Modern Masculinity: Raising our sons to be more human

My 14-year-old son rejects everything feminine.

In his steep ascendance towards adulthood, he rejects emotions, cordiality and anything else that isn’t brute strength.  He sees himself as an alpha male whose only currency is power and muscle. He considers tears, overt kindness and expression of emotions to be anti-masculine - and therefore feminine - and sees  them all as weaknesses.

Granted, he’s only 14 and is looking for an identity that is his own and different from that of his parents, but I can’t help but wonder where he gets it from.

A colleague recently sent me a link to a short video entitled Why Men Hate Women.  It was an emotionally-produced, well-researched account of the theory for society’s views of what it means to be a man. The premise is that society teaches men that being masculine means men cannot show feelings, men cannot show tenderness or kindness, men don’t cry and can’t be seen as caring - or behave in any way that could be interpreted as that. These behaviours and emotions are seen as the antithesis to being a man and are lumped together as being feminine.   So, the thinking goes, if men are taught to reject what is characterised as feminine within them, it is likely that they will grow to dislike – even hate - femininity in others.

I listened in recognition of what I had observed for years and have spoken about: this outdated definition of masculinity is at odds with our times and many believe is the reason behind the fact that men are 3 times more likely to commit suicide than women.

Society, including parents, gets the blame.  Apparently, the way we talk to our daughters is different from the way we talk to our sons.  While we generally advise girls to share their feelings, we tend to tell boys to subdue them with statements like ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘be strong’.  We encourage our daughters to search and identify their feelings while our sons may not get the same encouragement.

I of course know all this and am carefully watching how I raise my son and daughter.  But even when I’m consciously trying to ensure my son acknowledges and talks about his feelings, I find fewer opportunities to speak to him in the same way as I do with my daughter.  It’s easier, as a mother, to relate to a daughter than a son and to create emotional bonding moments, but that's no excuse.  Whether it’s because he’s a teenager or because society got to him first, this is something that concerns me.  Not only do I want to raise a boy who is sensitive, emotionally-intelligent and respectful of women, I want to ensure my son grows into a mentally (and physically) healthy and happy man.

I’m reminded of Philippa Perry’s recent book cleverly entitled The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and your children will be glad that you did). It’s a fascinating and necessary read for all – whether you have children or not - but even the title is encouragement enough to break the cycle.  We don’t always know how to do right by our children because we tend to repeat the patterns that were programmed into us by our parents and our surroundings.  What we can do, however, is recognise that some of these pattern are no longer compatible with our lives and try to correct them.  We need to raise our boys differently.

So let’s do this together.  Whether you pick up Philippa Perry’s book or talk more to your son about this, let’s encourage our young men to get comfortable with expressing pain and other emotion.  Let’s not punish them with words or behaviours for showing characteristics that might traditionally be considered as female.  Let's ask fathers to get more involved and share stories with their sons that acknowledge and demonstrate feelings.

We need to become more aware of language and demeanour that perpetuates the antiquated idea of masculinity.   In that way, we will be able to raise our sons to be more human.

You don’t have to be male to ‘toast’ International Men’s Day

Whenever women are asked why there’s an International Women’s Day and not an International Men’s Day, many respond with, "because men have the other 364 days of the year".  In fact, though, there is an International Men’s Day, and there has been for over two decades. But do we actually need an International Men’s Day and If so, why?

The purpose of IMD

International Men’s Day (IMD) takes place every year on the 19th November and is marked in over 60 countries around the world. It aims to shine a spotlight on men making a positive difference in the world and raising awareness of issues and challenges facing men today. Issues like men’s health, toxic masculinity and the prevalence of male suicide. As we previously highlighted, men in the UK are three times as likely to commit suicide as women – and a big part of that is the disconnect between what we expect of men and what they really want from life today.

Movember and IMD

IMD takes place in November, the month designated to highlight men’s mental health issues by sprouting a ‘tache and raising funds for charities and causes that support men’s battle with common health-related issues.

Why join the movement?

I continue to believe that the gender balance conversation cannot take place in a vacuum. We don’t want to create echo-chambers and support bubbles that result in unaccomplished plans and unachievable objectives because we have not involved the other half of the gender population.

So, we need to involve men in the conversation – and by doing so we also need to listen to them. We need to understand their challenges and concerns, their lack of understanding of our challenges and concerns and their confusion about how and what to do when trying to do right by women.

International Men’s Day creates an opportunity to do so. It gives men a platform to voice their anxieties and learn from each other. It also provides them with an opportunity to find a support network that helps eradicate toxic masculinity and outdated notions of what it means to be a man.

Great examples of IMD celebrations

In the past few years, I was fortunate to be invited to a handful of high-profile IMD celebrations and a few stuck in my mind. The one I particularly enjoyed was an event put on by a gender balance network of an international bank in the City. It consisted of a panel of men of various seniority – from the UK CEO to an intern – plus a few client guest speakers.

The issues discussed ranged from flexible working to sexuality and the freedom to be yourself, to supporting gender balance as a force of good for society, work and men.

The discussion surfaced parts of the gender conversation that we don’t tend to hear in women’s events, and in this way provided a forum to listen to experiences from another perspective – and isn’t that what diversity and inclusion is all about?

I was also positively struck by the audience, which was nicely gender-balanced and very enthusiastic.

So, if women are looking for support from men, isn’t International Men’s Day a fantastic platform we can develop in order to move forward together?