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healthy masculinity

Photo by Hafit on Unsplash

Guy teaches little brother 'duties as a man' in sweet video.

Families often have different ages that they teach children about a big life topics. Some conversations are bigger than others, but generally speaking they're had with the best of intentions. Anish Bhagatt felt like the time was finally right to teach his younger brother, Dhruva, his "duties as a man." The little boy had just turned 12, so certain talks needed to be had and Bhagatt felt he was best suited for the job.

The older brother picked Dhruva up from school to take him on his journey to manhood. From the look on the little boy's face, he knew he was in for a treat hanging out with his older brother. This may not have been the chat he was expecting, but the boy soaked up the knowledge eagerly.

Bhagatt started the video by saying, "So Dhruva, you're a big man now," before the little boy happily interjects stating, "Yes, I'm 12!"


Immediately the conversation shifted into a direction that surprised commenters. Instead of launching into a talk about the birds and the bees, Bhagatt asked if his younger brother knows about periods, which did not come with any of the stereotypical middle school boy disgust. Dhruva was engaged as his brother explained what periods were and why women have menstrual cycles. He even showed the preteen how to purchase sanitary products. People were impressed.

"This is healing generations of silence and toxicity. Well done, gentlemen," one woman says.

"The fact that it was his BROTHER that took him to go buy sanitary pads. Not his mom, not a sister. His brother. This is what good male role models are like," another writes.

"Ok guys, this is what people mean when they say healthy masculinity! Big bro is a Saint, and little bro is so sweet and compassionate! I am amazed and thrilled that people like this exist," someone else gushes.

"I am literally CRYING right now! Oh my gracious… these young folks will save us," a commenter cries.

The video is beyond wholesome and may serve as an example of what it looks like to educate young boys on what half the population goes through. In the end the boy declares, "I promise that I will make all the girls around me feel safe," and if he keeps having these kinds of chats, there's no doubt that he will do just that.

"If you want to be 'man enough,' you don't cry. You can't show pain. You can't show upset."

These are the messages teen boys are getting from our society, as revealed in an interview with NBC's Stephanie Ruhle. She sat down with five teens aged 13 to 17 to talk about what it means to grow up as boys and men in the U.S.

The interview, aired on March 25, was partially inspired by a New York Times op-ed by actor Michael Ian Black published in February. In "The Boys Are Not All Right," Black describes our society’s culture of masculinity and how it’s affecting boys:


"Too many boys are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don't even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine."

Black explained in the Sunday segment that boys are the ones pulling the trigger in almost all mass shootings. In fact, 94% of mass shootings have been carried out by men (about 50% of whom have histories of domestic violence).

"Most boys are going to grow up and never ever commit acts of violence like this," Black pointed out. "But I feel confident in saying most boys would also rather starve to death in their homes than ask their male friend for help shoveling their driveway. This rigid model of masculinity — it's killing us."

Michael Ian Black speaking in North Hollywood in May 2017. Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images.

Our society tells boys that they need to "man up" — but no one really knows what that means.

The teens interviewed seem to confirm Black's analysis. When Ruhle asked them which of them has been told to "man up," all five boys immediately raised their hands.

When asked what it means, one teen responded, "No clue." Another said, "Show no emotion."

Ruhle asked what they felt was the hardest part about growing up as boys. 17-year-old Jordany Robleto-Baltazar responded, "Hiding the pain."

Ty Duggins, 13, replied, "Not being able to express yourself."

"It kind of makes you feel trapped, almost," added Tyler Gamett, 15, "because it’s like you have nowhere to go."

Boys don't know how to seek comfort from each other — or how to offer it without embarrassment.

Dr. Niobe Way, professor of developmental psychology at NYU, also offered some thoughts in the segment, noting that all kinds of emotional challenges hit boys right about the time they're being told to "man up."

"Not needing other people — that is at the root of masculinity," Way told NBC. "And if you look at all the school shooters, including the one at Parkland, every single one of them has said in some way that they feel desperate for connection."

Dylann Lippiatt-Cook, 16, spoke about feeling like he shouldn't cry, even though he knows it's a normal way to express human emotion. "It's normal, but it's not normal," he said. "It is human, but it is not 'man.'"

Mourners embrace at a vigil for Parkland shooting victims. Photo by Rhona Wise/Getty Images.

Robleto-Baltazar described an incident where a friend he was with started crying. He didn't know what to do. He'd never been confronted with having to comfort a guy friend in that way.

The friend finally said, "I think I just need a hug," so Robleto-Baltazar hugged him. Then afterward, they looked at each other and said, "We are never going to say anything to anyone."

Still, there might just be hope for our boys — especially if they ask for help.

