There are many important conversations happening in America, and I’m not saying this one is more important than others, but it came up at my dinner table this week: what does it mean to be a man today?
Did you know, according to the Department of Justice, that males are convicted of the vast majority of homicides in the United States, representing 89.5% of the total number of offenders?
According to the FBI as of 2011:
* Males constituted 98.9% of those arrested for forcible rape
* Males constituted 87.9% of those arrested for robbery
* Males constituted 85.0% of those arrested for burglary
* Males constituted 83.0% of those arrested for arson.
* Males constituted 81.7% of those arrested for vandalism.
* Males constituted 81.5% of those arrested for motor-vehicle theft.
* Males constituted 79.7% of those arrested for offenses against family and children.
* Males constituted 77.8% of those arrested for aggravated assault.
Male violence in this country permeates every facet of our society, from dating expectations to media depictions, to the way some people refer to certain shirts as “wife beaters.”
As a girl, I spent a great deal of time being educated about how to protect myself from men.
This included not only what to do the moment a man grabbed me, but also preventative measures. Don’t go out alone. Don’t go out without a phone. Think about how you’re presenting yourself. This I heard all the time: “Men only want one thing.”
I vividly remember my grandmother saying, “Girls think if they stay quiet it will all be over, but you scream if a man grabs you because he will kill you either way.”
By college, I knew multiple ladies who had to take anxiety medication to go on dates.
But what were the guys told? What were they doing while my friends and I texted articles about which parks and bars to avoid?
I have no idea. I have deep relationships with men and I have no idea.
My husband and I were talking. He asked me if I could define what it means to be a woman. I had a whole proud speech ready. I asked if he could define what it means to be a man. Silence. My heart broke.
He didn’t know.
My husband isn’t perfect, of course. He has his battles. But he is a good, thoughtful man. He is a good, thoughtful man living in a time where male violence is so overwhelming that boys don’t learn much else about manhood. So many of them miss the language of connection, love, forgiveness, hope, and celebration.
What can a man be, besides dangerous?
I’m not sugar-coating the fact that in this world men are responsible for very real acts of violence, but I want to tell my husband and son some stories of what else a man can be.
A man can be a safe place. When I lost my first pregnancy, after we came home from the hospital, my husband climbed into the bed and held me all day. He held onto me and held me together for hours.
A man can be a storyteller. When I was anxious as a kid I would ask my grandfather to tell me stories about his childhood. He was never too busy for me. He inspired me, distracted me, and cared for me.
A man can be a voice of reason. My buddy Nick is a great guy to call in a crisis. He literally came to pick me up after I freaked out and cut my face by accident on my wedding day (long story). Our friendship disproves When Harry Met Sally’s notion that “men and women can’t be friends.” I still love that movie, but in real life friendships between men and women are so important.
I could go on and on, but my real goal is to start a conversation. I want my son to have an answer if someone asks him what it means to be a man. What do you think a man can be?
What great men have influenced your life? Share your stories!