One man’s definition of masculinity

cc licensed by D Sharon Pruitt

Today the Son takes his last final exam.

His summer break begins this afternoon.

And thank goodness, because these past two weeks have been grueling.

For anyone who has helped a twenty year old study for finals, you know what it’s like.

(If you don’t, read about it here.)

He’s already announced that this weekend “the party gets started.”

In other words, when I’m going to bed he’s going out and when I’m waking up he’s getting home.

The culmination of classes also means I get more computer time.

Yes, friends, after God only knows how many months, I’ll finally be able to write my blog posts at a decent hour and not in the wee hours of the morning.

I’ll also have more time to catch up with my favorite blogs.

The thought alone makes me want to do a victory lap around the living room.

But first, there’s something I want to share with you.

The Son recently had to do a discussion post for his Psychology of Women class.

After much pleading and cajoling, he’s allowed me to share his answer with all of you.

The topic was, “If you had the power to create your own definition, what would your definition of masculinity be and why? How would this impact the understanding of femininity?”

Here’s his answer, unedited:

If I had the power to create a definition of masculinity, I would do away with it all together. I think it does a big disservice to femininity for there to be a distinction regarding a difference in all that is male or all that is female. Instead, I would strive for the elimination of gender and focus on a definition of what traits best describe a worthy human being. The way I see it, the only difference between both genders are the physical ones; those related to reproductive organs and hormones. Yet the fact that men and women have different reproductive organs should not have anything to do with their behavior or attitudes.

Sadly, the reality lies in the fact that as a society, we attribute certain traits or characteristics to men and women. Masculinity is associated with a man’s ability to be strong, sexual, aggressive, and dominant, to name a few. Ironically, not only do men define what being “a real man” is like, but women also give in to the notion that if a man is in touch with his feminine side, he’s not really a “man’s man.” Hence, women too are responsible for having expectations that masculinity is defined by men who are players, who don’t let anyone tell them what to do, or who crave adrenalin-filled activities and adventure. It is these expectations that make it so difficult for men to escape from the culturally defined concept of masculinity. However, if we were to embrace the fact that no trait is necessarily specific to men or women, the definition of masculinity would not be necessary. We could accept the fact that women can be strong, determined, and assertive and that men, on the other hand, can be sensitive, intuitive, and nurturing.

In educating boys so that they understand that there is no specific list that details qualifications that make a man a man, we would uphold the belief that as humans, we should strive to place value on what makes a person valuable. Traits such as kindness, compassion, and empathy shouldn’t be associated with any specific gender. As a society, we should expect and promote women and men to possess those qualities that make for a more positive environment; one that values respect, intellect, and tolerance and not one that dictates that men are men if they have sex on the brain and are combative and dominant.

I believe that in embracing this type of mentality, we would do away with the harmful effect of objectifying and sexualizing women or of labeling men “gay” when they show emotion or exhibit tenderness, for example. Therefore, the definition of masculinity should cease to exist and instead be replaced with what it’s like to be a good person; a fine human being.

I think that in reeducating boys to the reality that other than the physical, we’re all equal, we would be able to change attitudes and beliefs that men are superior to women; we would be able to change the sense of entitlement that by virtue of being male, men hold more power and status. Educating young boys would combat the use of derogatory labels and stereotypes that are used to define women and it would educate them to the fact that it is unacceptable to use hostility and violence against women to achieve their means. Finally, I find that it would lessen the importance that society places on physicality, thereby eliminating the need to treat women as sex objects.

When I read his answer, I cried.

I cried because I could hear my nana whispering, “Bella, you raised that boy right.”

However, the purpose of this post is not to toot my horn, although my heart bursts with pride.

Instead, I wanted to show you that it if we educate young boys to embrace gender equality, it is possible to banish society’s expectations of how men and women should act.

As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers, it is our responsibility to engage in this process.

In doing so, not only do we take a step in changing societal views, but we also help determine the kind of women and men our children will turn out to be.

Is this the way Starbucks makes lemon cake?

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Chiot’s Run

Many of you may not know this, but I love to cook.

My passion for cooking started when I was a little girl.

Every other morning, nana would march into the kitchen, don her apron, and take out the ingredients to make bread.

Nana allowed me to observe as she carefully measured the flour, prepared the yeast, and kneaded the dough.

“Bella,” she would say, “I’m convinced heaven must smell like freshly baked bread.”

