Unlearning toxic masculinity can be difficult. Here are a few role models who can help.

We talk a lot about toxic masculinity.

It seems like people are starting to confound the meaning of the term.

"Oh, so you're saying that masculinity is TOXIC," they say. "That's SEXIST against MEN," they say.


To them I say: Stop being willfully obtuse.

If I said, "Whoa, that's a rabid prairie dog," would you intentionally misunderstand me and yell at me for being a dingbat who thinks that ALL prairie dogs are rabid?

I didn't say that, bro.

When I refer to "toxic masculinity," I'm not labeling all masculinity as toxic. Just like when I say, "Oh shit, there's a rabid prairie dog coming at you," I'm not saying that all prairie dogs are rabid.

But I am saying that some prairie dogs are clearly foaming at the mouth, meaning that something could be spreading through the colony — and sometimes you can't tell the sick ones just by looking at them.

Same thing with men.

So listen up:

No, not all forms of masculinity are toxic. But yes, some are.

Here's what can look like:

  • Repression of feelings like sadness, fear, insecurity, and the related behaviors like crying, hiding, or talking about feelings. Example: "Boys don't cry! Be a man!"
  • Over-expression of anger through behaviors that are violent, erratic, and intended to dominate. Example: "What'd you say? You can't talk to me like that! *punches*)"
  • Need to be strong, dominant, and alpha, and fear of expressing "weakening" feelings or behaviors like affection, vulnerability, tenderness, kindness, gentleness, grief. Example: "My wife just had a baby. Whatever, let's close the deal.
  • Sexual entitlement and violence. Example: "You know you want this."
  • Transference of responsibility for feelings, actions, and consequences to women. Example: "You just made me so mad."
  • Mocking or rejecting men who do not adhere to these "dominant," "alpha male" standards of behavior. Example: "Don't be a fag, Mike. Hey, everybody, look at Mike — he's all butthurt like a little girl."
  • Extreme fragility, because a man is told his sense of self is dependent on the idea that he is dominant rather than the idea that he is inherently valuable just for being who he is.
  • Passing on these behaviors and attitudes to their kids. Devastatingly.

But again, not all masculinity is toxic. So what does this nontoxic masculinity look like?

It's harder to figure out how to be something if you don't know what that something looks like. That's why, today, I want to talk about role models for the next generation of young male feminists.

They're strong. They're brave. They're kind. They cry.  

They are …

1. Terry Crews/Terry Jeffords

He's masculine ...

GIF from "Friday After Next."

... but nontoxic!

This man is a mountain of dancing muscle. He looks like someone's "Ultimate Tough Guy" drawing come to life. His character on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," Terry Jeffords, is ripped, shredded, and doesn't take shit. He's a boss.

GIF from "Conan."

He's not violent. Terry the character is fearful of violence and isn't afraid to express it. He shows love, affection, vulnerability. He's into his family and farmers markets.

And Terry the man has trusted us with the story of his own sexual assault.

Talk about strong. Talk about brave. Talk about vulnerable. Talk about empathetic. Talk about emotional availability.

2. The "Queer Eye" crew

They're masculine ...

GIF from "Queer Eye."

... but nontoxic!

These guys are physically fit, very strong, healthy, sexually expressive, and socially confident. They travel in a bro posse and Bobby Berk rebuilds entire suburban homes in, like, 20 minutes, nbd.

GIF from "Queer Eye."

They're also empathetic, physically affectionate, emotionally available and vulnerable, supportive, verbally kind, and tender in a way that risks something.

When they express their love or support for the men they're making over, they're risking being rejected, but they do it anyway. It's incredibly beautiful to see.

3. Lin-Manuel Miranda

He's masculine ...

GIF from "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."

... but nontoxic!

Rich, powerful, and successful, Lin-Manuel, creator of "Hamilton: An American Musical," is a rapper from NYC, a father of two, and a certified genius.

GIF from "The 2016 Tony Awards."

Dude, you can't find a clip or a tweet of this guy not feeling all the feelings. He cries more than I do. He's emotionally accessible, loving, inclusive, positive, gentle, creative.

He sings and dances. He tweets about his wife and kids with so much tenderness. His family is a source of joy and humor, but never his punchline.

4. Chris Evans/Captain America

He's masculine ...

GIF from "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

(Uhh ... no explanation necessary.)

... but nontoxic!

GIF from "The Hollywood Reporter."

Captain America is a principled, sensitive, deeply empathetic former dweeb whose years of experience on the bottom of other people's shoes has given him the ability to use respect and kindness as a means of human connection rather than social currency to purchase his own domination.

Chris Evans recently spoke to an interviewer about playing a total dick in a show on Broadway, and he did exactly what a nontoxic male ally should do: acknowledge that it's hard to learn and emphasize the importance of shutting the hell up when it's not your turn to talk.

And so many more!

Mr. Rogers. Barack Obama. The coach from "Friday Night Lights."

Guys, you don't have to look to pro athletes who beat up their wives and girlfriends, you don't have to admire homophobes, and you don't have to follow your grandpa's rules anymore.

It's 2018! Come with me into the future, where the expression "like a man" doesn't mean hard, violent, stony, carnivorous.

Join Terry, Lin-Manuel, and so many others, and be a man who is strong, brave, kind, good, sweet, gentle, sad, weepy, fearful.

Be human, is what I'm saying.

Your full humanity is available to you. Right now. Your identity as a man is inextricably linked to the full breadth of your human experience. You just have to be willing to let it out.

Your worth isn't dependent on being stronger than everyone else in the room. You're the person who decides its volume, its integrity. It's been there since you were born and it'll be there when you gather your grandson in your arms and say, "It's OK to cry. I cry, too."

Choose nontoxic masculinity.

It exists. Some pretty kickass guys are rocking it really hard — right in front of you.

This story originally appeared on The Good Men Project and is reprinted here with permission.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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