Just as society presents an image of what a “woman” should be, society presents an image of what a man “should” be; this is what I like to call “the myth of the manly man.” And growing up, boys are taught a variety of “unwritten rules” about what it means to be a man.
For example, we are taught that only women, or weak men, cry. We are also taught that pink is a color only girls like; to be male and like pink means you are either weak and/or gay. We are expected to be interested in certain things like sports and outdoorsy things. I have overheard conversations that go like this: “Oh, you don’t like football? Are you gay?” And using myself as an example, I’m not big into outdoorsy things, but it is assumed that I not only take part in those things but am knowledgeable about them simply because I am a man.
The list of unwritten rules for what it means to be a man goes on and on. There are even unwritten rules that are used at the urinal in the men’s bathroom, rules seeded in an anti-gay mentality. Just a quick crash-course here: When entering the men’s bathroom, you don’t look around; you keep your eyes straight ahead. The next part is choosing a urinal. If you could see how this works, it’s almost comical and completely predictable. If there are eight different urinals in a line and one guy is on the far right, the next guy will almost always take the far left one. The third guy will split the difference between the two. If a fourth shows up, a lot of the time he will choose a stall. I would say that 95% of the time this is how it works.
How do I connect this to an anti-gay stance? I believe it shows that many men are afraid that some random guy in the bathroom is going to be sneaking peeks at what he is working with. What a silly thing to worry about. I will admit that I usually go with the above mentioned method of choosing urinals, not because I am anti-gay, but because it’s the social norm.
The urinal example is just one of many situations in which men are taught they are to act a certain way. Most do not even realize they were taught these things or what it means when they act in a certain manner. So much of what boys are taught is misogynistic and anti-gay, among other things, and it’s something that needs to change.
Having worked in the lumber and plywood industry, I have been exposed to these so-called men who relish the opportunity to use slurs when referring to LGBT people. These men who use those slurs hope to impress the other men around them. But we shouldn’t view this sort of thing as impressive. I have never been impressed by anyone, man or woman, using hate speech.
I am impressed, however, when I hear about someone standing up against those who are anti-gay. Just recently, Kobe Bryant tweeted to two people: “Just letting you know@PacSmoove @pookeo9 that using ‘your gay’ as a way to put someone down ain’t ok! #notcool delete that out ur vocab.”
Now I realize that some of you may be aware of Kobe getting in trouble for using a gay slur while sitting on the bench during an NBA game. While apologizing does not erase what he said, his actions since then have shown that he has learned how destructive such speech can be. Kobe saw that everything he says and does can have an effect, be it positive or negative, on those that see him on TV, especially males.
Men are often influenced by other men they admire. We see our favorite athletes being sponsored by Nike, and we want Nikes. We see them doing a commercial for a restaurant, and we want to eat there. We see them being strong and standing up for what is right, and we want to stand up for what is right. I’m glad to see that Kobe learned from his past mistake and is now being a positive influence instead of a negative one when it comes to LGBT-related issues.
I am raising my boys to be different than the typical idea of what it means to be a man. I want them to be accepting of all people no matter what they look like or how they live their lives. I want my sons to realize that being a man doesn’t mean being judgmental or putting those perceived as weak down. I want my sons to be comfortable being themselves. A man stands up for what is right; a man will not put people down for being a part of the LGBT community or because of their body shape, skin color, or other difference.
I am hoping to do what I can as a father to raise my sons in a way that will help them to become real men, not this myth of the manly man. I will teach my sons to be honest and to stand up for what is right, even if it isn’t convenient. As a father and straight ally, I plan to break a bit of the chain of anti-gay intolerance and hate that is forged when parents allow their children to be exposed to such ignorance, because in the end, it all lies with parents. Being misogynistic and anti-gay isn’t genetically inherited; it’s taught. And a child’s first and most important teacher is their parents.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ed Fitzgerald is a father to three children and husband to his high-school sweetheart. He is a straight ally and looks forward to the day that all couples, regardless of gender, can have their love recognized officially with a marriage. Ed recently relocated to Arizona from Oregon, where he lived his whole life. When not dealing with his arguing children or cleaning up after them, he enjoys listening to music and playing video games.