My husband and I went out to dinner this weekend. We had no idea reservations were required for the restaurant we chose so we ended up sitting at the bar. The bartender was, of course, extremely friendly and we had an enjoyable time chatting with him about the softball game going on above his head. At one point he looked up at the screen and reminisced, “The first time I played catch with my dad, I got my front teeth knocked out. I missed the ball he threw and BANG! There went my front teeth.”

I don’t like blood. Or pain. And I have sons who play a whole lot of baseball, so I visibly cringed while the bartender was telling his story. He watched me and laughed, “Yeah, and you know what he said while I was on the ground crying?”

Unfortunately, yes, I could imagine. I shook my head.

“He said, ‘Get up! Stop crying, you’re fine.'”

Of course he did. Did I mention the kid’s front teeth were missing?! And he was FIVE!

The story gets better. The bartender now runs an adult softball league where he requires the women to wear face masks, “because they’re all getting married or whatever,” he explained with a slight roll of his eyes. He doesn’t require the men to wear face masks though. I asked him about that and he said, “Well, sure, it hurts to get hit in the face, but after it happened, I never missed another catch again.”

So I guess what I’m supposed to learn from this is that knocking their teeth out is a good way to inspire better baseball in boys? I asked my sons if they wanted me to try it out with them.

They declined.

I also noticed that our bartender looked back on his experience with a sort of pride. I heard no trace of resentment in his voice. He survived it. He toughed it out. He never missed another catch again. All good things, right? I guess. Except, experiences like this teach boys to equate crying with weakness. Usually the same little boys who are socialized to believe crying is weak are also socialized to associate crying with women or babies and the next logical step is to assume women are weak and, like children, in need of extra assistance, hence the face masks.

I’m sure if I had asked my bartender whether he thought women were weak or not, he would have laughed and said, “Of course not!” He was a nice guy. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he can think of plenty of strong females in his place of work and on his softball teams, but the little roll of his eyes told a different story. Consciously he knows and interacts with strong women every day, but subconsciously he can’t help but view them as weaker because of how he was raised. Most of our written history has been recorded by men with a similar mindset.

As a child, I sensed this underlying lack of respect and I thought the best way to combat it would be to appear more masculine myself. I stopped crying. I started fighting. I competed with boys scholastically and in a variety of sports, but the lack of respect for my gender didn’t go away. Women face similar problems. They work hard in school, fight their way into male dominated careers, and compete with men in a variety of intellectual and physical endeavors, but the lack of respect for their gender hasn’t entirely gone away.

For years, this made no sense to me, but I can better understand now that I have four sons. The lack of respect I felt (and still feel) has a lot to do with the way society thinks about boys. If boys can’t show emotion because emotions are weak, but girls can show emotions, then girls must be weak. Weakness is a liability not an asset.

In order to change how we feel about the female gender, we need to embrace the vulnerabilities of the male gender. We need to build emotional connections with our boys while they are young and their beliefs are more flexible. We need to understand that everyone, both boys and girls, have feelings and those feelings don’t make any of us a liability (please see THIS POST if you have doubts about that.)

PS. Bonus points to the first person who can tell me what movie my title is from! 

Call to action