The Samsonites We Carry

Ugh, this thread. Look, on the one hand this lady isn't wrong. As a parent, you wanna make sure that your kids- male or female, are watching and consuming healthy content online or watching age appropriate television shows. If I found my seven year old son watch an episode of The Wire, for instance that would be something that we would need to a. turn off immediately and b. have a little bit of a talk about. I have no problem with absolutely any of that.

This, however... is not that. It's not advocating healthy parenting and it's not even advocating raising healthy, well-mannered, upstanding young man. What it is doing, however, is feeding into a cultural notion that is far too pervasive for my liking: white men are bad. White men are toxic. White men are to blame for fucking everything. And don't get me wrong: I'm not asking for sympathy here. It is what it is- and I'm sure if there are any parents of color reading this they're probably thinking, 'cry me a river buddy, because it ain't no picnic raising sons who aren't white in this country either.' And they would be absolutely right to say that- it's a far different equation than the one parents of white sons confront in America today.

I really don't want to try and make the argument that it's somehow difficult to be a man today, because that would be incorrect as well. So instead, we'll say this:

Men today, have baggage. For a lot of men, this isn't really that big of a problem. We do what men do and kick it or hit with a club and sling it over our shoulders to drag back to the cooking fires, but in 21st Century America today, masculinity and ideas about masculinity and more to the point how to raise health, upstanding men is just the epitomy of being not at all helpful. The Samsonites of American Masculinity varies in size and dimension depending on your socio-economic status and yes, on your color. If you're African-American and a man, your Samsonite is going to look a lot different than mine. Like wise if you're Latinx or Native American or Asian American or whatever- we've all got different Samsonites we carry around.

None of what passes for conversations about masculinity in this country change the starting premise: being a man is somehow bad. The educational system doesn't know what to do with boys, so they medicate them. It pains me to sound like a stick up my ass family values conservative, but the absence of any male role models whatsoever growing up in a lot of homes is also... unhelpful. A culture that treats masculintiy as something poison means that from the word 'go' almost as soon as they're old enough to understand, boys are bombarded with messages that who they are is wrong.

Some of these messages mean well, sure. Men should be able to express emotion and I'm not a fan of the idea that men need to act in any certain way. But too much of the way we talk about masculinity is massively unhealthy- and when are those toxic messages going to impact the most? Oh that's right, in their teens- right when they're starting to pay attention and understand how society and the world view masculinity. Being a teenager was something of a trial for me. I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself and still don't, really- I had all the weirdness and horrific awkward phases of puberty. I did not, however, have the pervasive internet that we have today.

So yeah, this lady isn't wrong. It's just that if you've got to go full Stasi on your kid's social media when they hit their teens, you've missed the boat by several years. I don't have teenagers yet- but if I remember- and I'm honest about what I'm remembering- serious conversations about serious topics are somewhat akin to getting water from a stone when you're dealing with teenagers. Healthy masculinity begins way earlier than the teenage years. Respect for women begins way earlier than the teenage years. Understanding other cultures and races and that sometimes people are different than you and that's okay: before the teenage years.

I hate the implication that I've got to treat my kids as potential terrorists because the oogidy boogidies of the alt-right are coming to indoctrinate them. Lady, everybody is out to indoctrinate you these days. When conservatives piss and moan and fail to realize the irony of calling for viewpoint diversity and not actual diversity they're not wrong either. It balances out in the end but doing a full Joan Crawford on your kids social media accounts is more likely to produce the result you're so desperate to avoid instead of the results you want.

The process of making sure your boys become good men doesn't start when they're teens. It starts way before that- and it probably should start by taking everything written on the internet about masculinity and burning it with fire. The Samsonites we carry are heavy enough for some of us- don't go full Chinook Helicopter Parent and make it harder.

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