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.

What I Want My Granddaughters to Know About Men

Dear Clover (8) and Mathilda (2),

Over the last 50-60 years (mainly during my growing up years) women and men all around our country have been fighting for you!

They’ve been working hard to ensure that you grow up in a world where you are treated equally with men.

It may be that when you enter the workforce in 15 years or so that that may seem quaint—that equal pay for equal work and equal opportunities will be so deeply ingrained in our culture that your generation has no memory of anything else.

In a remarkably short period of time the storyline of girls and women has changed dramatically, mostly for the better—again thanks to many good women and men.  

For example:

  • In the early 1960’s girls were behind boys in school. But by 1982 girls not only caught up, they soared past boys. Girls now do far better than boys in virtually every area of education from pre-k through graduate school.
  • Increasingly the pay gap is shrinking. There’s still a lot of debate about this one. Some say that women make 80 cents or so for every $1 a man makes. This isn’t really the whole story. When you get down deep into the numbers and all of the factors that go into who works where and why, the gap is much, much smaller. There are certain job segments where the gap is huge and we still have work to do but again, a lot has changed in your favor over the last 50-60 years.
  • You are growing up in a world of unprecedented opportunities for women. When I think back to the opportunities your great-grandmother had (again, this was in my lifetime!) to what is possible for you now…it’s breathtaking!

I could go but I want to get to my main point.

This new world for women has not come without a price for men. You are not only growing up in a world fighting for equality for women, you are also growing up in a world that has become increasingly disdainful of all things masculine.

Here are two recent book titles:

  • Is There Anything Good About Men?
  • Do Fathers Matter?

Can you imagine anyone having to write a book with a title like that about women?

  • Is there Anything Good About Women?
  • Do Mothers Matter?

Unfortunately, some men contribute to the negative masculine stereotype. And we’ve been seeing it rear its ugly head lately through a series of powerful men being called out for sexual harassment. In fact, many believe we have reached a tipping point—one hopefully of high impact—that will bring to light this dark side of masculinity and protect our daughters, wives, sisters, and colleagues from it.

As your grandpa I’m sickened on the one hand, and heartened on the other hand, that this has become a public issue. For your sake, I pray that God will protect you from sick men who simply don’t deserve the title, Man.

However, the actions of a sick and powerful small group of men has given some in our culture the chance to pile on. Men, some in the media are saying, simply by being men, are complicit or guilty.  They are all monsters. 

For example:

Jennifer Berdahl, a professor in the business school at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who studies the harassment of men, says harassment is also about gender and how society defines it. Males learn a sense of superiority over females from the time they are children, she says. Being a man means being superior to a woman and dominating women sexually or otherwise; sexual harassment is taking that (thinking) to an extreme, Berdahl says...Men are socialized from the age of 3 to think of themselves as being a ‘real man,’ defined as dominating women.

That is simply not true.  It is vastly overstated and not only demeans men but the many good women who raise these boys into men.

As a man, and as your grandpa, here are some things I want you to know about men. You will be surrounded by them all your lives so I want you to see men as their Creator sees them.

1) Yes…some men are bad men. They are sick. They are contemptible. They bring shame to the masculine side of the Image of God. But they are not the majority of men or even close to it.

2) Good, noble men do exist in the world, lots of them…and the world needs them.

3) A good man is one who uses his gifts and talents to help build a better world. And many men have done just that: Countless dads working hard to provide for their families and invest time in their children. Men faithfully loving their wives. Men protecting our country, often at great personal sacrifice. Men building the infrastructures of our nation. Men educating our children and youth. Men creating works of art be it music or literature or dance or film. Men doing their jobs with integrity and excellence.

4) While, as my friend, Dr. Michael Gurian, says, almost all of the challenges and ills a society faces trace themselves back to troubled men, at the same time, many, many of the successes and strengths of our society are built on the backs of good men.

5) The overwhelming majority of men not only want what’s best for women, they actively fight for it. These women are their daughters, wives, sisters, moms, aunts, friends, and co-workers. Men care deeply about these women in their lives. They neither want nor condone masculine domination of women.

