Everywhere I look there are positive messages for women. We tell young girls that they are smart and can do anything, and they’re succeeding like crazy. They have slogans like girl power, women strong, break the glass ceiling, and “I’m with Her.” If there aren’t a lot of women represented in a certain industry, we create programs to increase female participation. Not only are women making huge strides in the workplace, but this is on top of their running the household. Women are crushing it at work, and are supermoms at home.
To be clear, I think most of those messages are great, but whether or not I agree with them doesn’t even matter. I bring up all those positive messages about women to contrast it with how different they are than anything being said about men. As a man, and hearing these messages for women, it got me thinking: What are the messages for men? Are they positive or negative, and where are those messages coming from?
I want to tip my hat to women. I see a lot of women putting out positive messages for each other. It’s awesome to see a tweet thread like this recognizing inspiring women. I bet most churches tend to have a women’s ministry that is thriving. I see Facebook posts all the time about “great mamas” and how proud women are of each other.
This got me thinking about why women are united and supportive of each other. Women have moved from the home to the workplace, and they’ve had to stick together to advance. Breaking into a man’s world meant women needed a united front, and nothing bonds quite like people saying you can’t do something. Women see the value in supporting each other. Yes, there’s the stereotype that women are more in touch with their emotions than men, and yes, women can still be catty to each other, but generally speaking, women seem to do a better job supporting each other, and being vocal about it.
The Current State of Messages for Men
I think there are two main issues surrounding the messages we hear regarding men in society. One issue is who the messages are coming from, and the second issue is the content of those messages.
Don’t Worry Guys, The Women Are Here to Help
Many of the messages we hear about men are pushed by women. That doesn’t automatically make them bad, but what it does is shift the power from men dealing with their own issues, to women attempting to deal with them for us. This is a total double standard of course, because men can’t talk about women and their issues. That’s mansplaining and oppressive patriarchy. But women explaining things to men is perfectly acceptable. I can’t even imagine a post like this by a man. “Whenever you are in a group composed of only men (whether it’s social, work, church, or whatever) ask yourself why there are no women present. Then ask out loud why. Force an honest answer.” Women can hang out in groups and it’s all good, but when men do it, there is some nefarious reason.
I don’t bring this up to argue that men should tell women how to deal with their issues, but only to point out the imbalance in our discussion. Why are there so many messages about men coming from women? I actually think we need healthy dialogue between the genders, and we can grow and learn together, but that’s not happening. Not only are women leading the messaging about men, but much of it is negative.
Men Are Ticking Time Bombs
On the surface, these messages can sound positive, but they’re actually more like warnings. They’ve identified something wrong with men, and if people don’t listen, men will turn out bad. Recently, Michelle Obama said, “It’s powerful to have strong men but what does that strength mean?” asked Obama. “Does it mean respect? Does it mean responsibility? Does it mean compassion? Or are we protecting our men too much so that they feel a little entitled and a little, you know, self-righteous sometimes?”
Men are a little entitled and a little self-righteous. Imagine a man saying that about women! Respect, responsibility, and compassion are great character traits, but she’s saying that men aren’t living up to those qualities. She says, “We raise them to be strong, and sometimes we take care not to hurt men.” We’ve been too easy on men. Raising “strong” men leads to men who turn out poorly. And notice, she’s not talking about some small sliver of the male population, but men in general. These are widespread problems, not isolated incidents.
Mayim Bialik put out a video detailing “How Not to Raise Sons Who Behave Like Harvey Weinstein.” That sounds like a plan I can agree with. I don’t want my sons to become sexual predators either, but listen to some of the assumptions she makes about men. When a friend asked her about this, she was “shocked” to think, “Am I raising boys who will become men that girls and women will fear?” In her experience, she says, “I have yet to meet a man, even the nicest ones, who said that they were not motivated by their desire to have sex with a woman.”
Bialik then goes through a list of things she’s doing to ensure that her boys turn out well. It seems like this great video with advice on how to raise good sons, and while some of it is good advice, look closer at the premise. Look at the negative, underlying assumptions about men. Without her advice, your sons will turn into sexual predators. That’s just who men are.
Fear is the basis for these messages. Why is that the default assumption about men? I don’t hear anyone saying that without special help, girls will turn into ____ women.
Of course, men aren’t perfect, but we need to stop letting the actions of a few define the messages for the rest of us. We’ve ceded our responsibility to be better men over to women, and it’s not working. It’s time to take back our voice.
Men Need a Narrative They Can Believe In
When you look at these messages about men, they’re all fueled by guilt and shame. Men aren’t good enough, and left unchecked, they’re actually dangerous. That doesn’t motivate men to be better, but to hang their heads in shame, stay quiet, and be passive. Regardless of how well-intentioned those women are, it’s not an effective strategy.
We can be great men, dads, husbands, and friends. It’s about time we started telling ourselves that. I did a little experiment over on our Facebook page, and I stole it straight from the tweet thread about inspiring women. I asked, “Who is a man (who isn’t famous), who you consider a role model?” The response was awesome. It turns out, men can actually be role models! Men can look up to each other, be inspired by each other, and be great because of the examples set by other men. Men can learn from each other and see a better way forward. That’s positive change men will buy into.
I’m not saying men are perfect, or that we ignore bad behavior, but I think it’s a matter of perspective. Women want good, confident, sacrificial, and loving men. The question is, how do we as a society go about raising and fostering those kind of men?
Men do better when other men show them how to be better. Speak up about what it means to be a good man, and stop handing that responsibility over to women. This is on us.