Detangling #MeToo and Toxic Masculinity?

I am the father of a daughter. My wife and I have been married coming up on 40 years. I have two young granddaughters and an amazing daughter-in-law. My congregation is made up of hundreds of remarkable women and girls. I care deeply, in different ways, for these women and girls in my life. And I stand with them against any ideology, behavior, or system that robs them of their humanity, their dignity, their safety, and their core being as women. That includes any man (better said, any “man”) who feels entitled to harass, assault, harm, or “lord it over them” in any way shape or form. That’s why as I man I stand in solidarity with the #MeToo Movement.

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I am the father of a son. I have a great son-in-law. I have three young grandsons. My congregation is made up of hundreds of remarkable men and boys. I care deeply, in different ways, for these men and boys in my life. And I stand with them against any ideology, behavior, or system that robs them of their humanity, their dignity, their safety, and their core being as men. That includes any man or woman who feels entitled to label their masculinity as dangerous, harmful, flawed, or broken. That’s why I stand in solidarity with men and women against the label, Toxic Masculinity.

And that puts me, along with many men and women, in an unnecessary dilemma. The heartache and pain inflicted on women by some men, which led to the outing of these monsters in the form of the important #MeToo Movement, also gave birth, or at least energy, to the phrase: Toxic Masculinity.

Toxic Masculinity suggests that masculinity in and of itself is bad, flawed, dangerous, and needs to be fixed. And when someone like me suggests that that is simply not the case, some see that as a defense of the toxic actions of some men.

Masculinity in and of itself is not toxic. It is a sacred energy, a good energy, a necessary energy. It is an expression of the Image of God as is the feminine.

Not every male denigrates, harasses, belittles, or assaults women. In fact, most men don’t. Most men treat women with respect.

But some men do act in ways that are in no way representative of masculinity. Their behavior is toxic, degrading, criminal, and wrong…not the fact that they are men.

I don’t want my grandsons growing up believing that because they are masculine they are flawed, dangerous, and toxic. Imagine what that belief does to our boys as they grow! I want them to know that they have been created in the image of God and have been created to be good men.

I don’t want my granddaughters growing up believing that all boys/men are toxic, flawed, and dangerous. That ideology will rob my granddaughters of strong healthy relationships with men. It will make them suspect of men.

Is it possible to stand with the #MeToo Movement and at the same time stand against the ideology of Toxic Masculinity?

Can we fight against toxic behaviors in some men while at the same time calling out the best in our boys and men, not through shaming them but through inspiring them?

Perhaps detangling #MeToo from Toxic Masculinity by instead using “behavior” language—toxic behavior, criminal behavior, abusive behavior, and so on—will give us the chance to really get at these very important issues without labeling and misunderstandings.

After all, what most men and women want is for men and women to thrive as men and as women, and as men and women together at work, at school, at home, and in life.

Do Boys Really Get Everything and Girls Get the Crumbs?

“We live in a world where boys get everything and girls are left with the crumbs…” so wrote a mom to Washington Post Columnist Caroline Hax.

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What prompted that comment? According to the article in USAToday,

It seems she and other moms of daughters had unofficially claimed a local playground as their girls-only meetup place at a set time each week.

Until disaster struck and a strange mother brought her son to the public park and dared to let him slide, swing and play during their special time.

The girl’s mom asked the mom of the boy to leave and was shocked when the other woman seemed upset.

The girl’s mom was upset herself that she had upset the boy’s mom, hence her note to Caroline Hax:

“If she comes back, is there a better way I can approach her? This has been such a sweet time for moms and daughters and having a boy there is naturally going to change things. We live in a world where boys get everything and girls are left with the crumbs, and I would think this mom would realize that, but she seems to think her son is entitled to crash this girls-only time. I know I can't legally keep her from a public park, but can I appeal to her better nature?” the mom asked Hax.

There are so many, many things wrong with this incident. And Caroline Hax, a mom of three boys, wasn’t having it:

How dare a grown adult justify stomping on the feelings of a child. And using it as some sort of “cosmic correction,” in the male-female balance is despicable, she said.

The little boy does not feel entitled to anything other than playtime at a PUBLIC park.  

“If you're going to accuse anyone of being "entitled," then ask yourself who was claiming possession of public space for her own purposes,” Hax wrote, adding if the mother wants a girls-only playdate, she can do so on private property.  

“Goddess help us all,” said Hax.

Good on you, Caroline Hax.

But I want to take it a step deeper.

