When I held the “HeForShe” sign in the Swedish UN Women headquarters in Stockholm, I realized how light it was. The thin sign with the logo I’d seen countless times on social media weighed almost nothing, but I could nevertheless feel the weight of every single character. Just like when contemplating the “we warn our daughters” quote, these words drag me back to my youth.
You know: red, scratched lockers, profanity scribbled on colorless walls, fights during the breaks, loud noises bouncing off walls. A regular teenager in a regular school.
I was one of the boys trying to become one of the guys.
Sick of having been bullied around, I wanted to make changes. Become more “masculine” and the harassment will end, I thought. But, of course, it didn’t. It rarely does. Instead, things escalated.
I became louder and began taking up more space than I was comfortable with. I stopped declining the challenges to wrestle during breaks. I started laughing awkwardly at so-called jokes I’d never laughed at before. I changed parts of myself to be able to play the part just well enough to fit in. Or, at least, to not be excluded.
It took years to accept that when I became louder, I stopped listening to myself. When I took up space, I placed myself in a corner. I acted in ways that hurt not only myself, but people around me —people I cared about that I really wanted to hug heartfully and have in-depth, introspecting conversations with.
Instead, I quietly watched some of those guys grow into the men we warn our daughters about.
I stood on the sidelines and witnessed how our teachers, parents, favorite TV-show and movie actors, video game protagonists, idolized men, and other adult males allowed them to become these men. I’ve heard the good ol’ “boys will be boys,” “real men don’t cry,” and pretty much every other obsolete excuse for toxic masculinity we’ve created from generations back.
The “HeForShe” sign and the warning quote are more than words to me.
They weigh more than that because they’re a choice every boy gets. Spoken or written, they’re an active pledge to change the narrative:o end sexism, to save ourselves from being overrepresented in suicide statistics, to stop violence against girls and women, to act when homophobic attitudes are put in place in the name of manliness,and to take a stand against destructive masculinity norms.
The words are a necessary defiance to structures with roots spread across our communities and borders. Our commitment to this cause, especially as boys and men, must be unconditional.
We can’t let our sons become the men we warn our daughters about.
That’s on us, guys.
Introspect. What part do you play in the macho culture or masculinity that’s embedded in society? What norms do you live up to and why? Are you passively or actively engaging in macho culture? It’s time to actively resist.
Educate yourself. Ask questions to girls, women, people with trans experience, and others within the LGBTQI+ community. Really listen and pay respect to their experiences. Read books, check out statistics on violence, mental illness, and sexism, and maybe take an online class or two on hegemonic masculinity.
Act. Implement what you’ve learned about yourself and how macho culture or toxic masculinity affects people in our society. Start resisting. Question your mates, and start conversations with guy friends, male teachers, or your dad about these issues. Promise yourself that you will never again be passive, and always take responsibility for making you and the space around you inclusive and equal. We need you, man!