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Author and Guardian columnist Stuart Heritage sets the ground rules for toxic masculinity and advocates for women for their children in the post-metoo era.
This was originally published in 2019.
Words by Stuart Heritage
Hello! If you’re anything like me, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night worrying about climate change, plastic pollution, and why the world is a horrible place. I just wrote a book called Bedtime stories for concerned liberals, a collection of short funny stories about this. One of the stories is called The Man Who Couldn’t Even Hug Anyone Any More, about a middle-aged white man (well, I’m 39 now) struggling to fit into a post-#MeToo world. As I was writing, I realized that traditional masculinity is responsible for a large part of the world’s ills. So here’s a letter to my two young sons about how I wanted to grow up …
Sorry. This is all my fault. If you were born at any other time in human history, you would be in control of the place. As a couple of boys, and also relatively white boys, the whole world has always been focused on your needs from the ground up.
In fact, it was madness that made people like us run away. We had all the money and all the power. If we wanted women to grow up, we could. If we wanted to go out to work and let our wives stay home and raise their children, we could. Get this: if we wanted to own a new country, we would find one and tell everyone it was ours. We did it all the time! And people really let us know! Isn’t that nuts? This is the world in which he was born.
But no. I met your mother late, and you were born late, and now that’s all gone. We live in the #MeToo world right now, and I’m afraid to say they are with us. You are the first generation of men in history who will not be able to do what they want without fear of reprisals. I know. It’s my fault. Sorry.
This basically leaves you with two options. The first is to cheat against your situation, saying that equality is a sign of crazy political justice and that white men today are a real minority. However, I would not recommend that, as it will make you look like a straight tit. Your other chance, however, is to figure out how to be a good, strong, and respected man in the world. Luckily, your mom and I have already shown you how to do this. But here’s a reminder just in case:
- Don’t be afraid to talk
Being a man can sometimes make you feel bad. Our models have always been strong and silent. They teach us to push our feelings to the pit of our stomach. They call us “human beings.” And this is devastating. If we don’t talk about it, all our sadness and frustration in the world has nowhere to go, and it ends up coming out in horrible ways. Sometimes other people hurt us. Sometimes it hurts us. You’ve seen me swear at strangers in the car before, so you’ll probably see that I still have a bit of work to do in this area. But I want you to know that you can talk to me about your feelings. I will always be by your side.
- Hold on to yourself
You two are so cute, weird, tender little boys. I’m proud of how thoughtful and sensitive you are, and I never want you to stop being yourself. But the day will come when men will persecute you, so that you may have more of them. Maybe they’ll take a look at your anger at archery whales. Maybe they’ll take the books out of your hands and tease you because you don’t like the sport. This happened to me, and they put an end to their demands; my whole school life was basically spent pretending I understood football. I wish you could do better than me. You don’t have to bow to the rigid demands of masculinity. You can enjoy everything you want. You can wear whatever you want to wear. You can love whatever you want. Stay tuned. Be better than me. And, if you can’t be better than me, do what I do and use Facebook to see how badly all your old classmates have screwed up their lives. It’s a lot of fun, I promise.
- Try to give an example
This is great. If I believe anything, it is this. Instagram is full of people who think that the best way to teach a three-year-old to be decent is to take pictures with a book about feminism written for 15-year-olds. It’s annoying. This is not how children learn. They learn by watching and imitating their role models. When you both grow up to be decent men, I hope, in part, because you saw that I was trying to be a good man. There is research showing that children with engaged fathers have better cognitive development and more satisfying relationships. When you see him preparing dinner every night, for example, you are unconsciously learning not to believe in traditional gender roles. You will grow smarter and more self-sufficient, and you will be less likely to carry the burden of emotional work to your partner. And your children, if you have them, will see you do what they do and grow up to be even better than you. That’s how change works. I think what I’m trying to say – and I want to read it slowly, so it’s really introverted – is that I’m pretty amazing.
- Be brave
As I write this, you both really like superheroes. You call them “brave heroes,” and that’s really adorable. But try to remember that superheroes are not brave. Batman is not brave; he’s a bored millionaire with nothing to live on. The Hulk is not brave; it’s just powerful and stupid. Superman is not brave; he is literally the invincible god of another planet. To be really brave is to feel sad or scared, but still find the strength to move forward. You two are already very brave: you were brave on the first day of kindergarten, and on your first day of school, and when you shouted at the older boys who were pushing you in a soft game, and when you saw that dead crab. beach time. If you keep that spirit of courage alive in you for the rest of your life, then, my God, you will be great men.
- Don’t send pictures of your penis to strangers
I mean, you’d think this is just plain common sense. But it must be repeated. Under no circumstances send a picture of your penis to an unknown person on the Internet. It’s weird and gross. Last warning.
I love you both so much
PS. I swear to God, though, that if you still wake up at four-thirty every morning when you read this, I cut you off from my will.
Sturen’s book Bedtime stories for concerned liberalsnow out, £ 7.19 (hardcover) on Amazon – £ 9.99 normal, Posted by Profile