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3 helpful ways to teach boys to become men without the 'man up' nonsense.

Raising boys to be feminists doesn't just help girls and women. It helps boys, too.

3 helpful ways to teach boys to become men without the 'man up' nonsense.

Joanna Schroder is a proud feminist. She wants to raise her two sons to be proud feminists as well.

Joanna enjoys spending quality time with her boys, but she also values teaching them important lessons on masculinity. Photo from Joanna Schroeder, used with permission.


Schroeder is passionate about feminism due to her upbringing. In addition to her degree in women's studies from UCLA, she's part of a three-generation legacy of strong women, dating back to her grandmother who fought against sexist hiring standards in the 1930s.

But once her two sons came into the picture, things changed a bit.

"When I became a mom, my focus as a feminist shifted to what is happening with boys in society today," she told me. "That's why I believe in a feminist parenting style as I raise my sons."

Feminist parenting. Yep, it's a thing.

She's quick to point out that raising boys to be feminists is way more than just helping them become allies for women. Smashing gender norms helps our sons out, too.

Here are three reasons why Joanna believes raising our boys to be feminists is good idea.

1. It builds the foundation that boys are never justified in hurting or bullying girls.

Bullying is never OK. Photo from iStock.

There are a lot of seemingly innocent things we say about our boys:

"Boys will be boys."

"Don't worry. He's just mean to you because he likes you."

Joanna isn't buying any of it.

"Being a feminist parent doesn't allow for boys' bad behavior to be excused due to gender," she said. "Feminist parents believe that boys and girls are equally able to make choices that put empathy and kindness first."

Not to mention, studies have shown that gender-based language such as "boys will be boys" can lead our kids to subscribe to harmful stereotypes about what men and women can (or can't) do.

2. Crying? Yep, it's OK for boys to be emotional.

Yes, boys can cry, too. Photo from iStock.

Back in the day, if a boy was caught crying, he might catch a lecture from a well-meaning adult or be targeted by other kids who thought he was being a "sissy."

Things have improved in that regard lately. Or have they?

"From the time they're small, we tell boys to 'man up' and we try to stop them from crying," Joanna said. "Language like that keeps boys quiet when they're hurt, and it tells them that they're not allowed to seek support when times are tough."

The whole "be a man" narrative really only allows men to experience three emotions: happiness, lust, and anger. Here's the thing — no matter what our gender is, sadness exists in all of us, too.

GIF from "Inside Out."

A recent study found that only 19% of men felt comfortable talking about their problems with others. It doesn't take a big leap to figure out that most of the men who keep their feelings bottled up learned to do so at an early age.

Unfortunately, bottling up emotions comes at a steep price. Males account for over 75% of all suicides, and they're more than four times as likely to commit suicide than females.

That is a big problem. A problem that Joanna hopes parents of young boys will address by allowing boys to be their true selves.

"Raising feminist sons, allowed to express the full range of their feelings and find support when they're feeling sad or scared, can help our boys live longer, happier lives," Joanna said.

3. It prepares boys to be loving, supportive dads in the future.

If a boy chooses to have children when he becomes a man, it will be the most important job he will ever have. But in order for boys to truly realize their potential as fathers, Joanna believes it all starts with how we raise them now.

"When we allow boys to see themselves as kind, empathetic, loving people, they are able to see themselves as engaged dads," Joanna said. "Dads who will help break the cycle of toxic masculinity."

How can we do that? Heather Mainville, a single mom of an 8-year-old son named Joey believes having boys playing with dolls helps.

Joey is one of many boys who enjoy playing with dolls. Photo provided by Heather Mainville, used with permission.

"Joey loves dolls and has the confidence to speak up when he hears that boys shouldn't play with them," Heather told me. "He's also a loving and protective playmate with younger children due to learning empathy at a young age."

I like Joey's chances to be an excellent dad in the future.

Joanna believes that boys can also let go of the notion that their roles as men and fathers are to be financial providers. Instead they can be providers of a different kind.

The kind who reads books to his kids. The kind who attends his kids' doctor appointments. The kind who prepares healthy meals for his kids. The kind who styles his daughter's hair. The kind who isn't afraid to be affectionate around his kids.

Modern dads are learning to provide for their kids with more than just their paychecks. Photo taken from the Daddy Doin' Work Instagram feed, used with permission.

In other words, boys can learn to grow up to be the type of dad everyone expects them to be.

"That allows for their partners to enter the workforce to their full capacity, knowing that their men are empowered as a different type of provider, too," Joanna said.

No matter what you think of feminist parenting, we all have one thing in common.

There are people who think that teaching our boys to be feminists is a bad idea. But what isn't up for debate is we need to do whatever we can to help our boys to become the best men they can be.

Joanna agrees. She just has strong opinions on how to go about it.

"Feminist parenting directly combats toxic masculinity, which ultimately offers all of our kids a better future," she said.

For more insight into what "toxic masculinity" looks like, and why it's important to fight it, check out the recent documentary "The Mask You Live In," which explores how boys deal with navigating between being true to themselves and satisfying society's definitions of masculinity.

Needless to say, it can be a tough road for our young men. It's up to us to help them.

For John Shults and Joy Morrow-Nulton, the COVID-19 pandemic brought more than just health threats and lockdown woes. For the two 95-year-olds, it also held something remarkable—another chance at romance.

Both Shults and Morrow-Nulton had been married twice and widowed twice, but they were determined to find love again. They met in May of 2019, brought together by Morrow-Nulton's 69-year-old son, John Morrow.

"She was cute, I'll tell you that," Shultz told the New York Times of their first meeting. "And she was smart and she had a delightful sense of humor. And she smiled at me."

Shultz asked her to lunch a few more times before it became crystal clear to Morrow-Nulton that he was on a mission to date her.

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For John Shults and Joy Morrow-Nulton, the COVID-19 pandemic brought more than just health threats and lockdown woes. For the two 95-year-olds, it also held something remarkable—another chance at romance.

Both Shults and Morrow-Nulton had been married twice and widowed twice, but they were determined to find love again. They met in May of 2019, brought together by Morrow-Nulton's 69-year-old son, John Morrow.

"She was cute, I'll tell you that," Shultz told the New York Times of their first meeting. "And she was smart and she had a delightful sense of humor. And she smiled at me."

Shultz asked her to lunch a few more times before it became crystal clear to Morrow-Nulton that he was on a mission to date her.

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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."