Toxic masculinity

As I sit here, I feel incredibly overwhelmed. I am 19 weeks pregnant and now know that the baby has male body parts. This feels foreign to me and incredibly pressure filled. This little person has a good chance of growing up to hold the most privilege in our country. Although, we don’t know their* gender yet, we do know that they will be gendered a boy for the earliest part of their life, a crucial time which introduces social dynamics, internalized messages, and the underlying script for their lives.

Raising a daughter has felt easier, familiar. She currently identifies as a cisgender girl and much of my teaching has been about her whiteness and her femaleness. I teach her that no one should have access to her body, that it’s hers to protect, and that no matter what a man says to her, she is powerful, strong, and brilliant.

I am now tasked with teaching a little person that their body is still their own, but also that other bodies are not theirs to own. If I consider statistics and the structural makeup of our society, this little person will be taught that they are the norm. That they hold the most power, have deserved and earned privilege, and that their masculinity is key to their being. I do not disagree with the piece around masculinity. Assuming this little person identifies as a cisgender man and has a masculine gender expression, they will be on top of our world. But now, I have to combat how toxic masculinity has seeped into and persists in the maleness of this country. I have to weigh teaching them that emotions are powerful, while fighting the other kids perceptions in their school. I have to consider how to teach open communication, honesty, and humility, when young boys are taught to be tough, to battle, and even to fight.

I am not tasked with worrying about their life every time they go out to play – that if they play with a toy gun they will be killed by police on the playground, that if they bend a knee they are not a patriot, that if they touch a classmate the police will be called. Right now, this county is theirs.

Instead, I need to teach them that in all of these situations they will have it better than others. They will be given the benefit of the doubt, their life will be preserved, their work will be uplifted and honored. Most importantly I need to teach them to not be the producer of harm – to not be the police officer that kills black people, to be the one that takes a knee and brings other white people with them, to be the person that steps in when a classmate of color is being treated unfairly.

This past summer, I got to see a friend of mine and her two children. The youngest is gendered a boy and he already acts with the confidence of a white man. When I went up to greet him, I reached out to touch his back. He quickly put up his hand and knocked me away before I could reach him. A while later I tried again with the same outcome. One might think, this is just him finding confidence in consent and protecting his body. When I compare it to his sister or my daughter, I picture the stranger reaching for them as they turn their heads into our shoulders acting shyly. It’s up to me to step in and refuse the touch for them. But it wasn’t just his assertiveness, it was how he looked straight into my eyes, this 1 1/2 year old little body, with such confidence, sureness that he had every right to refuse me.

Don’t get me wrong, I want all kids to find this type of bodily autonomy. But, I can’t help but to notice that I witnessed the power of masculinity that is already seeped into his body, and his power in the outside world.

This society is powerful, creating a script that is developed for our kids before they can even understand their own body, their being, their existence. And sometimes before they are even born.

So yes, I feel incredibly overwhelmed, even anxious. I am not only grappling with how I will do this, but also with my own feelings about masculinity. I harness distrust, anger towards many men. I am working on finding grounding in understanding the power of defining masculinity in my house. And finding strength in fighting the power of masculinity that even today overpowers me, oppresses me, and dismisses me. There is so much to unpack here, and they are only 19 weeks grown.

*In this piece, I refer to my fetus as “they” with intention. I know their body parts, but they are not born yet or able to name their gender or hold gender expression. In an effort to combat the power of gendering children, we choose to use the pronouns they for them at this time.

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