Pursing healthy masculinity in a post gender age

A meta-analysis studying gender differences by the American Psychological Association reveals that girls have been getting better grades than boys for decades. Girls not only do markedly better in language classes, but they outperform boys in math and science. Over the past two decades women have been graduating from law and medical school at astounding numbers, outperforming their male counterparts. This is a good thing. However, as a mother of two girls and two boys, I am concerned about boys and how they are faring in this post gender age. Masculinity is under attack as are the accomplishments of men. Boys of color are particularly vulnerable to academic underachievement and dropping out of school and society.  Boys and men account for an overwhelming majority of those who are justice-involved or in prison. This trajectory deserves some national dialogue. 

The national conversation should be about healthy masculinity. What is it?  Where does it come from? What does it look like to be a healthy male?  How do we nurture our boys? Just like girls (and all humans for that matter), men flourish when they know who they are, have hope and confidence in their future, possess skills to develop healthy relationships and life skills to make wise decisions, deal with conflict effectively, overcome challenges and have a sense of meaning and purpose. They are actualized and healthy when they are respected, affirmed, and supported, belong to a family, and a community. Like all of us, men are happy when we are contributing members of society with a meaningful job that is aligned with their gifts, talents, and passion. Some showcase their masculinity through athletics or extreme risk-taking. Generally, being a husband and a father has emboldened a man’s sense of masculinity through service to others, sacrifice, self-control, fidelity, legacy, purpose, and love. 

This generation of fathers, unlike those in my generation, are much more involved in the lives of their children. From the moment of birth there is a partnership of childcare, nurturance, diaper changing, feeding, and carpooling. It is heartwarming to watch my sons and son-in laws demonstrate this in the lives of their families. As I was raising my boys, I told them I was not just raising sons, but raising good husbands who would be supportive and take part in all aspects of family life including cooking, cleaning, protecting, honoring, loving, and parenting. 

A recent essay from the Institute for Family Studies outlined how to develop healthy masculinity when men are being maligned and disrespected. The author admonished men to be confident in manhood.  They advise men to pursue health and fitness, avoid drugs and excessive alcohol use, develop skills and competencies, especially around social and emotional intelligence, and to develop goals and strategies to accomplish those goals.  Be loving, helpful, kind and faithful to your wife, children and family members. Be mature and kind.  Of particular importance is to find other men for friendship and common interests, developing a “band of brothers” and investing in the community. Be proud of being a man that possesses healthy masculinity by not asserting power, being haughty and proud, but, rather, sacrificing, serving, and protecting the ones you love. Men Rock! joneen@myrelationshipcenter.org