This summer, I watched something extraordinary happen: My husband became himself.
My work and advocacy focuses largely on girlhood. We advocate and research and think constantly about girls and creating a better world for them. But part of that work must, at its very core, include the boys. They are not only fellow advocates, but also fellow victims. For in marginalizing girls and women, society has created toxic masculinity – an exaggerated form of gendered cultural norms that encourage males to be highly aggressive, violent, emotionless (or emotionally suppressive), controlling, and competitive, among other traits. These traits have contributed to epidemics of domestic and sexual violence, higher suicidal ideation and mental illnesses, and even lower life expectancy for men.
Getting rid of toxic masculinity takes time, but it can be done. I’ve seen it firsthand, and in seeing it, I’ve witnessed the transformative power it can have on a man’s life.
My husband is that man. Over the course of our relationship, I’ve embraced every question he has had in his journey of self-empowerment. Was he truly a failure for flunking out of college? No. It just wasn’t the right path for him, and he didn’t have the support system he needed at that time to succeed. Was he a failure for not working full-time more years of his life? That was his choice, and at the time, he didn’t need to work full-time. Was he wrong for pursuing his dream of becoming a Twitch streamer instead of taking on a second job? No, pursue your passion. You gave me the chance to pursue mine, and now I have a career I love; it’s your turn, like we agreed.
“If I wanted to dye my hair, are you okay with it?” I smiled and said, please not blue. I don’t like blue hair for some weird reason. It also turns a weird color when it fades.
“If I told you I wanted to paint my nails, what would you say?” I asked him what color he wanted and gave him tips on brands to choose.
“If I told you I was part of the LGBTQIA+ community…”
I asked him if he still loved me.
“You’re the only one for me,” he replied.
I told him that was all that would ever matter. Also, let’s get matching Pride gear.
I watched my husband blossom this year, as he shed years of toxic masculinity and embraced his true identity. His kind, loving, authentic self emerged alongside the strong fighter and protector that he has been for so many years. The hair dye, nail polish, and Pride flag don’t lessen any part of his masculinity. In fact, they enhance it. Every time he holds open a door, or paints his (or my) nails, or gets excited over something, I’m reminded that I am so lucky to have someone who embraces all that he is – and all that I am – and loves fiercely and without reservation.
I wish more men and boys were like that. So as we advocate for girls, let’s Remember the Boys. Because in empowering boys to be their authentic selves – to shed toxic masculinity and embrace all that they are and can be – we empower girls, too. We stop the cycle of violence that ensnares them in a gender war that never needed to exist. Instead, we embrace a new order in which each of us can be ourselves, and in so doing, we love fiercely and empower greatly. We become what we are truly meant to be, individually and collectively.
And what better world could we ask for than one where each of us feels empowered, accepted, and loved?