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Don’t ‘Man Up,’ Step Up
Boys discuss ways they can fight sexism
YCteen staff

In “I Won’t Back Down” (p. 7) and “Please Stop Saying I’m Trouble” (p. 3), Carolina and Grace write about being sexually harassed and disrespected by men. Both offer ways to resist and fight back. But women can’t change the culture alone: Men need to be part of the solution. YCteen editors sat down with Carolina, Grace, and our guy writers Atl Castro, T.J. Brown, Sashwat Adhikari, and Xavier Alvarez to talk about how to make the world a more equitable place and move past stereotypes that harm people of all genders. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

Carolina: When I was being verbally harassed by a boy at school, my boyfriend and his friends stood there and did nothing. Actually, they did do something; they laughed.

T.J.: I don’t agree with what they did, but I understand it. If they defend you they risk being teased by their friends. It takes confidence to do the right thing rather than care whether you’re accepted by your friends or not. If I’m goofing around with someone and he says something about women that’s a slip-up in my opinion, I keep the same energy and tone and say, “Chill out there, bro.” That way I make my point but I don’t come off as preachy, because that can turn people off.

Xavier: Yes, it takes confidence, but it also takes courage because there’s a good chance you’ll become an outcast after that. You are on her side and it’s the two of you against that guy and everyone else who was watching.

Sashwat: To see that kind of conflict happen and just let it go, I don’t think that’s something you want on your conscience. You have a responsibility to step in and do something.

image by YC-Art Dept

Grace: A couple of you said that it’s easier to step in if you imagine that it’s your sister or mother that’s being harassed. But why do you need this to imagine women as people? If a guy was getting jumped, you wouldn’t need to imagine it was your brother to know that the situation was bad. You can do that with girls too. You should just be able to imagine if that was you. If you go around treating every girl like they’re your mom or your sister, it’s not really taking them seriously.

Sashwat: It’s not denying that women are people too, it’s just trying to relate more to the situation. It’s something that guys don’t have to think about. It’s hard to step up and defend somebody in a situation that you’ve never encountered yourself.

Xavier: I agree. People don’t care when it comes to strangers because it doesn’t impact them. If they think about it as a woman they care about, they’ll be more apt to step in.

Atl: Relating it to your family makes it easier for someone to summon up the courage to intervene.

image by YC-Art Dept

T.J.: Think of it as a first step; once guys get used to stepping up, we can show all women the same respect as a woman in our family.

Carolina: Our culture views women as fragile and weak. But we should be encouraged to feel strong and capable—and without a man’s help.

T.J.: Men are taught that being masculine means acting like an alpha male: Be strong to protect those you love. But the flip side is that if you’re being an alpha male, you want to impose your strength on everybody around you. And that might go overboard.

Xavier: I’m Puerto Rican and was raised hearing “a woman’s spot is in the kitchen” and that women need to be protected. I’m learning to challenge that and I believe that men and women are equal. But that doesn’t mean we’re exactly the same. I’ve heard that girls mature two years faster than boys do. If you can be emotionally available in a way that I can’t, you’re gonna do it. Or if I can lift something you can’t, I’m going to lift it.

image by YC-Art Dept

Grace: I don’t think emotional intelligence is a gender thing. We’re socialized like that. People say, “Oh, boys can’t be that emotional.” I think that could change. And people act like physical strength matters a lot more than it really does.

Xavier: I used to get bullied, and one day a bunch of kids jumped me. The guy friend I was with left me because he was scared. As I was in the middle of it, a girl started pulling people off of me. She even got hit, but she didn’t stop. It didn’t really help much, but it meant a lot to me that somebody cared enough to step in. And kudos to her, because that was gangsta. So much for guys being stronger than girls.

Grace: When we hear a woman is attacked or raped, some say, “Maybe it was her fault, that she asked for it.” Then women internalize that message. As I write in my story: “Women are conditioned to feel like we’re to blame for men’s bad behavior toward us.” We think: What did I do wrong? Did I lead him on?

Atl: It’s ridiculous for someone to say that a woman got raped or sexually assaulted because of what she was wearing. Everyone should be able to dress the way they want without having to fear they’ll be hurt because of it. I also think it’s ridiculous when people say women shouldn’t dress in a revealing way because men can’t help themselves. But I don’t know how we can change that.

image by YC-Art Dept

Xavier: Men have to understand that no one asks for it. No one asks to go outside and get hurt. No one asks to be dehumanized. Just because someone wears something revealing, at the end of the day it’s their decision and you have to respect that person’s decision.

Carolina: What else can boys and men do to make sure people of all genders feel safe, respected, and equal?

T.J.: I go to an all-boys school, and they have classes to make sure that we understand the risk and dangers of drugs and alcohol. I would like a class on how to treat women and how certain behavior is not OK.

Sashwat: It’s important to redefine what it means to be masculine. Look at James Bond and other movie icons. These macho characters kill people without remorse or other emotions. We need to tone down the level of violence in entertainment. Also, look at music videos—rappers are surrounded by women. And video games are predominately men with guns. Our male role models need to be more compassionate, and they should view women more as equals instead of as objects.

Atl: Talk to your mothers. They likely know what it’s like to be treated like second-class citizens. My mother once worked for a man and she was doing all the work and he took all the credit. When she told me about it, I recognized how hard it is for women to be recognized for their achievements.

Grace: Even though just talking to people isn’t going to change everything, you can still start. If you notice that you are treating your daughter and son differently, you can catch yourself and stop: I see that I’m doing this thing, but I shouldn’t be.

T.J.: I was working with young kids teaching them how to play
basketball, and there was one girl who wanted to play. The other guys said no because she was a girl. I said, “Let her play.” So that’s an example of spotting it, and saying something. Since the kids respect me, letting her play hopefully made an impact.

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