Watching Trudeau weep for Gord Downie, cynically, I imagined how the comments sections would be quick to make meat of his tears. Tears, that at this point, we are used to seeing. “Bleeding heart,” “sentimental,” “overly-dramatic,” “this again,” etcetera will be featured you can be sure. But in watching Trudeau weep, something clicked in me about “me too:” that, as many are saying, the focus on the victim is misplaced; that it should instead be on the perpetrators of these acts. Men. But before. When they were boys.
A very direct, real way to lessen systematic harassment and assault is to systematically let little boys have feelings. It’s as simply done as “let’s stop polluting.” Virtually impossible. Because if you are a male over, say, 2, you have been indoctrinated into some version of male training. It is hard-wired into you from the moment you are encouraged to choose guns over dolls or blue over pink. But it doesn’t have to be a radical idea. It could be very simple.
Let boys cry. For the love of all that is good in the world, for the love of your girls and for the love of your boys, let boys cry. Encourage them to cry if they feel sad. Talk to them about it. Hold them while they cry. Or don’t. Let them sit there and cry. But normalize crying. Also, let them be angry. Also, let them not know how they feel. Encourage them to attempt to express themselves even though it’s hard. Help them understand that feelings are okay, and should be let out, not bottled. Don’t use terms like “man up” or “faggy” in any context, anywhere, ever. Don’t make them wear certain colours or clothes. Don’t make them play sports. Make it okay to be “weak.” Make it okay that “weak” exists. Dance. Make it okay to dance with your whole body. Make it okay for straight men to kiss (on the lips Iike Gord!). Help them understand that men can act or be anything they want and it doesn’t make them less of a man, whatever the hell that means, nor does being that way or acting that way, any way, serve as an indicator of sexuality. Make it okay that sexuality and gender are a huge spectrum of amazing strange colours, all of which he possesses. Encourage them to open to sexuality in general, but most of all, theirs. Allow their hearts to live large. Let their feelings have lives.
The noun that’s often used is “empathy,” the idea that you stop assault by promoting empathy in boys. But I don’t think that’s the whole truth. It’s not about boys being empathetic to others, it’s about boys being empathetic towards themselves. If they are okay with themselves being a multi-faceted emotional sexual being, they will not be threatened when others are that way. It is this fear of female emotional superiority that forces repressed emotions out of males in the form of anger and the need to control. Feelings are power. And women, generally, are more comfortable with their feelings than men, and so possess a great power that men do not. That’s scary. Unless it’s not. Young men need to learn to respect a wide emotional field.
Society to society, culture to culture, everywhere, assault and rape, all forms of misogyny and discrimination come as the result of fear, of course. Men’s fear. The focus, for instance, should not be on if women should be forced/allowed to cover their faces or not, it should be on educating boys to understand women as equals... and then watch as men respect a woman’s right to choose what they wear where and when. Watch as the fear of women dies.
The fact is, girls are emotionally superior to boys, but only because we’ve bred them to be so. Boys are soft too, and can just as easily be bred to be just as in touch with how they feel. It threatens nothing. Masculinity will still exist, and better and bigger than before. Now with added tears. Tears bring release, and boys need release from their idea of ‘what a man is.’
They need a new one. Provide it for them by crying in front of them. But do more than that. Be emotionally complex in front of them. Doubt. Be scared. Talk about these fears. Show affection to others in front of them. Show, yes, empathy in front of them, not just to women but to those less fortunate, to the rest of humanity, to the earth. Most of all, hug them, kiss them, hold them. Create a soft place for boys and they will take that into the world with them as men.
Make boys comfortable with their emotions and they will meet girls on the level. They won’t need to dominate them. They will talk with them. They will talk with each other. They will commune. Imagine the sex! While there is great sense and healing in men coming forward to admit misdeeds and pledge a new way, a deeper approach might lie in getting to those men before the behaviour is learned, when they are searching for a “kind of man” to later inhabit.
The evolution of masculinity needs a jumpstart. It’s happening, we see it in younger and younger generations, but it needs to become an active movement. That movement, I think, lies in the hands of parents of boys. Only parents of boys can help stop assault.
There’s lots of reasons not to like Trudeau and I won’t defend his politics. But don’t lessen him because he cries. Don’t groan because he cried again. Because when you do that, you promote an archaic image of what a man should be. Your mockery is the mockery of men revealing their feelings and other men will see that and choose instead to keep their feelings hidden, because you just reminded them that vulnerability is dangerous. You just perpetuated the system of harassment. Even if you’re sure Trudeau’s putting it on for the cameras, so what, let’s let him. He’s showing an image to the world that it’s okay for boys to cry. It is. They do. All of them. And it’d be better for the world if they cried more.