My son is graduating from college in a few weeks. Obviously, this is a time of celebration, but also reflection. He and the men of his generation are graduating into a world in the midst of great change. Voices that were once quiet have begun shouting from the rooftops, and it can be tempting to see men – especially white men, of which my son is one-half – as the enemy. They are anything but. The men of my son’s generation are our allies, and we need to treat them as such. Here’s my letter to them:
Dear men of the graduating class of 2018:
First, congratulations on your accomplishment. Please own that accomplishment fully. True, your parents helped. But so did your friends, your professors, and countless others who made up your support system over the years. But none of us is as responsible for your graduation as you are. So please be as proud of yourself as we are of you.
Now, we have to talk: I know you just climbed a giant mountain, but there’s more work to do. Way more work.
And I’m not talking about your professional career (although you certainly have that ahead of you too). I’m talking about your place in the world, and how we need your help to make the whole place better.
You grew up in a world more accepting and open-minded than any generation before. There are those who don’t like the changes we’ve seen, but if you ask people of color, women, members of the LGBT community, the disabled, and members of other marginalized communities, they will say we’re just getting started breaking down barriers.
It’s messy, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s not going to be easy. But change is inevitable.
Thing is, we want you – the newly graduated men of 2018 – to be there with us. And, from what I’ve seen, you’re up for the challenge. When I see you with your friends, I’m constantly amazed at how quickly you accept things that might have thrown men of previous generations into a coma: interracial relationships, same-sex marriage, friends who used to be boys now identifying as females – nothing throws you. (Well, nothing throws most of you. There are still a few tiki-torch wielding, internet-trolling members of your cohort who could use a heaping dose of evolution, but I’m convinced they’re the exceptions, not the rules.)
So, what I’m asking you to do now is to move beyond acceptance. You don’t have to organize a march, but I’m asking you to look for ways you can advocate for those who weren’t born with your privileges (and, yes, being born male is an Executive Platinum Privilege Card with 40,000 pre-loaded miles).
Speak up when someone makes a sexist joke.
Recommend someone of a different race for a job.
If your team at work is homogenous, find ways to make it more diverse.
Look for ways to become involved in communities different from your own.
Advocate for a political cause that doesn’t personally affect you.
Life is not a zero-sum game. Except in sports, the gains made by others do not come at your expense. In fact, the more you’re able to help others, the larger the pie gets for everybody.
Yes, norms are changing. The definition of “masculinity” is changing and becoming more flexible. And with that flexibility comes strength, to be able to bend, but not break, under the weight of others’ expectations.
Welcome to the next chapter of your life.