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How Dads Can Model Healthy Masculinity


Published December 8, 2020 at 10:00 a.m.

Albaugh voting with daughter Coraline - COURTESY OF KEEGAN ALBAUGH
  • Courtesy of Keegan Albaugh
  • Albaugh voting with daughter Coraline

As soon as my eyes opened on the morning of Wednesday, November 4, I grabbed my phone to check the results of the presidential election. I had anxiously gone to bed the night before, hoping to wake up and see the aftermath of the potential "blue wave" political analysts had been discussing for months.

I did not want a repeat of 2016. I did not want to look into my daughters' eyes, knowing that once again our nation had elected a man to be president who describes women in vulgar terms..

I stared at my phone blankly. The wave hadn't come. Instead, the presidential election was still too close to call. Nearing the end of a presidential term that was characterized by bullying, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, white supremacy and anti-science, nearly half of the nation's registered voters still wanted this man to lead our country. Somewhere near 75 million people, to be exact.

As startling as the results were, I also wasn't entirely surprised. In addition to our nation being completely divided politically, our society has a history of elevating men who embody hateful and immoral ideologies. Time and time again, men who exhibit qualities that belittle, bully and harm others are put into positions of fame and power. And although these men may be criticized by a portion of the population, there continues to be enough supporters that accept and approve of them.

I think about the National Football League and the growing number of players who have been charged with domestic assault. Children wear Tampa Bay Buccaneers football jerseys with Antonio Brown's name on the back, celebrating a man who has a history of charges that include sexual assault and battery. I think about the late Sean Connery, who was honored by many of my friends on social media after his recent passing. The same Sean Connery who, for many years, defended his position that "it's absolutely right" to slap a woman when "they're not happy with the last word."

Male celebrities aren't the only ones exhibiting these types of behaviors. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, in 2019 men accounted for 78.9 percent of all violent crime arrests, including 88 percent of arrests involving murder. There's a huge problem in our nation regarding the amount of violence caused by men.

The term "toxic masculinity" has been used widely to increase awareness of the troubling qualities of masculinity, such as dominance, violence, sexism and homophobia. Indeed, this term has resulted in many much-needed workshops, discussions and movements. But I worry that the term fails to address many of the issues surrounding manhood that contribute to a world full of gender inequality and prevents men from truly engaging in meaningful reflection that can lead to important, intentional changes in their thoughts and behaviors.

Because "toxic masculinity" has mostly been associated with traits such as violence and sexism, many men can distance themselves from the "toxic" label. Just because they're not engaging in the more blatant offenses, they consider themselves to be one of the "good guys." However, "toxic masculinity" fails to bring attention to the things men do on a daily basis, myself included, that perpetuate gender inequality.

According to research published in the American Political Science Review in 2012, men talk 75 percent of the time in meetings when both men and women are present. Another study from George Washington University "found that men interrupted 33 percent more often when they spoke with women than when they spoke with other men." It's fairly common to hear men refer to women as "girls" in casual conversations. Men need to increase their awareness around these everyday issues.

I want to model healthy masculinity for my daughters and avoid words and actions that implicitly feed into the false narrative that men are more important than women. I make mistakes all of the time, including commonly interrupting my partner while she's talking, but I'm always trying to do better. Here are some tips for modeling healthy masculinity for your children.

  • Demonstrate vulnerability. Talk about your emotions often. Let your kids know what you're feeling and how you're coping.
  • Listen more. Model active listening by making eye contact, asking questions and focusing on the words being spoken rather than what you're planning on saying next.
  • Challenge stereotypes. Put on an apron and bake some cookies. Paint your fingernails. Do things that you typically don't see men doing in the movies.
  • Discuss sexism, early and often. Our nation is deeply rooted in sexism, and it's important to acknowledge this. Talk about why there hasn't been a female president (yet), why mainstream professional sports are male-dominated and why there's only one main female character in the original Star Wars Trilogy.
  • Think critically about media. Too many movies and television shows highlight ideas that perpetuate gender inequality. Make sure you're aware of what your kids are watching, and talk about it with them before and after exposure.
  • Make a habit of being accountable. We're all human, and we all make mistakes. When you notice that you did something wrong, be sure to acknowledge the wrongdoing to your child, and let them know that your actions were not OK.

Less than a week after the election, I listened to vice president-elect Kamala Harris speak during the Democratic victory celebration.

"While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities," Harris said.

I'm thankful that my young daughters' earliest memories of the White House will be that of a woman in power, someone who they can look up to. And I'm hopeful that the positive momentum will continue, allowing more glass ceilings to shatter. I'm counting on men to continue to make more space at the table for those who are unheard and underrepresented.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.