A Practical Guide to Detoxifying Boys

In this article, E talks about how she's helping to raise her brothers as feminists who don't conform to the toxic and fragile gender expectations of masculinity. How do we detoxify our boys? Here are a few tips from E.

This is The MAN Issue. We want to implore men to join our fight for equality because to be a “good man” who respects women is the bare minimum that they can do in this patriarchal society. Where misogyny is rampant and leads to the objectification, oppression, and abuse of women, men should do more to hold themselves and their peers accountable.

But I want to take a minute to talk about our boys. I am a firm believer that our boys were not born bad; they are just exposed to the systemic sexism that exists in society. Before they become toxic and fragile men, they are impressionable children who pick up misogynist beliefs and behaviors from those around them. Even I, a feminist, recognize that I have internalized misogyny, and I’m continuously trying to unlearn the problematic ideologies that had been taught to me.

So what can we do to help our boys become better than the men who came before them? Is it even our duty to raise them differently?

One of the Boys

Growing up, I used to think that being one of the boys is so cool. It was better to be boyish than girly. Yes, I am cis and straight, but I didn’t really identify as a girl back then. I was a boyish girl. Take away “boyish” in that identity and I didn’t relate to it.

I’d rather wear “masuline” clothes than “feminine” clothes—jeans, loose shirts, and sneakers over skirts, spaghetti straps, and heels all the time—and I hated it when my mom bought me pink outfits. I surrounded myself with guy friends because I used to think that girls were too dramatic and catty, even though I am also a girl. I judged girls who posted bikini photos on social media and thought that they were just trying to seek attention.

These are just a few examples of how internalized misogyny manifested in me. I carried these beliefs with me until about five or six years ago, right before J and I started to have real conversations about our struggles as women, before we realized that these struggles were related to misogyny and sexism, and before we started calling ourselves feminists.

And like I said earlier, I am still going through the process of unlearning and debunking my internalized misogyny. J and I like to say that we’re feminists in progress. We don’t have all the frameworks and knowledge to completely understand the problems that different kinds of women in society experience on a daily basis. But we’re constantly trying to educate ourselves so we can become better advocates of change.

With that said, I believe that there are men out there who want to be better but don’t know where to start. I don’t think it is our duty as women to spoon feed men with all that they need to know, especially if we’re also still learning. But to be open to have conversations that may spark their curiosity so that they are inspired to educate themselves—I think that’s a step in the right direction. It’s even better if we start to have these conversations with boys, before the patriarchy poisons them with sexist and misogynist ideologies.

Boys Will Be Boys

One of the most problematic phrases in the English language is: “Boys will be boys.”

  • Did a man befriend you just to have sex with you? Why are you surprised? Boys will be boys.

  • Did a man sexually harass you on the street? Oh, it’s normal because boys will be boys.

  • Does your husband leave his dirty clothes on the floor and sit around all day while you do all of the chores at home even though you’re both tired from work? Well, his mother will tell you that boys will be boys.

This damned phrase becomes a scapegoat for all of the problematic things that men do and that society allows them to get away with. It reinforces traditional gender roles and expectations, e.g. men are providers and women are caretakers. And it even normalizes the idea that men are inherently bad. I can’t count the number of times that men I know have used this phrase to defend the way they demean, objectify, and sexualize women.

Just recently, I had a conversation with some guys I barely know about dating. They said that a man and a woman can’t go out on friendly dates because the man will always have an ulterior motive.

I, on the other hand, believe that platonic friendships between men and women can exist. They can go out on dates that are not romantic in nature. And because two of my college best friends are men—and I’ve been single at some point at the same time with either of them—I should freaking know what I’m talking about.

These guys still insisted that it can’t happen. “Trust me, I’m a man. I know how a man’s mind works,” one of them even said. Basically, he was telling me, “Boys will be boys.” And if you really think hard about it, what he was really saying is, “Men are trash.”

Boys will be boys and men are trash because they can’t be friends with women without wanting something more from her. Boys will be boys and men are trash because dirty thoughts always exist in their heads. Boys will be boys and men are trash so you can’t trust a man’s intentions when he asks you out on a friendly date.

