Sam Cedar | Guest Columnist
As an education major at Baylor, I have spent a lot of time with students both inside and outside of the classroom. I have formed friendships, stood beside students in their successes and failures and loved every one of my students dearly. Unfortunately, many students are hurting – going each day to rotting schools with no access to books or school supplies and coming home to fear and violence. I have felt their broken hearts, tasted their hunger and experienced their feelings of inadequacy. Furthermore, as a male in education, I have seen a lot of children without dads, most of whom have never had a positive male role model other than LeBron James, Cam Newton or Cristiano Ronaldo.
These trends must change, and responsibility for the growth of our children falls upon our shoulders. I chose to become an educator because I want broken students to see that there are men who truly care about them – that they can achieve success in areas other than business, athletics or management. This decision was reached after a long process of discovering and upending the flaws in my values and realizing that my own masculinity does not define my ability to serve others in a meaningful or spiritual way. I write to you today as a brother and a friend, urging you to see the cultural chains of masculinity that must be broken if we hope to redeem our children’s futures and our own.
The cultural climate on our campus is heavy. In the midst of a divisive political and social atmosphere, we have struggled to find transparency – both from our administration and from one another. While students across our campus have suffered from the effects of sexual assault, racism and institutional failure, we have been quick to pass judgment and slow to think introspectively.
We have continually failed to empathize, failed to transcend ourselves and failed to connect with one another on a human level in a season where community is more important than ever – regardless of gender, race or political affiliation. We have rendered ourselves incapable of feeling deeply, and as a male student at Baylor, I cannot help but notice that the root of our dry, tepid connection to the world lies in our values.
Masculine values are outdated. Stale. Traditional masculinity lacks the depth and spirituality necessary to understand and embody the fullness of humanity in the modern world. I am tired of the lack of emotion in male social groups, of the surface—level relationships and the competitive cultures which subjugate social issues to economic and political gain. I am tired of being told that it is our job to be breadwinners – to lead our households with a dry and impassive stoicism while our partners fill schools, nonprofits and social service positions with love, gentleness and empathy. I am tired of being expected to discard important aspects of my humanity for the sake of upholding a strict gender binary, and I fear the impact that the perpetuation of modern masculinity will have on our churches, workplaces and schools going forward if men do not begin to narrow the expansive gender gaps in social service and social activist positions.
One cannot question that this gender gap exists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women account for 83.8 percent of social workers, 71.4 percent of counselors and 73 percent of educators in America today. Additionally, within the field of Education, percentages of male teachers are lowest in Preschool/Kindergarten (3.2 percent) and Special Education (12.5 percent). As a future educator, these statistics are alarming to me. How is it that social service positions have become so gender specific, and since when was caring for the most vulnerable deemed “a woman’s job?”
According to Shaun P. Johnson, a graduate assistant at the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University, “the real issue with a lack of male teachers is one of values.” Common masculine values such as self-reliance, social status, the need for emotional control and power over women have undoubtedly contributed to the stratification present in social service positions, and I suspect that they have contributed to the culture of complacency toward social issues at large as well.
While women have adapted many of their traditional values to better serve and function in the modern world, we have sat idly by, nurturing a host of traditionally masculine values which matter progressively less. I truly believe that the men on our campus want to live selflessly and serve others without reserve; however, the values that currently motivate our actions are not conducive to these ends.
Many traditionally masculine values promote division and egocentrism by their nature. The desire to compete for social status, for example, cannot drive our socio-economic growth independent of the exclusion of others. Socio-economic prosperity is not inherently destructive, but it cannot continue to serve as the primary impetus for our actions without promoting the furtherance of gender and class stratification. We hold too much power and too much privilege to spend our lives striving for comfort and money. We have to open our eyes, acknowledge our failure to live selflessly and hold ourselves to a higher standard – for the sake of our neighbors’ lives and our own.
According to a study performed by Psychologist Y. Joel Wong, PhD, of Indiana University Bloomington, “individuals who conformed strongly to masculine norms,” including the desire to win, the need for emotional control, self-reliance and sexual promiscuity, “tended to have poorer mental health and less favorable attitudes toward seeking psychological help.” Conversely, one might infer that individuals who are willing to adopt traditionally feminine social norms such as collaboration, empathy, patience and flexibility might have fewer mental health issues and a greater disposition toward connecting with others in a productive and mutually beneficial way.
When coupled with sexism – which is still blatantly present in the masculine ideal – competition-based social action and decision-making will undoubtedly lead to the ostracism of traditionally feminine values, which are widely considered to be useful in both the business world and in public relations and social service. As servants, students and humans living in an age of technology and information, the universal adoption of these values is vital to our individual growth and the growth of our culture as a whole; we cannot combat global poverty or work toward socio-economic equality in the U.S. without a deeper spiritual and emotional connection to the world around us.
A change in our values would bring about a vast number of institutional benefits as well; Shaun P. Johnson notes in his brief that “as long as there is a great disparity in the teacher workforce, children will continue to form sexist gender relations, based on the concept that “women teach and men manage.” The destigmatization of social service positions as gender-specific jobs would benefit both us and our children, opening the door for men to participate more actively in social activist roles while diminishing institutional sexism in our schools, workplaces and families.
I know that men are not cold, heartless people with no regard for others. I know that we care and that we want to make a difference in the world; however, in order to do this, we have to realize that there is more to being servants than stimulating the economy or building a solid portfolio. Does that mean that all of us have to become teachers or social workers? Not necessarily. However, it does mean that we have to go out of our way to change the way that we relate to the world.
Our success, whether economic or social, cannot continue to exist at the center of our lives. We have to adapt to the needs of the people around us, and if that means becoming a teacher to fight segregation in our schools or a social worker to house the hundreds of people living on the streets of our city, then we need to put our masculinity aside and do it.