You Say "The Boys Aren't Alright" - An open letter to Michael Ian Black
In response to a recent op-ed entitled“The Boys Are Not All Right.”
I care about your son. I care about all our sons. And our daughters. And our non-binary, gender variant, gender queer, and gender fluid kiddos. Changing how they interpret themselves in the world starts with us. We need to see them as humans, rather than an arbitrary gender.
You may have already started rolling your eyes, but stick with me here …
Our culture understands gender as a binary—male or female. When a child is born, they are assigned a gender and sent down a pink or blue path. Acceptable behaviors, emotional expressions, even the degree of personal agency—all determined by which lane a child occupies. This assigned gender tells the world how to interact with us.
Yes, as a society, we need more conversations on the damage of gender policing. Adhering to a range of acceptable expression limits our human potential. It’s exhausting.
Perceived gender is typically the least relevant attribute, and yet it serves as a single determinant in who we are allowed to be.
But first, a few points to consider.
The last fifty years have not redefined what it means to be female—we redefined what society told us it meant to be female. Because movements don’t spontaneously occur, people create them.
Women rejected being “less than”. They resisted and refused to be denied a full expression of human potential. Generations of women fought against being paid less, discrimination, being raped by their husbands, denied the right to determine their reproductive future, feeling infantilized, objectified, and told to dim their lights in deference to men. They showed up to fight.
Every. Damn. Day.
You’re looking at what you can feel and share; I’m looking at who I can be in the world. Opportunities and access women have been denied, either overtly or unintentionally, through gender bias. We need each other in order to affect change.
Last, early messages about what it means to “be a man” shape how boys interpret themselves in the world. These same messages also convey what it means to be non-male.
When people use my gender as your gender's insult, it crystallizes the shame associated with being "less than".
The same holds true for turning any other identity into a slur - calling a boy "gay" for straying off the blue path pressures him to conform, while also further marginalizing that population.
It starts with ditching the pink vs. blue paths and opening up the full potential for human experiences.