Every time a guy says, “Boys will be boys,” he’s actually saying, “Men are trash.” And yet, when the latter comes out of a woman’s mouth, she’s suddenly a man-hating feminazi. Cool, right?

“Boys will be boys,” has also been used as an excuse for men who share naked photos of women in group chats, participate in “locker room talk”, and invite women for drinks just to get them drunk enough to coerce consent from them.

When women get sexually assaulted after a night out with a guy, people often say, “Why did you get drunk? What were you doing out late at night? He’s a guy—of course, he wants something from you!”

The absence of consent becomes unimportant because men are trash.

Well, sorry to say but I think our boys can do better.

This post is sponsored by Amisto Activewear.

Raising Feminist Boys

I am an ate or a big sister. I have two younger brothers; one is 11 years younger than me and the other is 16 years younger than me. As a feminist, I have taken it upon myself to raise them differently. I want them to grow up not only as “good boys” but as feminists.

Because, like I’ve already said, being a “good boy” is the bare minimum. It should be expected. Basic human decency must be a given.

But to be able to topple the patriarchy and achieve equality, we should all be feminists. Even men. That’s why I’ve decided that it’s my responsibility to educate my brothers as early as possible. Here are just a few things that I’ve taught to them:

No means no.

In one of our IskaMustahan webinars, I talked about how I repeatedly teach my brothers about consent.

Before diving into this topic, I just want to say that consent is something I wish was clear to me when I was younger. There were a lot of instances when I felt like I had no choice because things were expected of me. After all, girls have to be polite and submissive, right?

Even though these were not the exact words that I heard growing up, our culture upholds these stereotypes and subtly instills traditional gender roles in our minds. For example, I was punished for “throwing a tantrum” whenever I was upset, while my older brother was free to punch the wall whenever he was mad.

These teachings do not only exist within the home. They bleed through other aspects of life and manifest in different ways. Traditional gender roles and expectations push girls into a likeability trap; we become more concerned about being liked than standing up for ourselves. So when I started dating boys, especially in college, I wasn’t sure how to say no.

But do you know what the truly fucked up thing was? Boys didn’t even bother to ask.

So I want to teach my brothers about consent, respecting other people’s boundaries, and taking no for an answer. I tell my teenage brother that he should step back if a girl is uncomfortable, even if she doesn’t tell him no. More importantly, I remind him to ask for consent. I tell both of them that consent must be verbal and enthusiastic, not coerced. “Sige na nga” (“Fine”) doesn’t count as consent. It must be a resounding yes.

I think teaching children about consent not only trains them to respect other people’s boundaries, but it also empowers them. Especially in Filipino culture, where older relatives often disrespect children’s boundaries by forcing them to sit on their laps or give them a kiss, we need to educate the children that they have autonomy over their bodies.

I always disliked it when titos would call me suplada (a snob) because I wouldn’t give in. So I remind my youngest brother: “Setting boundaries for yourself doesn’t make you suplado. You get to make your own choices for your own body.”

He’s been saying “no means no” since he was six. And when I give him a hug, I make sure to ask him, “Tama na ba?” (“Is this enough?”) so I know when to stop. (My youngest brother is the cutest little person. I could hug him all day if he lets me.)

The female body is not obscene.

I also talked about this during our IskaMustahan webinar. I used to scroll past pictures of women in bikinis whenever my brother is sitting beside me while I'm on Instagram. I didn't want him to see these pictures. But then, I caught myself thinking, “Why am I shielding him from these photos?”

We’ve been taught since we were kids that the female body is malaswa (obscene) even if we’re not doing anything sexual in nature. That’s why we were told to cover up. Boys will be boys; they wouldn’t be able to control themselves if they see you in a tiny skirt. This mentality teaches girls that there’s something wrong with our bodies. That by simply existing, we cause dirty thoughts to exist in boys’ minds. That by simply being born a girl, we invite sexual advances if we’re not too careful.

I want to protect my younger brothers from this mentality. I want them to learn about the female body from me, a feminist, so they wouldn’t grow up and learn to objectify women from their environment.

Recently, I showed my mom a video of someone teaching women how to use a menstrual cup. She was using a model of the female reproductive system (like the ones we see at the OB-GYN). My brothers were curious to see what video we were watching, so I showed it to them. When my mother told my youngest brother that it wasn’t for kids (even though the video wasn’t sexual in nature), he told my mom, “I already learned that in science class!”

See, my 10-year-old brother has already learned that the female body is not to be sexualized. Boys can be taught if we’re open to having these conversations with them. (My mom also caught herself and quickly changed her mind, letting my brother watch it with her.)

Boys cry too.

Children cry when they’re upset. That’s just what they do. But I’ve heard so many adults tell my younger brothers that boys don’t cry. Worse, they use “girl” as an insult, telling my brothers that they’re “acting like girls” if they don’t stop crying.

As a result, boys grow up to become men who are stoic. They see emotions as a weakness. And since being emotional is seen as a “feminine” trait, this further reinforces the belief that women are weaker than men.

Strength, both physical and emotional, is perceived in society as a good trait for men. This makes them more masculine in the eyes of others. But this also stigmatizes mental health issues in men. Because men were taught to not show their vulnerabilities, they suffer silently when they are depressed.

I don’t want my brothers to feel like they can’t show their emotions, especially when they’re sad. When they cry, I tell them that it’s okay. Boys can cry too. I ask them what’s wrong. I listen to their explanation, even if they can’t quite explain their feelings.

We need to stop invalidating children’s feelings and minimizing them with phrases like “acting out” or “throwing a tantrum”. Both boys and girls must be taught that emotions are not a weakness so they can feel comfortable enough to talk to someone whenever they need to.

Chores are genderless.

Chore distribution at home has always been somewhat fair. If I cooked, my kuya (older brother) would wash the dishes. If I swept the floor, he would mop it. I also grew up watching my dad doing chores around the house; he knows how to cook and do the laundry. According to him, the only thing he really can’t do is to iron clothes. “It will come out more wrinkled,” he says, laughing.

But there’s still a gendered difference between me and my kuya and how we were raised at home: He was never told "kasi babae ka” (“because you’re a girl”) when he was asked to do chores.

Traditional gender roles were still enforced. I was told that I have to learn to do these chores because I need to do them for my husband in the future. I was groomed to be a caretaker because that’s what society expects women to be. No matter what our dreams or accomplishments are, we were taught that we won’t be complete if we don’t conform to these traditions.

Now that my brothers are old enough to do chores, I’m trying to change the narrative that they are “good boys” for performing these tasks because “caring for the home is a ‘woman’s job’.” Being able to cook, do laundry, and clean the house doesn’t make them better than other men because chores are supposed to be genderless. If you live in a house, it is your responsibility to maintain it, no matter what your gender is. Boys should not be rewarded or praised for something that they should be doing in the first place.

Don’t grow up to be the kind of men that I hate.

This is a statement that I keep repeating to my brothers. It may sound like I’m a man-hating feminazi. But I think it’s important for them to know at a young age what toxic and fragile masculinity is so they will know how to avoid becoming it.

I want this statement instilled in their minds so they would rethink their actions if they know that I would disapprove of them. I want them to always strive to be better than the men surrounding them, because I know that I have no control over the people they interact with. They would always be exposed to people who have different values and principles from mine. So I want my feminist standard to be their standard as well. And I firmly believe that the opposite of a toxic and fragile man is a strong feminist woman.

A grown man already knows how to differentiate between right and wrong. If he’s still a sexist prick, that’s his own fault. It is not our responsibility to invest the emotional and mental labor that it takes to educate someone who should already know better.

But our boys need our help. Yes, we can empower girls and raise them to be strong and confident women. But if we don’t raise our boys differently, the system of misogyny and sexism that favors men over women will continue to put girls at a disadvantage. As feminists, we should take it as a responsibility to detoxify our boys so that they grow up as feminists. Let’s plant the seeds while they are young, so that we may reap the fruits of gender equality for future generations.

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