6) Masculinity in and of itself is not toxic. It is a good, God-created, sacred gift, just as is the feminine.

7) Men are wired to experience the world differently from women. Our brains work differently. Our thought processes works differently. Our chemical make-up is different. That doesn’t make us better than women. It doesn’t make us inferior. Women and men are equal but different, and those differences make the world a better place.

8) Again, a real man is a man who uses his unique gifts and talents, and his uniqueness as the Image of God male, to serve those he loves and the world around him. And again, those men are all around us.

Your Daddies are good men. Your Grandpas are good men. The men in your church are good men. You will interact with far more good men than bad men throughout your lives. May you discover the blessing that men can be as you grow into the women God created you to be.

Does Advocating for Boys Mean Dissing Girls? A Final Rant

For the last two posts I have been responding to a column written in response to a column I wrote advocating for boys.  I usually don’t spend so much time obsessing over these kinds of things…but since so much of her argument is the current storyline in our culture, used to downplay the boy crisis, I couldn’t let this one go.  

I am going to reprint my column here and then wind it up with a few of the comments the author made in response…and add in another perspective as well.  Then it will be off my chest and I can go back to being the balanced, even-keeled boy advocate I want to be!
Here’s my column (I had a max of 650 words allowed)

How About Equality for Our Boys?
Equal Pay Day.  Women’s Equality Day.  A Day Without Women.  Bring Your Daughter to Work Day.  Title IX.  The White House Council on Women and Girls.

All good and noble expressions of our desire to fight for equality for our daughters and women.  As the father of a daughter and the grandfather of two granddaughters, I fully applaud these efforts.  My daughter has a law degree because of the hard work many did to fight for her equality.  My granddaughters are growing up in a world of unprecedented opportunity because women and men have worked hard—and continue to work hard—for their equality. 
But what about our boys?   

·      Boys have fallen significantly 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 as girls 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 as girls 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.

It seems as if, whenever the subject of our boys is raised, it’s rebuffed by charges of male privilege and patriarchy.

Do we really want to lose our boys?  Is our world better off with boys growing into underachieving, undereducated men, underappreciated men?  Imagine the negative societal impact if we continue to leave our boys behind!

For equality to work, it must be equality for all—female and male.  For the last 60+ years our nation has collectively and passionately taken up the cause of equality for our daughters.  In the 1960’s, for example, the Federal Government invested $100 million into getting our girls caught up in school.  Girls caught up in 1982 and have soared past our boys ever since.  But so far, with a growing decades-old boy crisis, not one dime has been invested into getting our boys back into the education game.

Who will fight for our boys?

Some of her reactions:

In a May 6 “My Turn,” Tim Wright asks why girls are getting so much attention and who is fighting for our boys?

I don’t see anywhere where I asked why girls are getting so much attention.  But I’ll let you decide.

He dismissively lists public policies that have attempted to level the playing field for women (who have been denied equal access to basic human rights for thousands of years).  Equal pay.  Title IX.  What will they ask for next?

I don’t see anywhere where I dismissed these important initiatives on behalf of our girls nor where I asked, What will they ask for next? or implied it.  But I’ll let you decide.

He says the fight for gender equality is good, but now we have gone too far and boys are suffering.

I don’t think I said that.  I certainly don’t believe that.  But I’ll let you decide.

If we’re going to have important conversations about our boys and girls we need to actually read/hear what people are saying.
 
Here’s another perspective from a woman who wrote to me:

It was with tears that I read your column in the Arizona Republic May 6th.  The subject of equality for boys has been heavy on my heart for some time, and I have been praying for someone with authority to start a campaign to make the public aware of how boys and men have been marginalized throughout the past few decades.

(I liked her letter better!  😏)

Final word: We need to continue to fight for our daughters and thankfully we have lots of energy on that issue nationwide.  What I, along with many boy advocates, am pleading for is equal energy around our boys without pitting one against the other.  Both are created in the image of God.  Both should be treated equally.  Let’s get at it and change the storyline for both our boys and girls!