Earlier on in the year, I was doing a gender workshop with some young men in the peer education program I used to supervise in. Now one of my favorite sessions to do when I pull this series out is to talk about gender roles. We really got into it that day, talking about stuff they saw in their neighborhood, how to be real men, etc. At the end, they made a really nice PSA about gun violence that I was quiet proud of.
I’ve always liked to do this session on gender roles just to see what’s new and what are unfortunately timeless themes. I’m always amazed at how the timeless stuff gets repackaged, but more importantly, how strong the ambition is in our boys.
Now we all push our girls. That makes sense – we still live on a very patriarchal society. As a man with strong gender equality views, I’m all for that. But I’m also all for nurturing the ambitions of our young men too. The roadblocks they face in some cases are still as enormous as they’ve always been. Still, sometimes the difference between two very talented young men of color in oppressive socioeconomic and cultural situations being successful isn’t the strength of their talents or ambitions – it’s about the protective factors in place to cultivate success.
I remember one of the young men who has a yuge Afro mentioned how he had to learn to be a man on his own. This is a very, very common refrain. So where are they learning? What have they been learning? Because some of the stuff is helpful and some is garbage. But if you don’t have the filters in place to tell what’s “good” and “junk”, what do you truly learn? I clearly have not all the answers. But the one thing I’ve believed is that for all the flak and grief we give millennials these days, there is one thing we really don’t have to question – their ambition levels.
So the question is: what are we really doing to nurture these ambitions?