I stood at the podium and said, “My stake in being here is rooted in being a woman who survived the childhood sexual abuse of incest. We in MERGE for Equality believe boys are born naturally loving, life affirming and sustained by connection. Had my father been raised to be his natural authentic self I’m certain I would have had a completely different father, a loving protective father and therefore a completely different childhood.”
As the Board President I got to welcome the participants to our 4th Summit, two hundred souls interested in spending a day riding on our mission of transforming masculinity to advance gender equality; what a dance to be doing to the thump, thump, thump of Trump, Trump, Trump.
And our keynote speaker, the brilliant, sassy, Dr. Niobe Way took us on a journey through her discoveries in studying adolescent boys for the past 30 years. “Listen to the boys,” she said, over and over. No boring power point just quotes from the boys. “Read along with me,” she encouraged, “Here’s what Jessie had to say.” And up would come Jessie’s words as Niobe morphed into a twelve year old; right foot pigeon toeing in, left knee bending, right fist on hip and read aloud:
“(My best friend) could just tell me anything and I could tell him anything. Like I always know everything about him…. We always chill, like we don’t hide secrets from each other. We tell each other our problems. If I’m having problems at home, they’ll like counsel me, I just trust them with anything, like deep secrets, anything.”
In fifty-five minutes she showed us the big damage done to all our boys as they get robbed of these close friendships on their way to becoming a man, a “real” man. To “man up” - to get independent and competitive and oh so isolated. Homophobia is one big cultural bulldozer over close friendships between adolescent boys as they age. Here’s a typical quote from an older boy:
“Like my friendship with my best friend is fading, but I’m saying it’s still there but… So I mean, it’s still there ‘cause we still do stuff together, but only once in a while. It’s sad ‘cause he lives only one block away from me and I get to do stuff with him less than I get to do stuff with people who are way further so I’m like, yo. …. It’s like a DJ used his cross fader and started fading it slowly and slowly and now I’m like halfway through the cross fade.”
She showed a clip of the film: The Mask You Live In. Check out the trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hc45-ptHMxo or watch the whole film free on Netflix.
Niobe’s work is so important, so instructive, in understanding what’s got to change to bring up boys to be loving, non-misogynist, non-violent males. It’s radical – let them keep making close friendships where they can share their “deep secrets.”