Gender experts chime in on how to talk to boys about masculinity in a way that encourages them to be open, empathetic and vulnerable.
Gender experts and activists are formulating new ways to speak to boys about being a boy. Parents raising boys can now access the vocabulary they need to address masculinity and "boyness" rather than just focusing on how the patriarchy sets women and young girls back. It is also a means to discuss masculinity independent of just toxic masculinity, Elissa Strauss writes in CNN Health. This can help boys feel good about being a boy, learn how to be critical of what is traditionally considered masculine and envision themselves as part of a better future for all genders, sexualities and more.
Former professional football player Don McPherson, who is presently a writer, activist and educator, believes the root of the issue is the idea that there is nothing positive about masculinity. He said, "When you have a whole generation of boys who have only heard the term 'toxic masculinity,' and what they take away is that their identity is toxic and there is nothing positive about masculinity, then that is a problem." He also commented on how society tells young boys what they want from them, but not for them. He thus coined the term "aspirational masculinity," as a way for young boys to identify positive masculine traits.
According to McPherson, aspirational masculinity is "a positive and deliberate examination of male identity and the relationships and behaviors of and between men." He explained, "It is focused on fostering a broader understanding of being male that includes empathy, vulnerability, and emotional honesty around critical issues impacting relationships, sexual behavior, and personal growth." He hopes the term will play a small role in empowering men and boys to participate in a new, more gender-equal world. "We need to stop only asking boys and men to make space for others," he affirmed. "And instead ask men to make new spaces for themselves that aren't confined to the narrow definitions of masculinity."
Kate Mangino, the author of the upcoming book "Equal Partners: Improving Gender Equality at Home," follows a similar approach. She stated, "Tell your boys they are not bad simply because they are male. Tell them they can be a part of the movement toward gender equality, and it isn't just something for girls to talk about it." As per her recommendations, it is best to approach conversations with young boys through demonstrations of empathy or vulnerability instead of "a list of everything they do wrong."
She believes approaching boys with a list of the ways they can change themselves and the world for the better, on the other hand, might help them open up. Mangino also views gender from an intersectional lens. "For a long time, the gold standard of masculinity in our culture was White, Christian, and straight, and anyone who wasn't all of these things was automatically far behind," she shared. "We need to intentionally recognize that and say that it doesn't matter your skin color, hair color, country of origin, heritage, sexuality or religion; it shouldn't take away from you feeling comfortable in your masculinity."