exploited, raped and dismissed. Finally, after thousands of years, #timesup. A lot of good men are getting on board to support this change. Ben Wexler is one of them.
Ben Wexler is a celebrity with tremendous influence who tends to target trump, the GOP and the guardians of toxic masculinity. He’s got approximately 30K Twitter followers, and his tweets have sharp teeth. Right now, left wingers with sharp teeth are like the spikes on the feet of angry 14-year-olds: don’t get in the way if you don’t wanna get cut.
Last week Mr. Wexler put out a tweet that went viral:
Call me crazy, but I think having 17 year-olds worry that any sexual assault they commit now might follow them around for the rest of their lives would be a GREAT thing
— Ben Wexler (@mrbenwexler) September 17, 2018
It’s likely every GMP columnist retweeted the post, yet here I am writing for GMP and I’m gonna steal this base anyway. I expect to get reamed for talking about how to love our boys better. That’s how crazy things have gotten.
Still, as a man who knows the consequence of carrying shame & fear in little boys, I’m going to risk Mr. Wexler’s sharp teeth and endure the sniping of his 30K followers. Here’s my reply to Mr. Wexler:
>Hey Ben, you may or may not be crazy, dude, but I want to suggest a better idea: Find a 17-year old boy (or younger even better) and put your arm around him REGULARLY. Make connecting with him on an emotional level your personal mission. Spend as much time as you can spare helping him cultivate a sense of deep value and respect for HIMSELF and all of the life around him. Not just girls, but dogs, cats, plants, the environment etc. Do for him what nobody did for me & my friends when I was a kid: Teach him to recognize, understand, and manage his emotions skillfully. Take him into nature and show him how to cultivate sensitivity to breathing, living things that communicate in languages we can’t understand. Sit down with him and show him it’s okay to sustain eye contact a fist fight ensuing. Show him it’s okay to close his eyes and become present to what’s there. Open your heart and show him that mature men talk about their feelings.
Show him what real courage is. Tell him your fears. Skip the “No Fear” bullshit. Go beyond clichés. Ask him how he feels. Don’t let him escape into intellectualizing or numbing or joking or the bullshit dudes do so they don’t have to feel.
You don’t have to whip him into shape like a drill sergeant. We all love that idea but we can do better, right? Teach him some First Principles of Masculinity like authenticity, mission, service, vulnerability, generosity, selflessness, discipline and others that are grounded in love. Show him you care about him enough to challenge the macho code. Prove to him that you love him enough to hold him when he touches his emotions, and that he doesn’t have to “suck it up”.
Try to resist the easy path of throwing other men under the bus because it’s safer, or because it’s popular now, or because maybe you have an illusion you’re better. Let’s not confuse “machismo” with “masculinity”. Resist the trend to trash masculinity and teach him the difference.
Listen Ben, I’ve got an 18-year-old nephew who just left for his first year in college. I’m calling him several times a week to do all the things I just mentioned because, to be honest, I wish someone would have done that for me. I’m dedicated to cultivating a loving relationship where I can inspire him to become familiar with his inner world. I assure you I will NOT be working to help him become more afraid or – god forbid – to “worry” that any of his mistakes will “follow him around for the rest of his life”. I’d rather inspire him with love than motivate him with fear. NOBODY should spend their life “worrying” they can’t overcome their past. With every new breath, each of us inherits the right to recreate ourselves, to learn from the past but not cling to it, to step into a greater version of ourselves. I want my nephew to know that his past cannot define him.
I want him to meet the present – and everyone in it – from a place of love. Not fear.
My nephew is going to make mistakes. There’s no way life won’t hold him accountable for them, one way or another. But I retired from the fear-teaching business, Ben. With my nephew, I’m in the love-teaching business. I’d like your help in shifting the narrative from fear, shame & blame to one of love.
There’s an expression that says, “Hurt people hurt people.” Everybody knows that a frightened animal is the most dangerous. Yet here we are with millions of angry people calling for inducing more shame and fear, to “teach these guys to man up”. Except that most people’s idea of “man up” is some old-fashioned concept from the original pages of toxic masculinity
I know you’ll agree the patriarchy cannot be toppled using the patriarchy’s formula. The punitive model of “corrections” carries the stink of old men’s sweaters marinating in cigar smoke. There’s nothing new, progressive or feminine about it. In order to create a new order we need a new paradigm.
Boys who are motivated by fear grow up to become UNSAFE men. I know everybody’s clamoring for “more accountability” right now. You imagine a drill sergeant instilling honor and morals, making things right. I’m suggesting that maybe boys don’t need more fear and shame.
Hey Ben, how about we become a bit more creative than this. Let’s be a bit more courageous. How about we resist this fear-based paradigm that’s wrecked hundreds of generations of boys/men. Instead of trying to make him afraid, lets teach him to fix his gaze on being somebody loving and sensitive and beautiful right now. And when he messes up, let’s teach him to love himself enough to acknowledge his error, to make amends and move on so he’s free to create more goodness in the world.
If we intend to topple the patriarchy and the scourge of toxic masculinity, let’s try this: less fear, more love.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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