Strong. Powerful. Tough and fearless! I had just asked an 11-year-old boy at the facility where I work as a counselor and case manager what he thought made a man "a man." His response was not a surprise. The child has been in several fights since his placement with us. I then asked him what he thought about a man being kind, gentle, and caring. It was also not surprising when he responded, "Those are more what women and sissies are like." We had started our conversation by talking about a public figure who was great at his craft, loved by many, extremely famous, but had often been involved in domestic violence. This child said he liked the famous man because he could dominate his craft, he was strong, could fight, and had a reputation for mistreating women.
It was clear that the child had a misconception of what are manly and womanly qualities. I then asked him, "Don't you like and expect all people to be gentle, kind, and loving to you and to others?" He laughed and said that guys who acted like that were considered sissies. I challenged him to tell me what qualities he thought I had. He started by describing me as "nice, caring, and fair." With that said, I asked him, "Are you calling me a sissy?" He shook his head and said, "No." I then asked him if maybe men who aren't sissies can be kind, caring, and gentle—and still be strong and manly? He wasn't sure.
I showed him an old picture of myself in a football uniform. Initially, he did not think the picture was me. I finally convinced him that I did play football and that I was able to demonstrate strength, speed, aggressiveness, and toughness while on the field. We talked about the fact that when I am off the field, I still can demonstrate those qualities but that I also demonstrate the qualities that he so blatantly referred to as being sissy. I then told him we were going to identify what makes a true man, what he should be and can aspire to be—that he can express his manliness, not only by demonstrating strength, toughness, and courage, but by also being gentle, caring, thoughtful, and considerate of others.