Will the so-called ‘gender wars’ never cease? What do we have to do to get people to treat each other fairly and with tolerance, love, and respect?

Well, I (along with history) can tell you that making a law ain’t going to get it done. Making a bunch of laws won’t either. Legislation doesn’t change opinions, and honestly, it very rarely changes practice on an individual basis.

Legislation provides a pretense of control and assurance. It makes organizations toe a line when obedience to that legislation fits their interest, but more often, it forces those organizations to be more creative and agile in the way they continue to pursue their interests– often leading them to find loopholes in said legislation.

So you can be sure that legislation isn’t going to make today’s kids responsible adults who abide by laws and treat others with respect, love, and tolerance. I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but it’s a fact.

Let me reiterate: Laws don’t make good citizens and/or good human beings. Laws, by their nature, are designed to preempt behavior that infringes on the rights of another by providing a threat of punishment for the breaking of that law.

But fear of punishment for breaking a law is not what fashions young people into law-abiding citizens. If that were the case, nobody would murder or steal or speed. Fear of punishment is not enough. It’s something else that makes good citizens.

It’s parents. Mostly.

Sure, some apples fall far from the tree, often because the apple in question makes a personal decision to fall far from the tree and start down a different path.

But generally, it’s parents. Parents and the culture they inculcate in their home are what shape a kid, for the most part. There’s certainly something to be said for individual biology and psychology– but it’s really hard to quantify the environmental and biological influences on kids.

I say this because I wish we could stop freaking out so much, particularly about gender. For crying out loud, the latest causeĀ du jour is this odd, deeply misplaced push to #BanBossy.

You’ve gotta be kidding me.

What with crappy, bloated school administrations letting boys and girls (boys more than girls) slip through the school cracks, massive problems with human sex trafficking (girls more than boys and this breaks my heart), terrible abuse and crime in countless inner cities, indescribably damaging to the self-image pictures in myriad popular magazines, our nation’s ugly addiction to pop culture, the scourge of pornography and terrifyingly asinine idea that it’s a victimless thing, and the astonishingly abominable way that our justice system and society treat rape victims– the movement is to ‘ban bossy?’

That’s like putting a band-aid on a tiny scrape that happened at the same time that an axe was buried in a person’s chest.

Saying we should #BanBossy is as effective as saying #BanStupid.

‘Ban Bossy’ brings us nowhere nearer to where we want to be as a society– to a place where people are respected, where this society has a general expectation of people that they are individually responsible for themselves and their actions.

I tell my boys, five of them, to be a man when I want them to move closer to that expectation. By telling them to be a man, I’m not telling them that women are bad. They know that I’m not saying anything about women– I’m saying something about what I expect from them– my lads. I’m telling my mini-men to adhere to a pretty expansive set of expectations which we’ve been over many times. Would you like to know what a man is, in my family? A man to be aspired to, at least?

  1. A man is absolutely and totally respectful of women. Words such as ‘slut,’ or anything else are never uttered, under any circumstances. Any kind of demeaning language toward women is uncomfortable in the mouth of an actual, real man.
  2. A man does not wait for anyone else to do the right thing. He doesn’t wait when society or friends or fear tell him to hold back. He unhesitatingly serves anyone in need that he encounters. He instantly defends the victim in any situation, and withholds judgment, but makes sure all involved are at least in a place of safety.
  3. A man knows, and lives by the knowledge, that he is responsible for never making another person uncomfortable. He doesn’t buy into a victim mentality; but instead he lives by the individual responsibility mentality: interpretation of behavior and perspectival impressions don’t matter a whit. What matters is whether sufficient consideration went into any given interaction and if any assumption was unkind or inconsiderate– he takes the responsibility unswervingly and makes it right inasmuch as possible.
  4. A man is meek. This is strength. True meekness comes from inner peace and confidence. It comes from a strength of conviction that comes from a person knowing and living by the knowledge that he is never fully aware of the entire situation and the entire set of details about a given situation or issue. Which means that he has something to learn. Always. This means that a man doesn’t win arguments. A man discusses and listens and doesn’t allow pride to push him to ‘make a point.’ A man listens and makes sure others feel valued and appreciated. His meekness is strength because the only thing motivating him in a given situation is love and concern for others. His pride is swallowed in this.
  5. A man has unassailable integrity. There is no attempt to deceive, either for his own benefit or for the detriment of others. None.
  6. A man works. A man does what is needed before what is wanted. A man does what he has to do before he does what he wants to do. Work brings power. Not power over others, but power over one’s self. Power over the things that need to be controlled and put in order. Increased power over one’s situation. A man works hard out of duty, out of love, out of a need to make the world a better place.
  7. A man makes the world a better place. He never makes another person’s day, or life, harder in any way. He doesn’t multiply work for others. He reaches out to those in need. He anticipates need. He doesn’t let fear stop him from visible or invisible service to others. This means he doesn’t make a mess for others to clean up; he sees a person who needs car help and stops to help immediately; he finds ways to brighten a day every day.
  8. A man weeps. A man feels and allows himself to express emotions in positive expressions. He weeps when moved. He laughs when moved. He does NOT shout when moved. He understands that emotional expression is a choice that he is responsible for, so he allows himself to express emotion positively and in a way that increases love, connection, and trust. So a man weeps with his loved ones. He recognizes when he needs comfort and when others will be strengthened through comforting him.
  9. A man is positive. A man knows that the world is full of opportunities to be sad and morose, but chooses instead to be positive, to have fun, to say kind things and find ways to make things enjoyable.
  10. A man is vulnerable. A man knows he cannot hold the weight of the world, knows he needs help often, and knows to ask for that help. A man knows he has needs in a relationship and communicates those needs in a productive, frank way.
  11. A man is silly, imperfect, doesn’t take himself seriously, and knows that life is about finding joy, not wallowing in sadness or depression. A man also knows when he needs help, again, and if he is sick, he seeks that help. And he brings fun, happiness, self-deprecation, and appropriate irreverence to the world around him inasmuch as he can.
  12. A man loves. A man shows love through word, touch, service, goodness, and expression. This also means that a man is peace-loving and doesn’t allow forceful coercion to be how he does things. Loving persuasion is the way to bring people to your side and a man knows this and lives this.
  13. A man appreciates beauty. Yes, womanly beauty as well as natural beauty. He perceives the beauty– or at least does his best to– in all women. He senses the beauty of Creation and all nature- the complexity of systems and life and the planet. And this appreciation means he is respectful of all things– which brings us back to number 1.

Ultimately, life is beautiful in so many ways, even when life is hard and trying. Often, choosing to find the beauty is the only way we can bring comfort and control into our lives.

I know this is a pretty big list, but it’s all stuff that is crucial. Governments can’t make good citizens, but parents can. When I think of how my boys can be as men, I think of these things. I want to be these things. I know I can make the world a better, kinder, happier, more peaceful, and safer place if I live these principles. And I know that living and teaching these principles to my five sons will make them better people and the world a better place far more effectively than laws ever will.

Laws have their place, but I don’t depend on them. Neither should you.

So stop encouraging the ‘ban bossy’ inanity and start taking control of yourself and the way you treat others. Be a man. And honestly, be a woman– because a lot of these probably apply to women. I’m not a woman, so I can’t really say, though. What I can say is that my boys are being taught to respect women enough that at no point in their adult life will they speak demeaningly or disrespectfully to a woman or girl– if what we are trying in our home works.

Which I think it will.