“Mom, do you know that there are people who hunt and kill gorillas?” my son asked me a few weeks back when he came home from school one day. He’d had his news lesson that afternoon, and the topic had left an impression on my sensitive boy.
“Why would people kill animals, mom? I don’t get it,” he said with tears in his eyes. “We have to do something.”
We talked about why animals are hunted for their tusks or their skins; we talked about money— and he was furious. My son who always feels the need to stand up for those who can’t protect themselves, contemplated how he could make a difference.
He cares about animals. He cares about people who have less than he does. He cares about the child in his class who feels overwhelmed. He cannot comprehend why anyone wouldn’t.
His sensitive nature, the fact that he cares so deeply about things happening in our world at the tender age of nine, is why I feel so angered that male sensitivity is not cherished and nurtured—that society tries its hardest to drive sensitivity out of our boys as they grow up.
It is with my son in mind that I feel frustrated and saddened when I see a father on the school playground telling his son there’s no reason for him to cry, rather than wrapping his arms around him to reassure him that his feelings are legitimate.
He’s the reason why something crimps inside of me whenever I hear the words “man up.”
Society is uncomfortable with male tears—with males who show their emotions—and boys learn at an early age how it feels not to fit in with society’s expectations.
The gender stereotypes thrust at men would like to see my boys grow up believing that their feelings should not be aired, that there is no place for their emotions. It would have them believe that boys must become adept at curbing their natural instinct to cry and bottle up their stress and anxiety. And when this cycle is not broken, they become fathers who pass this male stereotype down to their own sons.
But not under my watch. I want my boys to feel proud of who they are, to refuse to become watered down versions of themselves.
I will keep telling my sons that their tears are natural and healthy and that they serve a purpose. I will keep sharing the message with my sons that society couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to masculine stereotypes: showing emotion is a sign of strength and not weakness. Caring passionately about the world around us, about other people, about social and environmental issues, is something to be proud of.
I’ll keep battling against the remarks of “boys will be boys” from friends and strangers. All boys are different, just as all girls are, and it’s time to drop gender stereotypes and let children just be children; let children be themselves.
I will raise my boys to be true to themselves. I will do everything I can to help them feel comfortable with who they are.
I will nurture their sensitivity.
Our sensitive children, the boys and girls who wear their hearts on their sleeves, who already care so much about the world they live in at such a young age, will blossom into adults who will make a difference in the world, if we, as a society, let them. And we should let them.
Let sensitive boys grow into sensitive men. Now more than ever.
These sensitive boys make a difference now, in small ways when they can. And, if we let them, they will grow up believing they can help drive the positive change that our neighborhoods, our communities, our towns and cities, and our countries, desperately need to see. So let’s let them.
I believe that my sensitive boys will make a difference, and I hope one day my three sensitive boys will be three sensitive men who believe that too.