A Native American elder singing the AIM Song in Washington DC Indigenous Peoples March was seen on video surrounded by a group of high school boys. The video, which was posted by YouTube account holder KC NOLAND, was also screen-captured and shared on other social media accounts with views quickly gaining tens of thousands of views.
Nathan Phillips, is an Omaha elder who is also a Vietnam Veteran and former director of the Native Youth Alliance. He is a keeper of a sacred pipe and holds an annual ceremony honoring Native American veterans in the Arlington National Cemetery.
The incident is still unfolding. But it highlights, in bold relief, why the messages in that controversial Gillette commercial are relevant and necessary. If you haven’t yet, take a look.
In the excellent Slate.Com article titled The Boys Are Watching, Melinda Wenner Moyer makes the case that men who are offended by Gillette’s new ad don’t realize why we need its message now more than ever.
She writes: “Kids learn by watching what we do, not by listening to what we say, and boys in particular absorb a lot from their fathers as well as from male public figures. They watch prominent men in their lives stick up, or not, for victims of bullying or sexual harassment. They watch how men treat their girlfriends and wives and interact with women in public. Many boys watched one man, the President of the United States, publicly mock a woman who testified to Congress that she was a victim of sexual assault. Many also heard him brag about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
Is it really that hard to fathom why young men—wearing Trump Supporter “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) hats as badge of honor—might feel justified in mocking someone from a marginalized group?
They identify with Donald Trump, a man in power, a hero of theirs, who, exemplifies the worst aspects of hegemonic, toxic masculinity. Not all masculinity is negative, and many misconceptions surround the different “flavors”, or traits men chose to exhibit. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
The President of the United States, who was charged with civil rights violations in the 70’s for not renting to black people, who publicly mocked a disabled reporter, smeared over a dozen female sexual assault survivors that accused him, regularly threatens and bullies detractors, called Mexicans “rapists”, is ok with the separation of desperate, asylum-seeking families, caged brown migrant children in kennels, and belittled Sen. Elizabeth Warren by sarcastically using a noble historical Native American hero’s name, Pocahontas, as a slur.
What kind of message is this to American boys that a man like this is POTUS?
What does it say about how this country values women, the disabled, people of color, the LGBTQ community?
Boys who are watching and fail to get any counter-programming, are living proof that support the claims the Gillette ad, as Ms. Moyers and many gender scholars and boys advocates agree. Boys are indeed watching older male role models, very closely, and acclimating to those cultural norms. For good or ill.
There are as many ways to express masculinity as their are men. Positive ones, like championing the weak, valuing women, showing empathy, practicing self-control, and respect for others. And, the negative “toxic” behaviors that support a hegemonic view of masculinity, highlighted in the first part of the Gillette ad above, where non-conforming men or outliers are ridiculed as “Snowflakes” or “betas”, for example.
These hegemonic, “toxic” traits of masculinity as Trump exemplifies, need serious counter-programming to combat the legitimization of powerful men’s “dudebros” culture and male hegemonic position in society. Justifying subordination of the common male population, women, and other benevolent marginalized ways of being a man is the Patriarchy you’ve read about, but many white, straight cis-males in particular, question its existence.
Hegemonic masculinity is part of R. W. Connell‘s gender order theory, which recognizes multiple masculinities that vary across time, culture and the individual. Connell argues that an important feature of hegemonic masculinity is the use of “toxic” practices such as physical violence, which served to reinforce men’s dominance over women in Western societies.
Other scholars have used the term toxic masculinity to refer to old, stereotypically masculine gender roles that restrict the kinds of emotions allowable for boys and men to express, including social expectations that men seek to be dominant (the “alpha male“) and limit their emotional range primarily to expressions of anger.
But, there is a steep price society and individuals pay for expressing this type of masculinity.
A recent study published the American Psychological Association (APA) issued new “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men.” The new guidelines highlight the unique physical and mental health risks that boys and men face, including higher rates of completed suicide, violence, substance abuse, cardiovascular problems and early mortality.
They also issue a warning against conforming to traditional negative stereotypes of hegemonic masculinity, citing years of research that links machismo to the aforementioned health risks.
The report states:
“Socialization for conforming to traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict (Pleck, 1981, 1995; O’Neil, 2008; O’Neil & Renzulli, 2013), and negatively influence mental health (e.g., O’Neil, 2008, 2013, 2015) and physical health (Courtenay, 2011; Gough & Robertson, 2017). Indeed, boys and men are overrepresented in a variety of psychological and social problems.”
Now. It’s not my job, nor Gillette’s job, to fix individuals or “make men better”. That you’re reading this article on The Good Men Project is a sign that you are actively engaged in the conversation of what “Good Men” look like in the 21st Century, which may be vastly different than my own.
And that’s ok. You do you. I’ll do me.
In my opinion, by the time a boy needs a razor, that cake is baked. A melange of parental guidance, social pressures, personal life choices and heroes he admires and emulates, determines the kind of man he will become.
Trump didn’t create American racism and hatred, but he sure gives aid and comfort for those who espouse them with his bully pulpit.
Boys—all boys—need the love and compassion that they often don’t bestow on others, especially marginalized groups of other races, genders, or sexualities. Many may argue they don’t deserve it. And since I’m celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. All of us can afford to be a little benevolent.
Dr. King taught us: “I choose love, for hate is too much of a burden for me to bear.“
I thought about my boy, faced with the choice to mock or befriend someone like Mr. Phillips and prayed that if he were in a similar situation some day, he’d choose love instead of hate. Defend his elder and not mock him.
It made me reflect, as I often do on these questions:
“Have I been a good father? Am I being a good enough man?”
Maybe if their dads or male caregivers asked themselves that question more, they might be celebrated tonight, on the news, made their parents proud, instead of being hated by half the country.
I bet they are asking themselves those questions right now.
Self-reflection isn’t soft. It’s not “unmanly”. It’s necessary for growth.
I’ll sign off with a story that speaks to the little choices we all make, everyday, that make the people we are into the people we wish to be.
A benevolent elder can teach a boy how to grow into a man with pride and dignity.
It’s a lesson those boys can learn before it’s too late for them.
Two Wolves: A Cherokee Legend
A grandfather is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”
“The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
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