Yale students opened the News yesterday morning to read that a male student is going to trial for allegedly raping a female student after the Halloween Show in 2015. Later that afternoon, new allegations of sexual misconduct were brought against a male U.S. Senator, while countless others continue to unfold.
These predators may be male, but they have no right calling themselves men. Their actions have degraded them to the level of beasts, and deserve as much of our derision as we can muster.
Men today are behaving despicably. But the culprit is not masculinity, but rather a perverted form of it.
Men from all political persuasions agree that this conduct cannot continue, but few men have actually addressed how we might change. It’s time for men to do their fair share and pick up where countless brave women have left off.
As men we need to change not just our behavior, but also our understanding of what masculinity looks like. Men don’t just wake up one morning and become misogynists. We know that men build their masculine identities by imitating other men, and if their role models act like Al Franken or Louis C. K., chances are the next generation of men will look just like the current one.
Manliness does not consist of muscles, bravado or the lonely struggle of the soul. It can’t be found on the dance floor of Toad’s or at a Goldman Sachs interview or on Tinder. It consists of taking responsibility for one’s actions and facing their consequences.
There may not be anything distinctively manly about the ideals of responsibility and emotional openness. Still, the dominant social ethic seems to posit that men will behave just fine in the absence of distinctive, prescriptive gender identities. For some men, a unisex model of behavior may be all they need to behave well. But for many men, the model of masculinity still has an appeal, and for these people we need to offer a new kind of masculinity that uses positive stories of male behavior.
Men need more than criticism: They need guidance. Let us supplement tirades against toxic masculinity with examples of positive masculinity, examples of men behaving well. The solution begins, yes, with women telling men they’ve stepped out of line, as countless women have had the courage to do in the last few weeks. But it also begins with men keeping each other in line. It begins with men talking about the things we often keep bottled up inside rather than channeling them into destructive tendencies.
If this generation has any hope of breaking the cycle of male vulgarities and abuses of power, it is through praising the positive male role models in our own lives: men who take responsibility for their actions, men who champion women, men who balance strength with emotional vulnerability and men who take fatherhood seriously.
Some of my earliest memories are of my father. For the first few years of my life, he stayed at home while my mom worked. Together we read books, we napped on the couch, we drew pictures and listened to music and played with blocks on the floor.
When I got older, my parents divorced and my dad was left unemployed. He’d been out of the workforce for three years raising me. When most kids I knew talked about how their dads worked in an office, I never said anything, thinking instead about the holes in my dad’s socks or the nights he couldn’t afford groceries.
I’ve watched my father struggle to live up to the expectations of masculinity. But in defying these societal norms, he’s come to redefine for me what being a good father looks like. He’s shown me that it’s okay to cry. He’s taught me that when you screw up, you take responsibility for it. With all his flaws, he’s shown me that being a male role model isn’t about being a perfect man all the time; it’s about being realistic.
My grandfather, too, remains a role model of another sort; he has shown me that wisdom is something you work towards, not something that comes with age. Though we are many decades apart, my grandfather and I talk like old friends, and through many difficult times in my life he has been a trusted confidant and valuable counsel.
Being a man is also about being sexually responsible and respectful. Above all it’s about communicating these positive values to other men through actions, not just words.
I am far from being a model man myself, but each day brings new chances for improvement.
My father and grandfather are just two men who have shown me how to be a better one. It’s time we find some more.
Finnegan Schick is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .