Problematic Men are Out There, But I Still Have Hope for the Future of Boys
By Paula M. Toledo
Photos supplied by the author
Jan 22, 2020
“Mom, why are feminists so angry and why do they hate men?”
That’s a question I recently received from my 12-year-old son. But it didn’t end there. He followed up with, “Are you a feminist?”
"I assured them that there are also really good men out there — good men who would help women in times like these."
His question took me aback. I wanted to share my personal experiences, but instead gave him some data points that he could use to reflect on his own important question. I said, “Well, like anything you read on the internet, it’s important to check your sources and understand the background of a certain perspective.”
Stirring the Power of Inquiry
As we sat down at the dinner table, I used the time as an opportunity to talk.
I said, “So, you know we all have a right to vote?” They nodded. “Well, did you know that there was a time that women weren’t allowed to vote? Only men were.” They shook their heads and looked at me puzzledly.
I explained that historically, and to this day, women don't have the same rights as men. “It was during grandma’s time, in the 1940’s, that women in Quebec received the right to vote in our province.” I could tell by their expressions that they were blown away by this news.
"As I proceeded to unpack the trunk, in the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the same man near us masturbating between two parked cars."
I didn’t want to do all the talking, so I asked for their opinions.
“Do you think that men and women doing the same job and profession should be paid equal salaries?” They said, “Yeah mom, of course!”
I was of course happy to hear that, but good intentions aside, I felt obligated to explain the situation further: “Today, even despite our modern times, with all our latest innovations, women still don’t get paid equal to men for the same work done.”
Teaching Through Life Experience
A month later, we were on vacation in Kona, Hawaii. Driving from beach to beach, exploring paradise, we found ourselves in a small parking lot at the trailhead. As my sons and I were unpacking the trunk of our car rental, a man in his twenties walked by and mumbled something under his breath.
Thinking he was asking for directions, I asked him to repeat himself. What rolled off his tongue, so casually, was the lewdest comment about my body. Shocked and angry, I confronted him head on. This exchange took place in front of my sons.
My 10-year-old said, “What a dirty-minded man.” And after hearing that, I immediately forgot about my own feelings and began consoling my sons. Sadly, this occasion wasn’t the first time they witnessed their mom being harassed by a man.
As I proceeded to unpack the trunk, in the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the same man near us masturbating between two parked cars.
With a jolt of adrenaline, I shouted directions to my sons. Pushing them into the backseat of the car, so that they wouldn’t see the man, I turned my back to where he was situated. Without looking at him, I pointed and screamed, “I see what you’re doing and you better get lost quick! I’m calling the cops!”
At this point, a stranger walked by with his teenage son. They were startled by my shouting, so I explained what happened to us. The father mumbled, “Gross.” Without asking us if we were OK, he kept walking, shrugged off the incident and stated that the police would likely not come if I reported it.
My sons could see that I was visibly upset, and they asked me what happened. I told them the truth, and shared that we would be going to the police station to report the man.
A father rethinks a popular kids game because of the #MeToo movement. Read about that here.
“We can’t stay here mom, it’s not safe… please can we go to another beach?” My kids were clearly adamant about leaving.
So we packed up our belongings and left. On the car ride, my sons asked me question after question. They wanted to know why a man would do that. Why would the police not come? Why are there men with such dirty minds?
I explained to them that I didn’t have all the answers. But some men are mentally sick, while some men feel they have the right to treat women the way they do. I told them that I was sorry that they had to witness what they saw. I assured them that there are also really good men out there — good men who would help women in times like these.
“Many women are afraid to lose their jobs, as they need to feed their families. We were fortunate in that we just packed up our car and left. But many women don’t have the luxury of fleeing.”
Because they were beginning to see a pattern in this type of unhealthy male behaviour, I decided to share some unfortunate truths, and also ways in which they could feel empowered to help:
“Kids, it saddens me to say that many women have been harassed and abused in their lifetime. As you grow up, you may begin to see incidents like today — or worse — happen to girls and women that you know. Whether it’s friends, classmates, colleagues, a wife or daughter, it’s your responsibility — it’s all our responsibility — to make sure that women aren’t hurt like this. If they are, we need to check in with them to make sure they are OK.”
I asked them how they felt about having to leave the beautiful beach. They said they were sad.
I elaborated that for some women this type of incident happens at work. Often, these women don’t have a choice to leave their environment like we had. Many women don’t tell their boss or call the police, thinking they won’t be believed or in fear that their abuser may retaliate in a more harmful way. I said, “Many women are afraid to lose their jobs, as they need to feed their families. We were fortunate in that we just packed up our car and left. But many women don’t have the luxury of fleeing.”
If you'd like to read a parent's POV on how the #MeToo movement has helped raise their daughters, check it out here.
Reinforcing Kindness As a Virtue
At the end of a very long car ride and conversation, I told them that they don’t have to grow up to be versions of either of the men we met today. They could be the type of man that asks women, in times like these, if they are OK. Because at the end of the day, that is what it means to be kind, to care for each other and to compassionately support each others’ journeys for equality.
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