We continue, in our culture, to perpetuate the storyline that boys have it all and girls are the losers because of it.

Really?

How about this:

·      Boys have fallen behind girls in every area of education from Pre-school through Graduate school

·      85% of stimulant-addressing medications (like Ritalin) prescribed in the world are prescribed to US boys

·      America has the highest rates of male incarceration per capita of any country in the world.  Among males 17 or younger, the boy-to-girl ratio in correctional institutions is 9:1.  Among 18-21 year olds, the ratio grows to 14:1

·      Boys are twice as likely to be victims of violence in America, but in certain age groups the ratio is 6:1.

·      Boys receive two-thirds of the Ds and Fs in our schools but less than 40 percent of the As 

·      Boys are twice as likely to be labeled as “emotionally disturbed” and twice as likely to be diagnosed with a behavioral or leaning disorder

·      Boys are four times as likely as girls to be suspended or expelled from early childhood and K-12 learning environments

·      Over the last 20 years the reading skills of 17 year old boys have steadily declined

In 2015 the World Health Organization published a major study of mens’ and boys’ health worldwide.  In it the study’s authors—from Europe, the U.S., and Asia—provided statistics and analysis from all continents, including the most comprehensive health study worldwide to date, the Global Burden of Disease Study led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation…The study concludes: In most of the world, girls and women are doing better than boys and men in both physical and mental health indicators…In most parts of the world, health outcomes among boys and men continue to substantially worse than among girls and women.  Yet this gender-based disparity in health has received little national, regional, or global acknowledgement or attention from health polity-makers or health-care providers.

Does that sound like boys get everything?

It’s time to stop this ideological storyline that demeans and devalues and ignores our boys and makes victims of our girls.

Huge, meaningful gains have been made for our girls over the last 60 years and huge setbacks have hit our boys hard in the last 60 years.

But this is not a zero-sum game. We still have lots of work to do for our boys and our girls. Perpetuating this old, false argument that boys get everything and girls get the crumbs hurts our girls and our boys.

How about we fight hard for both boys and girls!

What I Want My Grandsons to Know About Men

Phoenix (7), Judah (7), and Decker (4),  

You are a bit young to think about manhood but from the perspective of your 60-year-old grandpa, it’s just on the horizon of your life.

Our current culture has developed an allergy to masculinity, either claiming it’s toxic (some going so far as to blame meat eating on male toxicity, who knew?), or that you would be better served to learn to emote and talk more like girls. (Your brain isn’t wired to emote and talk the way a girl’s brain is wired. But you are uniquely wired to emote and communicate in your own masculine way!) Here’s the truth about men:

Men are capable of great good:

  • Good men have laid down their lives for centuries in order to protect their families, their tribes, their countries, and their beliefs.  
  • Good men have put their lives at risk to build the infrastructures of society (92 percent of all work related deaths are male…).
  • Good men have created systems of government with the intent to provide freedom and equality for all.
  • Good men have always been and continue to be caring dads, husbands, employers, employees, and grandparents.

Men are also capable of great destruction:

Though writing about boys, these words from my friend Dr. Michael Gurian, speak directly to this downside of masculinity--

…nearly every social problem we face in our civilization today—unemployment, income inequality, incarceration rates, religious extremism, domestic abuse, mental illness, health care inequalities, and painful violence against women—intersects in some way with the state of boyhood in America. (Saving our Sons, p. vii.)

Yes…some men are destructive. Some men damage the lives of others. Some men seek to harass those of a different race or religion or political persuasion or gender. Some men are bad men.

But many, if not most men, are good men. As your grandpa my hope and prayer is that as you grow into manhood, you number yourselves among the good guys.

To give you some guidance, here’s a picture of what a good man looks like (with special thanks to Dr. Gurian for his great work on this framework for manhood from his book, The Purpose of Boys):

A good man is:

  • Honorable: He does the right thing, even when it’s the harder way.  He treats all people with respect.  
  • Enterprising: He doesn’t give up easily.  He fights for the good of others while at the same time maintaining a core belief in his worth as a good man.
  • Responsible: A good man lives to serve others.  As Martin Luther King Jr. put it: The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.  The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.
  • Original: A good man knows who he is.  He’s aware of his strengths and weaknesses.  He knows what his unique gifts and talents are.  And he uses them to help build a better world through his family, his work, his citizenship, and his faith.

Boys, that's the kind of men I want you to be: Heroic men who show the world that good men exist and that good men are essential for building strong families, communities, and a better society.