If there is a silver lining to the shitshow that has been 2016 (and believe me, it is a stretch to find any silver lining), it is the fact that a spotlight has been shined on the problems this country is facing. Like that weird light an aesthetician uses to find the blackheads when you get a facial, there is no hiding from the giant blemishes of sexism and misogyny in our culture. When convicted rapists like Brock Turner get little more than a slap on the wrist (literally) and our new president openly admits to groping women, it is damn near impossible to not see those ghastly throbbing pimples on the face of American culture.
In the past several months, I’ve heard people shout about what this means for our daughters. I’ve heard mothers weep for their girls. And I’ve heard fathers gasp that “as a father of daughters,” they are shocked. And while I’ve heard all the shouting and the weeping and the gasping, I’ve listened, nodded my head in agreement, and wondered, What does this mean for me and my husband as parents to boys?
As a woman, I am well aware of just how deeply sexism is ingrained in our society. I’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment. I’ve been catcalled and leered at more times than I can count. And while I have not been the victim of sexual assault myself, it would take more fingers than I have to count off all the women I know who have been sexually assaulted.
But as a mom to only boys, I can’t view their gender as inherently at fault, nor can I ignore the fact that they too suffer from this sexist world in which we live. They may not be the victims of misogyny, per se, but we are being naively ignorant if we think that sexist stereotypes don’t hurt our sons too. And we are intentionally obtuse if we are only allowed to be outraged if we are a parent of daughters. Sexism hurts all of us, and we all play a role in changing the misogynist narrative that is embedded in the fabric of our society.
As Steven I. Weiss wrote in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, “Fathers of daughters may well feel a personal sense of outrage — but it’s the fathers of sons who could, ultimately, do something to mitigate or end the misogyny that still taints our culture.” Weiss goes on to provide a bunch of statistics to support the something that we already know, namely that sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assaults are all too common.
Then he goes on to say something that we don’t hear all that often. “As a father of sons, it’s my responsibility to help fix these problems,” Weiss wrote. “Just as I speak with my children about other issues of civil rights and discrimination, I speak with them about the difficulties women have historically faced at the hands of men.”
When I read this sentence, I wanted to cry out, A-freaking-men! Finally! As comfortable as we’ve become at calling out sexism and misogyny, we aren’t all that good at taking responsibility or offering solutions. So much of the chatter I hear these days is of the fist pounding and foot stomping variety. “This is wrong! This has to change! Women don’t deserve to be treated like this!” All of these statements are correct, of course, and we are entitled to be outraged. Believe me, I’m outraged as hell. But if all we are is outraged, nothing will ever change. Real change isn’t made through shouting alone, but through small and consistent progressive action.
It is one thing to tell boys how to behave; it is something else entirely to show them how to be a good and decent man. Anyone can shout about injustices and preach ideals, but men need to live these ideals openly and consistently.
For instance, my husband doesn’t just tell my sons to respect women in some kind of generic way, he shows them how to treat all people — women and men — with respect. He shows them by complimenting me on my professional successes in front our sons. He builds me up and talks about women kicking ass. He shows our sons that no means no, always, by stopping tickling fights and wrestling as soon as the word is uttered. He cries in front of them and empathizes when they cry too. He reminds our sons time and time again that it isn’t enough for them to not be sexist, but that they need to take an active role in stopping the perpetuation of misogyny. They need to call out sexism when they see it, even if that means an uncomfortable conversation with a friend.
And while my husband is pretty awesome (if I do say so myself), he is certainly not the only dad out there raising boys to be good and decent men. There are awesome dads all over the country doing their part to raise feminist sons and put an end to this cycle of misogyny, and we don’t talk enough about that. We don’t acknowledge the role that men play in influencing the behavior of other men, including their sons. We don’t talk enough about all the men who aren’t just telling their sons how to behave, but actually showing them how to be good and decent men who regard women as equals in all respects.
So here’s to all the good and decent men out there, and all the dads out there doing their part to raise strong women and sensitive men, despite the decades of societal messaging telling us that those things are contradictory. Here’s to the dads teaching their sons that no always means no, and that even silence means no. Here’s to the men who change diapers without expecting some kind of medal for it. Here’s to the men who don aprons to bake and thank their wife for fixing the toilet. Here’s to the men who openly cry and let their sons do the same. Here’s to the dads who don’t tell their sons to “man up.” Here’s to the men who proudly claim the role of feminist, and show their sons how to claim that role too — not simply by calling themselves a feminist, but by actually living out the principles that feminism stands for.
Good and decent men, we know you’re out there. We appreciate you. And we’re counting on you to help us build the next generation so that it can be filled with even more good and decent men. And eventually, we can pop this ugly, painful pustule of misogyny that is hurting us all.