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.

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.

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


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Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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