Unfortunately, my love for cooking instantly waned when I moved into my new home and saw how tiny the kitchen was.

No longer did I have spacious counters, powerful appliances, or a double sink.

Instead, I had a counter top large enough to hold a bowl, a single sink, and a small convection oven.

Nevertheless, there are days, special days, that prompt me to ignore my limited resources and bring out the mixing bowls and measuring cups.

Today was one of those days.

After spending three hours preparing our humble Easter feast, the Son said to me, “Mom, do you know what I’d love to eat?”

Praying he’d say a bowl of ice cream, I heard him whisper, “Lemon cake. A slice of lemon cake; like the one they sell in Starbucks.”

I felt my blood pressure rise as I thought how I’d just spent an hour washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen.

However, what mother can say no to her son when he makes a whispered petition and puppy dog eyes?

Out came the pots and pans, the ingredients, and a copycat recipe for Starbucks’ lemon cake.

I spent the next hour sifting cake flour, warming eggs in hot tap water, and grating the zest of four lemons.

As I painstakingly removed the flesh from the quartered lemon slices, I winced painfully as lemon juice squirted into my eye.

I hurriedly reached for a rag and accidentally knocked over the bowl of sifted flour.

Clamping my mouth shut to prevent a barrage of profanity from spilling out, I rummaged in the closet for the dustpan and a broom.

However, still partially blind, I tripped over the mixer cord and landed in the sea of flour I had spilt minutes before.

I got up slowly, dusted the flour from my clothes, and recited Psalm 23 out loud.

With newfound determination, I pulled out a fresh apron, cleaned the tiny counter, and started over.

As I carefully sifted the dry ingredients for the second time, I called out to the Son.

“What is it, mom?” I’m chatting with So and So!”

“And I may have lost forty percent of my vision. Come here!”

As he walked into the kitchen, I heard him say, “What the hell happened here?”

“Your wannabe Starbucks lemon cake happened in here. But forget about that and look at me.”

“Do I have to? You look like the Pillsbury Boy sneezed on you.”

“Yes. Yes, you do because I want you to make a memory. I want you to look at me as I prepare homemade lemon cake.”

I heard him laugh.

“That’s right. In ten years, when your wife is using boxed cake mix, or worse, serving you store bought cake, I want you to remember your mother’s lemon cake.”

“But I haven’t even tasted it!”

“That’s not the point. What’s important is that I took a lemon squirt in the eye that hurt more than giving birth to you.”

“Here we go.”

“Bup, bup, bup! I want to hear you say that never again will you look at lemon cake without remembering this moment.”

“How about, never again will you hear me ask that you to make lemon cake?”

“That works too. Now hand me a lemon.”

Happy Easter, everyone!


Is it always good to avoid confrontation?

Today I had to make a tough decision.

I had to decide whether to avoid confrontation with the Daughter by pretending everything was okay or address a situation and express my difference of opinion.

I chose to do the latter.

Confrontation is never easy.

For the most part, some of us decide it’s not worth the heartache or the angst.

Nevertheless, there are times when we realize that in choosing to ignore what’s troubling us, we also pave the way for problems to fester; to escalate.

It’s been two weeks since the Daughter last called.

Some mothers may not think this is a big deal.

I’m not one of those mothers.

I remember the first time I heard the song, “Cats in the cradle.”

I must have been twelve years old at the time.

I recall thinking that in the song, the reason the son turned into his father was because it was what he learned; his father’s lack of attention taught him to be an absent son.

Even at that young age, I knew that when the time came for me to have children, I did not want to be like the father in the song.

And true to my word, I have been a dedicated mother who has always put her children first.

It is for this very reason that I refuse to be put in a corner.

I refuse to be ignored, dismissed, put on hold.

I have certain expectations of my children, even if they are adults.

This morning, I took a deep breath before answering the Daughter’s phone call.

After saying hello, I told her in a calm but emphatic manner how she cannot ignore her mother; how a mother deserves more than just left over time.

I told her it’s not okay to take life for granted and think that I will be alive and well to take her call whenever.

I mentioned that while life can leave us feeling exhausted and drained, we have to make time for the people we love.

This weekend my mother informed me that a friend of the family died in a car crash.

He drove to the bakery to buy bread and coffee and on his way home, experienced low blood sugar and slammed into a tree.

