by Jason Frerichs
A friend of mine recently put forth a challenge to Des Moines area men. She asked that men step up, start speaking out and take on some of the emotional labor of trying to end toxic masculinity. There have been a couple of very high profile cases (here in Iowa) of men murdering women because they were rejected. The murders of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbets and Iowa State golf star Celia Barquin Arozamena have brought the topic of toxic masculinity to the forefront. There are differences between both cases but one thing remains the same. Men who feel entitled to women’s bodies. Men whose answer to rejection was to kill due to a perceived affront to their masculinity. While these are both extreme examples the fact is that we are failing to teach our boys to respect the bodily autonomy of other people.
How do we start? One simple thing we can do is to stop using femininity as an insult. Guys, think back to when you were children and very young men. What was the absolute worst insult someone could give you? “Don’t be a pussy” or “stop acting like a girl.” This is horrible and this is how rape culture starts. It tells young boys and men that having emotions or expressing hurt is a sign of weakness. Men are supposed to be tough and macho all the time. It tells boys that they are superior to girls because they are allegedly in control of their emotions. How do I know this? Because I am a product of toxic masculinity and have been working hard to overcome it. You can read my story more in depth here.
What else can men do? We can start having tough conversations and holding each other accountable. We can reflect on our past behavior and vow to be better. I’ve never assaulted anyone but I would not be surprised if my younger self is someone’s #MeToo moment. I once told a young lady on a smoke break that she’d be much prettier if she didn’t smoke. I cringe when I remember that because it was such a jerk thing to say. I remember when I was in the 8th grade, one of my female classmates wrote an article for the school newspaper about sexual harassment at the school. The male students took umbrage to this, myself included. I remember passing her in the hallway while I was with a group of male friends. In order to make my friends laugh, I called out, “it’s sexual harassment time.” It was such a shitty thing to do. I made light of a very serious issue just to make a few guys laugh. Now that I’m older, I imagine that must have been very threatening for her. I still carry guilt about that to this day. I have to be better. We all have to be better. If we’re being honest with ourselves, I bet a large majority of men have done or said similar things. I bet a lot of us are someone’s #MeToo moment.
Another thing we can do is step up, organize, and stop expecting women to do all the emotional labor of ending the patriarchy and toxic masculinity. We benefit from the patriarchy. We add to an environment of toxic masculinity when we don’t hold each other accountable. When we laugh at that sexist “joke” or tell “jokes” of our own. We add to it when we don’t call out other men who use demeaning language. When we don’t listen to women who talk about being scared to walk to their car at night. When our immediate response is #NotAllMen instead of taking the time to truly listen. I was shocked to learn about the safety precautions many of my female friends take. Things I completely take for granted because it never occurred to me until I saw others expressing their fears. We need to start having roundtable discussions where we plan our topics, discuss, and then coordinate training and concrete actions to end the patriarchy. I am willing to help do the work and help organize but I can’t do it alone. There are better organizers and more knowledgeable people than me. I ask my fellow men to join. If you’re interested in getting involved feel free to send me a direct message via the Progressive Voices of Iowa Facebook page.
Founder of the Iowa Democratic Party Progressive Caucus