Men Are Good, and Men Make Mistakes

This is a short article I wrote that was posted on Facebook and published in our local newspaper:

When I was in seventh grade, I often felt left out [not included] by other boys. I had some friends, but I also felt like an outsider. Sometimes I was the target of teasing and bullying.

One day after school, I was talking with a small group of boys. One of them was a good friend; I didn’t know the others well. One of the others—let’s call him Mike—began talking about a recent experience with a girl. He boasted that he had walked her home after school, offering to help carry her books, and that when he had gotten to her porch he had grabbed her breast and then run away. Talking with us, he laughed about it, and the other boys laughed along and made comments.

I am pleased that at age twelve I didn’t laugh or make lewd comments, even though I very much wanted to be accepted by the other boys. But here is the thing that still bothers me: I didn’t speak up to try to stop Mike from doing what he did, or something even worse, again. I was silent. I didn’t have the awareness or the courage to say, “You know, Mike, you seem like a really cool [great] guy, but what you did does not seem cool at all. Don’t ever do that again.”

There are a lot of things I don’t remember about seventh grade, but I remember that really well. As I watch recent events unfold around men treating women badly, I am painfully aware of the opportunity I missed.

It is difficult to face how common sexual assault has been and continues to be in our society. It can seem like the problem is too big and that there is nothing we can do beyond avoiding such behavior ourselves. I think the truth is that there is more we can do as men, and that we are being asked in this historical moment to do much more.

One of the things we can do is commit to speaking up whenever men or boys are doing or saying potentially hurtful things toward or about women. We can begin or continue conversations with our sons, grandsons, nephews, and all of our brothers. We can celebrate all the good things about being male while working fiercely and passionately toward a world that respects females of every age. We can demand, without blaming or shaming, that each of us become our best self.

The second thing we can do is to appreciate the goodness of men and stand up for [insist on good treatment of] boys and men. Underneath our confusion, we men still carry the precious hearts of little boys needing love and encouragement. Every time we allow the jokes, the disparaging comments, the eye rolling, the teasing when men show feelings, we push the little boys inside deeper into hiding.

One of the pillars upholding our broken system is our society’s remarkably damaging low expectations for human males: “Boys will be boys, after all.” We can undermine that pillar by refusing to tolerate sexism and violent behavior from men while holding on to and expressing our faith in the natural goodness each of us brings into the world.

I think it will make a difference if we do these things. It would have made a difference for me in seventh grade if I had been surrounded by a culture of respect for all people regardless of gender or sexual orientation. It would have helped me speak up about the injustice I saw.

It might have made a difference for Mike as well. It might have made a difference for many young men, including some who later became U.S. senators or Supreme Court justices.

It’s too late to have the conversations we didn’t have twenty or thirty or sixty years ago, but it is not too late to have those courageous conversations now with boys and men of every age and description. It will take courage—not the phony bluster and stubbornness that sometimes passes for bravery among men, but real and honest courage. Our palms may sweat and our voices may tremble, but I think we can do it. I’m going to try. I hope we can do this together.

John Schmieding

Athens, Ohio, USA

Reprinted from the e-mail discussion
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Last modified: 2019-05-13 15:12:23+00