He died three hours later from internal injuries.

Indeed, life is short.

We don’t know how long we have to live.

We don’t know if today will be our last.

It’s because of this that I refuse to allow the Daughter to wait two weeks before she calls; before
I hear her voice and she hears mine.

Yes, today I chose confrontation.

Because sometimes a mother has to be tough.

Because at times a mother has to create awareness before it’s too late.

And because I was never like the father in the song.

The rule of reciprocity will be put in effect because some day the Daughter will also be a mother who wants to hear her child’s voice.

Because some day she too will ache to hear her child ask, “How are you, mom?”

Today I could have chosen to act like nothing was wrong; to justify her absence for lack of time; but I didn’t.

And while this morning’s telephone conversation may have resulted in a bit of upset, it also served to establish the importance of communication.

I want to believe that today’s conversation was more than my “filing a complaint.”

It was my way of reminding the Daughter to be the thoughtful and caring woman I’ve always known her to be.

Do you avoid confrontation or do you face what’s troubling you head on?

Note: Roxy’s photo has nothing to do with today’s post. However, I did want to start off your week with a little Roxy love.

What do you mean you saw a black cat?

My family has a flare for drama.

It’s not just me, folks, it’s every member of our clan.

The men in our family aren’t allowed to call the women “drama queens,” given they too engage in the theatrics.

Nevertheless, while at times it’s a little overwhelming, it also allows for the funniest of moments.

My mother is quick to defend her Oscar-worthy performances reminding us that while everyone else may see the world in black and white, our family sees it in “Technicolor,” whatever that means.

In order to show you what I’m talking about, I’ve decided to share the conversation we had last night.

Laughter may or may not ensue, but know that this conversation has not been embellished for your entertainment purposes.

This is us in living color.

“Ma, I saw a black cat today.”

“Mary, mother of Jesus! Did you cross over to the other side of the street?”

“Of course not. I stopped and took its picture.”

“Of course you did! Do you know why? Because you were put on this earth to make me suffer.”

“Here we go.”

“Why can’t you be more like your sisters, Bella? They have respect for these things.”

“Don’t you mean, they’re as superstitious as you are? Besides, how did we go from the black cat to the ‘you’re not like your sisters’ speech?”

“Your sisters know better than to provoke a black cat.”

“Provoke? I took its picture! I didn’t poke it with a stick!”

“And Roxy? Was she your tiny accomplice; an accessory to your crime? Did you expose that sweet girl to seven years of bad luck?”

“Mom, I photographed a cat. I didn’t break a mirror. Roxy wagged her tail and made nice.”

“That cat could have pounced on you and scratched your eyes out! You might now be walking around like Oedipus, for the love of God!”

“Mom! There was no eye gouging! Stop with the drama, already!”

“Do you think we need any more bad luck in this family, Bella? Is that it? Your aunt broke her hip a month ago and now has a plastic one, or whatever fake hips are made of nowadays. Your Uncle Lucas went wandering on his own twice this week. The police found him talking to a lamp post, asking it if it knew where he lived, and your Aunt Ursula chipped a tooth trying to gnaw on a piece of stale Manchego cheese. Do you know what that means? That I’m next! That’s what that means!”

“Your brother and sisters are older than Moses. It’s a miracle they still remember to get up in the morning. And doesn’t Aunt Ursula have fake teeth?”

“What does it matter if she has fake teeth or not? The point is she has one less tooth to chew with. Things were good. My reflux wasn’t acting up, I’m remembering the names of you and your sisters, and the doctor told me my bladder’s holding up and I won’t be needing Depends anytime soon. But now with you and the black cat, I don’t know.”

“You’re being ridiculous. In any case, any bad luck should be coming my way.”

“Not necessarily. Bad luck can befall you or your family.

“Mom, it’s a black cat we’re talking about, not the curse of Tutankhamen!”

“Go ahead and mock me. You’ve been doing it since you were a child. Lord, where did I go wrong? When did I stray from the path?”

“I’m hanging up now.”

“Even across the miles you disrespect your mother.”

“Goodbye, Mom.”

“I’ll pray the black cat doesn’t curse you, Bella.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Are you superstitious?

Today I’m linking up with Heidi’s Black and White Wednesday. Yes, I know it’s not Wednesday but we’re trying to get through midterms, so lets just pretend it is, shall we?

Black and White Wednesday