What does it mean to "be a man"? It depends on who you ask. Over time, the concept of manliness and gender roles have been tied to some strict and binding definitions. Those who dare to break them step into an arena of ridicule, while others struggling to stay within the constraints are broken by them. But there's a new movement on the rise that's been a long time coming — a reconsidering and new conversation about manhood. And if you'd like to raise the next generation of evolved males, there are ways to raise your son without toxic masculinity that benefit everyone.
Just so everyone is on the same page, take a look at how The Good Men Project, a website dedicated to what enlightened masculinity might look like in the 21st century, defined the term: "Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression." This outdated, troubling, and harmful belief system can cause an onslaught of problems for men as well as society as a whole. As a new conversation emerges, include your sons in the discourse. Incorporate these nine ideas for raising boys without toxic masculinity with your own, so you and your family can be part of the solution.
1. Ditch Harmful Phrases
Words have power, and terminology about masculinity can be dangerous. Overtime, hearing phrases like "be a man" or "real men don't cry" sinks into the subconscious. As CNN's Kelly Wallace explained, our culture doesn't do a good job of creating a safe space for boys to express their emotions without the fear of facing ridicule. Doing away with toxic sayings such as these remove the pressure from boys to hide feelings other than anger.
2. Talk About LGBTQIA+ People
The bottom line in eradicating toxic masculinity is to understand that there is more than one way to live as a man. Parents need to make time to talk about all the different lifestyles a man might lead, in a respectful way. Explaining LGBTQ lifestyles and proper terminology teaches boys that "gay" should not be used as an insult towards males, and is in fact, just who a person is, as Psychology Today pointed out.
3. Teach Respect For Women's Bodies
Let's talk about responsibility for a minute. When girls are told they should dress a certain way so they don't distract/tempt/make the imaginations of boys run wild, it's sending a message to boys that they have no control over themselves when it comes to females. The responsibility needs to shift to the boys, teaching them that no matter how a girl dresses, her body deserves complete and total respect.
4. Slash The Sexual Conqueror Myth
It's one of the oldest double standards around: males who have a lot of sex: stud; females who have a lot of sex: slut. According to The Good Men Project, equating sexual dominance and proficiency with manliness creates a twisted relationship with sexuality for boys.
5. Call Out Wrongness
When big stories of toxic masculinity, such as Brock Turner's extremely light sentencing after sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, make the news, explain to your son why this is terribly unjust and wrong. Ask their opinion and keep an honest dialogue open. If news stories are over their head due to age, talk about age-appropriate topics such as why saying "you throw like a girl" is disrespectful and wrong.
6. Reframe Expectations
As The Atlantic reported, " toxic masculinity sets expectations that prime us for disappointment. We turn that disappointment on ourselves and others as anger and hatred." Let your son know that he doesn't have to live up to anyone else's definition of manhood, and that who he is is just fine by you and he is loved and accepted no matter what.
7. Have Check-Ins
Check-in regularly with your son to see how things are going in his social circles, which can be major culprits in perpetuating myths about manhood. Give him a safe space to talk about what others are saying and doing and evaluate how that lines up with your beliefs (or not).
8. Surround Him With Good Role Models
Siebel Newson, founder and CEO of The Representation Project, which uses film and media as catalysts for cultural transformation, told CNN, "We have to redefine healthy masculinity for our boys to include empathy, emotion, care, and compassion," she said. "And we have to model it, challenging unhealthy dominant norms in public culture and daily life." Give your son as many examples of men living this definition, whether they are in his life or heroes he can look up to in society and works of fiction. The more examples, the better.
9. Don't Stay Silent
One of the best ways to let your son know how passionate you are about abolishing toxic masculinity is to speak up when you see instances of this belief happening. Modeling this type of assertiveness shows your son that you mean business and teaches him how he can do the same.