At this point in the video, I just wished I could hug these teenagers!

Despite the historical gender inequality women have had to put up with, at least we're allowed to have and express our feelings. I'm raising a son and doing my best to counteract the societal forces that create an unhealthy sense of masculinity — but it's not easy.

These boys struck me as being pretty aware of their own conditioning, and, obviously, they were able to express how it's affected them. But they still struggle with the stigma of showing emotion.

At the end of the interview, Ruhle asked the boys, "How can we make things easier for you?"

"I think it starts with kids," said Jake Hillerman, 17. "Teach them about expressing yourself without viewing it as a wrong."

Gamett made it sound easy: "Get rid of the old stereotypes that we have in our society of a 'manly figure.'"

As difficult as it is to hear that boys in our society are struggling, these teens' self-awareness gives me hope. And I'm seeing more and more men talking about this stuff openly and without shame.

For example, in addition to Michael Ian Black's op-ed, actor Justin Baldoni recently brought together a group of other celebrity men to film a new show discussing what it means to be a man. They tackle vulnerability, body image, emotional expectations, and more.

"We Are Man Enough"serves as a wonderful example to young men who yearn for more emotionally open relationships with other men.

The boys may not be all right now, but as a mom of a boy who's trying to break through old ideas of manhood, this changing culture of masculinity makes me confident that they'll get there.

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Michael Ian Black makes some great points about how we raise boys.

There's nothing wrong with healthy masculinity, but there's a toxic variety as well.

"Boys are broken," wrote comedian Michael Ian Black on Feb. 14th.

Just hours earlier, a gunman shot and killed 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The tragedy led Black to get a bit introspective about his gender and speculate the role society's more toxic messages play in these much-too-frequent massacres.

"Until we fix men, we need to fix the gun problem," he wrote on Twitter. "The last 50 years redefined womanhood: Women were taught they can be anything. No commensurate movement for men who are still generally locked into the same rigid, outdated model of masculinity and it's killing us."


A week later, The New York Times published an op-ed by Black tackling the issue in more detail.

"Too many boys are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others," Black wrote. "They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine."

The point he was making was that we aren't doing enough as a society to encourage and support boys and men emotionally. He's right — and there's data to back him up.

On March 7, LGBTQ student organization GLSEN shared some interesting findings related to Black's argument. It's the same point that's been made a number of times before by writers like Bryan Epps, Lauren Sandler, and Jennifer Wright: Society's outdated vision of masculinity can be harmful.

The argument is not "anti-men" or "anti-boys," but a plea to provide the necessary support to sidestep toxic masculinity.

According to GLSEN, a study of the 31 mass school shootings between 1995 and 2015 found that "each shooter was male and all experienced challenges to their performance of masculinity, through homophobia and other forms of gender policing," to which they responded by trying to "prove their tormentors wrong."

Disturbingly, it looks as though teachers are actually getting less involved in trying to protect their students from bullying.

Creating an environment where bullies thrive unchecked is bad for all students. When that bullying centers on how boys express their masculinity, it simply results in more bullies and, occasionally, violence.

The way we talk to and about boys fosters unhealthy personal expectations, leaving many to feel isolated, alone, and afraid to seek help when they need it.

"Globally, boys are allowed far less space than girls to act outside the norms forced upon them," GLSEN tweeted.

Of course, as the group notes, "most boys experience some gender policing and don't commit acts of mass violence like in Parkland." It's not meant to be an excuse for atrocities, but maybe a bit of an explanation.

There's nothing wrong with being a man, but maybe we do need to rethink what it means to be one.

"Our society's typical notion of what it means to be a man might keep boys from reaching out or accepting help," GLSEN tweeted, continuing:

"It may also lead them to assert masculinity via weapons that are often exalted as symbols and tools of masculine strength and power. ... There is no one cause of mass school shootings. Nor should there be one response. Yet, for the wellbeing of young people of all genders, it's crucial for EVERYONE (in schools and elsewhere) to expand our ideas of what being a man can and should be."

"We know ourselves to be men, but don't know how to be our whole selves," Black tweeted.

The last two tweets from his thread tell the whole story — the fragility, the fear, the need for help. Having these tough, honest conversations, however, are a great place to start changing the world for the better, for children of all genders, not just boys.

"We’re terrified of being viewed as something other than men. We know ourselves to be men, but don’t know how to be our whole selves. A lot of us (me included) either shut off or experience deep shame or rage. Or all three. Again: Men are terrified," Black wrote. "Even talking about this topic invites ridicule because it’s so scary for most men (and women). Men are adrift and nobody is talking about it and nobody’s doing anything about it and it’s killing us."