Reblog: Teaching Men to Be Emotionally Honest

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This article first appeared in the New York Times on April 4, 2016.

Last semester, a student in the masculinity course I teach showed a video clip she had found online of a toddler getting what appeared to be his first vaccinations. Off camera, we hear his father’s voice. “I’ll hold your hand, O.K.?” Then, as his son becomes increasingly agitated: “Don’t cry!… Aw, big boy! High five, high five! Say you’re a man: ‘I’m a man!’ ” The video ends with the whimpering toddler screwing up his face in anger and pounding his chest. “I’m a man!” he barks through tears and gritted teeth.

The home video was right on point, illustrating the takeaway for the course: how boys are taught, sometimes with the best of intentions, to mutate their emotional suffering into anger. More immediately, it captured, in profound concision, the earliest stirrings of a male identity at war with itself.

This is no small thing. As students discover in this course, an Honors College seminar called “Real Men Smile: The Changing Face of Masculinity,” what boys seem to need is the very thing they fear. Yet when they are immunized against this deeper emotional honesty, the results have far-reaching, often devastating consequences.

Despite the emergence of the metrosexual and an increase in stay-at-home dads, tough-guy stereotypes die hard. As men continue to fall behind women in college, while outpacing them four to one in the suicide rate, some colleges are waking up to the fact that men may need to be taught to think beyond their own stereotypes.

In many ways, the young men who take my seminar — typically, 20 percent of the class — mirror national trends. Based on their grades and writing assignments, it’s clear that they spend less time on homework than female students do; and while every bit as intelligent, they earn lower grades with studied indifference. When I asked one of my male students why he didn’t openly fret about grades the way so many women do, he said: “Nothing’s worse for a guy than looking like a Try Hard.”

Read more on the New York Times article.

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My wife read this article to me the other day, and I think it struck a chord with me. To be honest, I have problems sharing my emotions or allowing them to just be what they are naturally as any man I know. However, I’m hoping to change that with my son and with generations to come. If we just let things be as God created them to be, our emotions, our personalities, our everything, we’d be a lot stronger. All of us, not just men. And not just individually. As a community. As a people. Our love would be stronger, our faith would be stronger, our compassion would be stronger. Maybe that’s why I thought this would do well to reblog this on my Compassion Wednesday post.

Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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