I am commonly asked by fathers: how do I explain what’s going on with #MeToo and all these high-profile cases of sexual harassment and assault to the boys and young men in my life?
The most important thing fathers can do is to create space to have these conversations. What we have found is that boys are craving this information. Given the opportunity, they soak it up. We have a curriculum for middle and high school boys called LIVERESPECT.
It teaches boys about healthy manhood, healthy relationships, and consent. One of the stats that came out of the pilot was that only 19% of boys understood what consent means. As parents we are used to speaking to our girls about staying safe – about not taking drinks from strangers, about not walking home alone at night. But we are not having conversations with our boys about these issues. After the boys went through the curriculum, 75% of them understood what consent means. We created space to have the conversation – and it made a difference. We have to commit to that.
I would also encourage fathers to think critically about their own socialization – about the messages they have been given about gender, and how that has shaped their view of their own manhood and of women and girls. At A CALL TO MEN, we coined the term the Man Box to illustrate how boys are socialized to be men. The Man Box identifies the limitations on what a man is supposed to be and what he believes. These expectations are taught to men – sometimes unconsciously – and reinforced by society. In the Man Box, men are supposed to be powerful and dominating, fearless and in control, strong and emotionless, and successful – in the boardroom, the bedroom and on the ball field. In the Man Box, women are objects, the property of men, and of less value than men. The teachings of the Man Box allow violence against women, girls and other marginalized groups to persist. By better understanding our own beliefs and how those play out in our lives, we can help boys avoid the trappings of the Man Box and be their authentic selves. We can help them embrace gender equity and not feel threatened by it.
All men can commit to live by the principles of healthy, respectful manhood. These include things like: embracing and expressing a full range of emotion; not conforming to the pressure to always be fearless and in control; valuing a woman’s life and treating all people equally; not using language that denigrates women and girls; developing an interest in the experience of women and girls, outside of sexual conquest; and modeling a healthy, respectful manhood to other men and boys.
This Father’s Day, let’s talk about manhood and #MeToo. Let’s commit to use our platform and influence – at home, at work, in our community – to promote healthy manhood and understand how men can prevent all forms of violence and discrimination against all women and girls. Let’s share that message with the boys in our lives. And if I can ask just one more thing, let’s think beyond our biological sons and invest in boys in our communities who might not have a male role model in their lives. Together, we can create the next generation of manhood.
Happy Father’s Day!
– Tony Porter, CEO, A CALL TO MEN