In my late 30s as a married, father of three, I tend to look at the world much differently than I had in my 20s. Hell, I look at things differently than I did six months ago. Full disclosure, I am a heterosexual, Black man who is from the inner city but work in an affluent environment, loves (or used to love) Hip Hop, pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors and also going through internal reflection to become a more rounded human being.
Now that is on the table, all of my life pretty much was the stereotypical “men don’t cry,” “be a man,” and “man up” — all of the soundbites you can find in a chest-pounding men’s group. I enjoyed Revenge of the Nerds which had questionable scenes while Boomerang showed men being a complete womanizers. There was Zack Morris as the school stud who flaunted his ability to manipulate situations, the music videos where women’s tops were pulled off in laughter, while beer and champagne were poured on these females as onlookers cheered. I was exposed to songs that celebrate sharing women with your friends — all before I turned 17!
That is a huge amount of social reprogramming for a boy who is trying to figure out his path and purpose in life, and it can be quite daunting. The more cases that have come up regarding sexual assault today allow me to reflect on things that I overlooked or found comical or just dismissed without checking. Don’t get me wrong, I have never been in a space where a woman was being manhandled and I sat and videotaped. It is more about subtle moments of a woman walking down the street and a man in admiration trying to get her attention and grabbing her arm or standing in front of her (insert “The Way You Make Me Feel” visuals.)
Being of father of two daughters and one son, I now see the importance of being a leader and the damage a person can cause and inflict on someone else. Perspective is everything. Hindsight is 20/20 so they say. I recently watched “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” and sat in horror as the killers’ father damaged him repeatedly as a child until he became a grown being. It is so heartbreaking. I know some examples of damage parents are causing and in my today self, I find it hard to overlook and just have the “I stay out of it” attitude. I know that I cannot change anyone’s behavior but I can walk in light and project that and hope that it resonates with others at the time they are most receptive to it.
I have never told my son to “man up” but rather “shake it off” if he falls off his bike as that message will play out differently in his adult life. As a man it is absolutely OK to cry and be in touch with your feelings and emotions and have a centeredness about yourself. Most of my male friends are in the same space and we provide a vulnerable and honest place for each other to critique, support and advise.
Toxic masculinity is now another overused phrase that makes a colorful hashtag or someone pay attention to a news report. I think there are unlearned behaviors that we all must understand and embrace and not be so quick to fight just for the sake. All races, genders, nationalities, religions, communities have a good sized lesson on things that can be unlearned. Not to be mistaken for forgot. It is not OK to be a womanizer. Can I find other women attractive? Absolutely. Can I have a moment to think about another woman past or imaginary. Yup. But those questions alone, I would get women and men that would swear the opposite. In my mind that creates suppression, which leads to pressure and we know what happens when pressure builds…
My advice to anyone reading is be open to new ideas, new beliefs, points of view while finding your center and trying to be a good human. Do you share what you have with others? Information, clothes, food, money, transportation? Do you give from the heart or because it helps your tax bracket? No judgement either way, just an honest question. Do you learn and struggle and recognize someone who resembles you and share to prevent them from falling like you had or you go out of your way to teach them the hard way?
Those are all questions I ask myself as I navigate through this thing called life.