Positive Message for Our Boys

By Leslie Manookian

Today, despite the playing field being more level than it’s ever been, there seems to be more focus and energy about the alleged inequities between men and women. It is said that women make only 70% of what men make. It is said that males are privileged.

If you pay attention to the media today, you’d be hard pressed to not notice the narrative that men are privileged and women are second class. Terms such as “toxic masculinity”, “rape culture”, the “pay gap”, and “male privilege” are bandied about with regularity and an absolutist tone.

As a woman, a professional one at that, I want women to be treated fairly and appropriately compensated, to have equal opportunity, and to feel safe. I also want a strong man unashamed of his masculinity, who is comfortable enough in his own skin to stand up for his beliefs, who has dreams and aspirations, and possesses the confidence to pursue them.

As a mother, I want my child to have any and all opportunities available to all young people. As it happens, my child is a white teenage boy and I’m concerned about this dominant narrative in schools and college campuses across our nation.

How do I raise a happy, healthy, confident, heart-centered, kind, compassionate man, when he’s taught to believe he shares responsibility for slavery, rape, racism, and seemingly every problem that exists in our world today?

What kind of people will our young men grow up to be if they believe that they are inherently bad? Will they be the husbands, fathers, partners, coaches, mentors, friends, and more that we want them to be? Will they be on the defensive and therefore more likely to snap because of an unconscious belief they are bad? Will they be afraid to take charge when appropriate, work toward their goals, or stand up for their beliefs? If the narrative persists, I fear it’s exactly what will happen.

So, let’s be clear, while there is no doubt there are rapists, sexists, and bigots, do we really believe that is the norm today? When terms like “rape culture” are used to describe college campuses today, do those who use these terms recognize the implications? If “rape culture” truly existed, wouldn’t that mean that more than half of all men participated in, supported, defended, or otherwise considered rape acceptable?

If men were truly paid more, wouldn’t corporations pay smaller starting salaries to women than men? When I started on Wall Street in the 1990s, all the freshly minted MBAs were started at the same salary. That was almost 30 years ago. Are we to believe things have become less equal?

Sure, I want women to have equal opportunities to men – I also want the best for my son.
But shaming boys for being male isn’t going to help anyone. No one benefits by tearing down one group down to build up the other. Don’t we want all young people to have the same opportunities to pursue their dreams? If we want our boys to grow up to be happy well-adjusted men, surely it makes sense to reign in the negative talk about men and boys.