This is so important. In my work, I deal a lot with some of the fallout of a culture that demands these roles of men and boys. The victims of a society where men’s roles and women’s roles are so “boxed in” are not limited to the women and children impacted (literally and sometimes fatally) by domestic violence or sexual assault… the victims are also the men: both the ones who are perpetrators and the ones struggling to just live and become complete people. All of us deserve to be able to express the full spectrum of what it is to be human. Men shoved behind the “Be a Man” mask and women shoved behind the “Act Like a Lady” mask both become less than they could be and should be for their own health and society’s health.
Recently, I have begun doing advocacy work for sexual assault survivors who are incarcerated. So far, all but one of the people I have seen have been men, African-American, from poor backgrounds and limited education. We have failed these men in so many ways–economically, in terms of race equality, in terms of the education system. All of those men have been struggling with a society that tells them that to be men, they must be aggressive, angry, strong and to defend their right to respect with physical violence. The toll on them is huge, as well as the toll to society. And all of them have a spark of beauty in them, in spite of what they have done, in spite of what they have been through. We owe it to our boys and our girls to create a world where these limiting ideas loosen their death-grip. I can see it in the eyes of the people I visit in jail. I can see it in the eyes of the women in our shelter.
I am not absolving people who are in jail of any personal responsibility. But the more I see (and I am new to this) the more I am reminded that who we ARE is so strongly influenced by where we are from, what messages we receive as children, and what support we do or do not have.